Growing up as a first-generation Canadian and the milestone of turning 24
In February 1990, my mother left communist Czechoslovakia for a new life. It was her first time on a plane and her first time in North America. She had dreamt about moving to North America since she was a teenager to escape communism, learn English and to be free.
She took one suitcase with her, leaving family and friends behind for the unknown that awaited her. She was 24 years old. As my mother waved goodbye to her mother at the airport, little did she know that would be the last time she ever saw her.
My mother arrived in Montreal speaking little English and no French, making it difficult to find a job. During her search, she came across a clothing store. My father was the owner and, as an immigrant from Georgia, he knew the struggle of finding your first job here. He hired her, and they started dating. A few years later, on Jan. 24, 1994, I was born. In December 1996, my father closed his stores, left us and left the country. My mother became a single mother in a foreign country without the support of a family.
I heard this story many times as a kid. Every time I heard it, I thought to myself that, one day, when I turned 24, I would want to do something just as courageous as my mother had. On the other hand, I also think about how afraid she must have been to be alone with a child, not knowing how she was going to provide for her.
Growing up as a first-generation Canadian came with its challenges. I had to go to French school and, since my mother barely spoke French and could not afford a tutor, learning French was confusing. She would use a French-to-English dictionary and then an English-to-Slovak dictionary to explain my homework to me. It seemed to take forever and, often times, we would quarrel.
I also watched my mom hustle every day and learned early on how immigrants have to work twice as hard to be recognized. She had several different jobs to ensure we had a clean place to live, food and clothes. We never had a car, but we always found a way to get around. Every day, she would get up at 6 a.m. and walk me to school. After a full day at work, she would pick me up from school at 6 p.m. and we would walk home. On the weekends, we would travel by bus for an hour and a half to get to my dance school. She would wait for me during my two-hour lesson, and then we would travel back home together. My mother showed me at a young age that anything is possible “if you’re not a lazy bum,” which is what she still says to this day.
My childhood was full of challenges that my mother and I surmounted together. She made me fall in love with life, and her work ethic inspired me to no end. According to my mother, as a child, every night before being tucked in for bed, I would tell her: “I can’t wait for tomorrow.” Tomorrow happens to be my 24th birthday, and I cannot wait to become the courageous woman my mother taught me to be.