Sunday, May 25, 2014

What It's Like Being an Immigrant

-->An excerpt from a "response paper" for my Migration class last semester. (See more here.)

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what it's like being an immigrant in the U.S., not just for me but for my parents and other immigrants as well. Screwed up immigration policies aside (which I'll write about another time), I want to talk here instead about the sacrifices that the generation that's migrating and their children, if they have any, have to make and what kind of hell that's like. Our folks "back home" don't really get this, and neither do non-migrants around us. So let's hope this helps. Also, please bear in mind that this may not be every immigrant's experience. It certainly is mine and that of the ones I know. In the migration class, a lot of the students were first or second generation immigrants like me, and we often shared our experiences and reflections on immigration, the whole "back home" stuff, our families, and so on; not all could relate to my experience in the same way that I couldn't always relate to everyone's there. (They were also mostly Hispanics.)

See, the struggles the generation migrating is forced to overcome might be invisible to outsiders but are haunting to those suffering from them. These sacrifices are tremendous and shape the next several generations after the family has migrated. However, the generation that makes the sacrifices is also the one that suffers the most, in many cases—and certainly in most cases I know personally. This might change depending on the different reasons that people migrate and what their identities might be, how well they are able to adjust to the new community, and how much they leave behind. Language and culture are often major issues for those unfamiliar with American culture(s) and with English, and this leads to vast cultural and language gaps between parents and children that widen the existing generational gap between them. As a consequence, the relationship between the different generations in one family can become unhealthy. This is one of the factors that migrants risk.

To be an immigrant is to be in a constant battle with yourself. It is to be in a liminal, in-between space, a space that you yourself cannot recognize, that is really hard to define and understand, that is neither there nor not-there. It is also to be in a battle with those closest to you and whom you love most (if you have them)—your parents. You understand them now far less than you would if “home” to you both were the same, if culture to you both were the same. But it’s not. Being an immigrant is to be raised in two different places with two different (in my case also opposing) cultures, where most of the choices we make come with sacrifices and battles with the self and loved ones.

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