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Cartoon School

by Cecilia R. Mejia

Career Choice: Is it a child's or parent's decision?

“You want to go to cartoon school!?” says the father who’s just been told that his son wants to go to art school. I’ll never forget that line from the movie, “The Debut”. I’m sure every Filipino-American can relate to the premise leading up to that insensitive line. It’s your typical story of immigrant parents not understanding why their child doesn't want to be a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, basically anything that can provide them “stability.” I know this story all too well. It is the story of my life.

“You are wasting your brain if you don’t become a doctor”, words that have resonated through my head for the last decade. It’s nice to be recognized, I’ll admit. My whole life, I was dubbed as the “smart one” - although I never really understood who I was being compared to. I was never in the business of competing with anyone, let alone my family members. I must also confess that it did feel good to have people take pride in me, but to be perfectly honest I was never comfortable with the attention. It’s always a compliment when people invest in your dreams but sometimes, because of all the attention and extra opinions, you find yourself having a difficult time filtering between your dreams and theirs. That's what happened to me.

It isn't entirely their fault. In my experience, it’s been a lack of understanding. Many of our parents come from a place with very few opportunities. In my case, my parents emigrated from the Philippines. The best opportunity for a better life abroad is anything in the health related field, nursing in particular. If you have the money and the brains in the Philippines most people tend to gravitate towards a medical, legal, or science-related fields. It makes sense, because those are notable and high-achieving professions. Perhaps we can chalk it up to being a different time, because now I see so many Filipinos who have aspirations of becoming designers, writers, entertainers, etc… I also understand that parents want what they believe is best for their child. They all hope and pray for us to grow up, go to school, have a family, and have stable jobs. In their minds stability equals something they know and understand. I don’t think artist falls under their realm of understanding. It’s great that our parents, and in my case-my entire family, dream big for us. It’s certainly better than the alternative. Unfortunately, we’re not all meant to be doctors, lawyers, or nurses. I’m not saying anything against those professions. I wish, sometimes, that I had it in me to become a doctor or a nurse. Those are both rewarding and commendable professions-that take time and dedication.  I just don’t like being in the hospital and I don't think I have that type of patience. I tried the lawyer thing but I my heart wasn't in it, I felt like I was doing it for the title. And just because we don’t become those things it doesn't mean we wasted our potential or that we are less accomplished than those that did.

We’re not all fortunate enough to know exactly what we want to be when we grow up and there are even fewer people who actually follow through on those dreams. There was a study I read about a while back that said that your child’s potential is shown to you the first few years of their lives, before the world is tainted for them. Olympic gold medalist, Gabby Douglas is a prime example of that. Her sister noticed at a very young age that she loved to do cartwheels and bounce around. They invested in that potential. They also got really lucky, because that particular investment was exactly what her dream was. The article said you have to open your child up to possibilities and invest in those possibilities. They will never know until they try right? That doesn't mean to say that every child that loves to tumble and do cartwheels is going to be a future Olympian, but you just never know. I've witnessed, with my own eyes, people give up on their dream because their parents didn't approve. Unfortunately, I can think of handful of them who never quite found their way because of it.

I remember being heartbroken when I was witness to someone asking my mother what I do, even though I had explained it to her already, and she still simply couldn't answer. It made me feel like she didn't really care or worse that she was embarrassed it wasn't anything she could really brag about. I know it caused quite a stir with that the person who was asking, like she felt like maybe her child was better. Don’t use your children for ammunition against someone else, that’s just not cool. I know my mom isn't that shallow, but still to not have your parents understand what you do is quite hurtful. I can even ask both of them right now what I got my masters in and I bet neither one can answer you. That’s another thing that seems to come with having Immigrant parents, lack of communication. My cousin and I were having this heart to heart the other day and he’s pretty much in the same boat as me. Mind you he has a job that has not only provided stability for his family but it’s a job that he is truly passionate about. When we spoke he was like, “Your dad is really proud of you.” I was pretty shocked because I had never heard that from him. I told him that his mom told me she was really proud of him. When I asked out loud why our parents just never tell us directly. He said, “When have our parents ever told us that they were proud?” How are we suppose to know if you never tell us? So, I plead with you parents ask your child what they do- what makes them happy, what makes them passionate. REALLY take the time. Maybe visit their work, maybe talk to the people they work with, read the things they write, hear the songs they play, see the things they build and see the people they help. So when that person asks what your child does you can tell them, even if you don’t quite understand it all, and you end it with and "I am so proud of them" (and you can really mean it). Please also understand that money does not always equal success and happiness. You will know if your child is happy if you take the time to understand what they do and why they do it.

Parents, you came here for a reason, so that your child can have more opportunities than were offered to you. Thomas Jefferson affirmed in his writing of the Constitution that all human beings are “endowed with certain alienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If they are not harming themselves or others why not let them pursue their happiness? I’m telling you from experience, if you do not invest in getting to know your child this way they will turn elsewhere for validation. You will miss out on potential greatness that your child can achieve. You will miss out on truly getting to know them. You will miss out on their whole lives because they will choose to leave you out of what you don’t understand. Even worse, they may miss out on their full potential because they didn't feel your complete support. I tried one day to speak to my parents about what I do and it seemed like they couldn't quite grasp it, more noticeably they just didn't seem interested. Even if you can’t understand what your child does, you can certainly recognize when their eyes light up with they speak or when their head falls when they don’t.

I firmly believe, in most cases, life shows us our potential as we live it. For me I had to stumble and fall. I had to experience life before I knew. I always thought that becoming a doctor was the avenue that I needed to pursue the dream of helping others. One day I was talking to one of my best friends and she said to me, “You know that you are living your dream you just did it your own way.” Isn't it amazing when your friends know you best sometimes? We are all born with particular skills and talents. Some of us are lucky enough to have the more obvious ones. For the rest it takes time to figure it out. My friend told me once that “Life is not a race it’s a marathon.” I always thought I needed a time limit to achieve certain goals. I never achieved what I had planned to in those allotted time limits, but I wouldn't change it for the world. My life has been a series of trial and error, but every trial led me one step closer to where I wanted to be. I should give my parents credit though because they did give me the space to make those mistakes, not everyone is fortunate enough to have that. Even if that space actually meant that they didn't quite comprehend what I was doing, so they thought it was best not to ask. However, without that space I think it would have taken me much longer to get here. Here is a place where I finally feel like I found what I am meant to do and for the first time in my life I feel like I am using all of me. I am not just using my brain, but I am using my creativity, my intuition, and most of all my heart. I wish, wholeheartedly, the same for anyone who finds themselves searching for that same kind of acceptance of self.

I am blessed to have a big family, but unfortunately with a big family comes lots of assumptions. Many assumed I couldn't handle the pressures of becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Many thought I was trying be rebellious. I was just simply finding my way. I have always walked a different path then what was expected of me but it wasn't until recently that I realized the path that I was following, because very few had walked it, I was also paving for myself along the way. In my mind I always told myself, “I was meant to do something else, something I am not aware of quite yet.” Here I am paved road and everything and I finally found it. I want very much to have my family validate this dream of mine but I also know now that I don’t need it in order to keep pursuing it. I waited a long time, I worked really hard, I faced a lot of fears, I took a lot of risks, I put away dreams and fought to get them back, and I’m still fighting. Only now I know what I am fighting for and I understand now that I was wrong for doubting that following my instincts was a mistake.There’s this song from one of my favorite artists, Gavin Degraw called “I don’t wanna be.” There’s a part of the song that I explains everything that I have been feeling as of late and it goes “I don’t wanna be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately. All I have to do is think of me and have peace of mind. I’m tired of looking around wondering wondering who I’m supposed to be. I don’t want to be anything other than me.”

 submitted by resident writer, Cecilia R. Mejia, MPA

Cecilia Remedios Mejia was born to her parents who emigrated from the Philippines. Known to her friends and family as Rachel she is the oldest of two children, but has never felt alone because of the large close knit family of cousins, aunts and uncles that has surrounded her. Cecilia attended The State University of New York at Buffalo. While at SUNY Buffalo Cecilia was a student leader of several organizations- including the People of Color Coordinator (in which she led the four largest and most active student groups on campus.). She was also President of the Filipino American Student Association and the Asian American Student Association. She co- founded a multicultural organization that promotes diversity and leadership through education and mentorship. She aided in the creation of the Intercultural and Diversity Center at the University. After graduating from SUNY Buffalo, Cecilia decided to focus her burgeoning career in the field of law by becoming a paralegal. As a paralegal Cecilia worked for a law firm that represented non-profits and tax exempt organizations. Cecilia realized that the non-profit sector is where her passion and talent lies. Cecilia is currently the Director of Funding for Filipino American Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc.


  1. This. This is the story of my life. I am standing at the end where I can change my life, but I am over-ruled by opinions of other. I am now confused as to what career option I should chose. My dad wants me to be a writer, but I am already a writer and I don't want to purse it in studies.
    My mum want me to do aerospace engineering.
    Now I am so confused. I want to do architecture or fashion designing. Is it too hard for them to understand?

  2. Wow! That was a very touching post. I can relate to that coming ftom the philippines too.
    Well, my children had choosed what they wanted and I supported them, but the youngest who is19 dont know yet know what she want to be. And that is the problem.
    Anyway, i love this post. See you around:)

  3. I am a mom and I think it is important for my kids to choose what they want to do in life. It isn't up to me. It is their life and they have to find what makes them happy and what they are passionate about. Great post. Me? I would love to go to cartoon school. I am an artist at heart.



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