I originally wrote this post last weekend, but I did not publish it simply because I was afraid to use the wrong terminology, and inadvertently cause someone to be offended. I am publishing this post is to push past that fear. Yet I am still hesitating on hitting publish and have put it off for another couple of hours. If I have spoken wrong, I will fix it, and learn from it. The second reason is because of a post by Amanda at The Declassified Adoptee. Her post is not about this at all, but it speaks about how invisible being adopted can be, so it is similar to this – if that makes any sense at all. Make sure you read Why I’ve Put Off Being Adopted For A Week. (plus she is a much better writer than I).
A fight came into our neighborhood – that landed, and ended, right in my own front yard – that fight also brought racism into the equation, and the reality that some individuals will always be seen as perpetual foreigners.
That’s not supposed to happen in my neighborhood. We live in a very diverse middle-class neighborhood where we are neighbors and friends. We look out for, and help each other. Last weekend it was ugly, scary, emotional, but ended up hopefully okay, in the end.
That’s not what I want to talk about though as you might have come to expect from me…
My emotions combined with my own unearned privilege, didn’t allow me to react quickly enough to provide the kids involved with an analogy that may have made them think next time. At least I think it would have made one of them think, because he did seem to listen. I can only hope he did listen to our collective voices, and will grow from it.
The analogy/commonalities I could have used and didn’t when the words ”go back to your own country” and then in response to the mans statement ”I am a citizen of this country” the kid responded “I was born here” while he pointed to the ground.
I could have said:
I am an immigrant - you assume he is an immigrant - you treat him different, but because I am an invisible immigrant, you treat me the same as you.
I immigrated to my new country that spoke my native language – if he is an immigrant to this country, quite likely he had to learn the native language of his new country. That would mean he has worked harder to adapt than I, yet I am being treated better that he is, just because I am white.
I immigrated to a country where I fit in with the majority - if he immigrated here to a country where he is minority, he automatically becomes ”other” to some, a perpetual foreigner. If we are both immigrants, ask yourself why I am treated as your equal, and not a perpetual foreigner, and he is? Why is that okay?
I could also have told them about the young lady I worked with, who has become a life-long friend, despite our age differences.
She came to this country at the age of 13 – the youngest child of much older parents. I came to this country as an adult, married to a citizen.
She worked hard to adapt, learned the language, the culture so different from what she left, earned a degree, became a homeowner as a single woman. I only had to adapt to minor cultural differences, did not have a language barrier, did not earn a degree, and became a homeowner based on two incomes.
And while she and her older siblings adapted too, and embraced everything in this country, her older, elderly parents never did fully embrace the new culture or language, simply because of their age. She thinks in English and has lost most of her first language and struggles to communicate with them at any real depth, and has to deal with some of the residual cultural differences that still exist between generations. She had to, and wanted to, adapt and embrace a completely different culture and life, and did so successfully – but it has also come at a real cost both within her family, and outside of her family. I haven’t faced any of these challenges.
She is treated by some as a perpetual immigrant foreigner because she is a woman of color. I am the invisible immigrant and accepted as a citizen, even before I became a citizen, simply because I am white. She has and will give back to this country as much, if not more, than I will. Yet I am accepted by all, and she isn’t.
It isn’t right.