4 Lessons Marketing First Gen

4 Lessons in Marketing From a First-Gen American

By Yasamin Haghshenas

Like any other first-generation American, my childhood wasn’t what one would call a “normal” American upbringing. For many years I saw this as a disadvantage, always longing to look more like the blonde girls in my class who brought PB&J sandwiches for lunch that their stay-at-home mothers packed them. Instead, I stuck out like a sore thumb with my thick brown hair and sometimes smelly (albeit tasty) Persian leftovers that I packed myself the night before because my single mother was working late.

It didn’t hit me until my first PR job in New York City, that while my childhood didn’t look like The Wonder Years, I was extremely fortunate to have the upbringing I did.

Yas and mom
Young Yas and her mother

The story, just like many other “American Dream” stories began with my mother, who came to the United States from Iran in 1985. She walked off the plane with $200 in her pocket, a 4-year-old daughter (my sister), no prior knowledge of the English language, and the hope of making a better life for herself and her family.

She worked day in and day out as a seamstress in the back of the dry cleaners’ (making paychecks sometimes as little as $240). But through the years her clientele began to grow. Then, in 1995, ten years after arriving to Durham, North Carolina, my mother opened her very own high-end women’s boutique. I was 2 years old at the time and because daycare was an expense that my mother couldn’t afford, I grew up in that store. My mother’s clients and co-workers turned into our very own “Brady Bunch” family. Half of the guests at my sister’s wedding were my mother’s clients, which truly was a testament of the kind of woman she is and the amazing business that she ran. Growing up she always told me to treat your clients and coworkers like family, because there will always be times where you will need to lean on each other and it is through these connections that you can really make an impact in any business.

Yas and mom2
Yas and her mother in her boutique

While there aren’t many day-to-day similarities between owning a clothing store and being a PR professional in New York City, watching my mother run her business and raise her family singlehandedly taught me the work ethic, attitude, and strength it takes to be a strong marketing professional and be successful in client services. She taught me that working hard goes a long way. My mother started a life from scratch in a foreign country to make sure that I had a better life. With that in mind, I never take for granted what she sacrificed so that I could have the life I have today.

I can think of numerous times that my mother was faced with doubt from her peers, but she always taught me to never be afraid to raise your voice for what you believe in. She is also is one of the most outspoken women I’ve ever met. She taught me the importance of speaking up for myself as a minority and shown me how to do so with grace and confidence.

Yas and family
Yas’s mom, center, when she was a teen in Iran.

Above all my mother always taught me to never forget where you came from. Everyone has a unique story and no one’s upbringing is “perfect” but learning to accept and take pride in my differences has helped me become the person I am today.