I’ve been thinking and writing about the immigrant experience lately. While our immigrant story is a big part of our lives, it’s not something that is on top of our minds all the time. We are just like everyone else, day to day: thinking about our to-do lists, where to take out friends who are in town, how to get tickets to shows. The story doesn’t define us, the lessons learned and values we were able to clarify does.
Yet recently, it’s on my mind. Perhaps it’s because I’m writing my personal statement for the Fulbright scholarship to Singapore that I’m applying to. In addition, there has been news about immigration reform we’ve been hearing in the news lately. A lot of people on my Facebook newsfeed were talking about our 10 year high school reunion. Or the events I’ve been involved with that lead me to meet brilliant, successful people who have similar immigrant experiences.
My family’s migration to the United States is a classic example of how globalization facilitates flows of people. There were a lot of things present in the United States that my parents think would be beneficial for us; the pull of education, diverse experiences and high standard of living were compelling enough to direct us here. On the other hand, the push factors also heavily weighed on us: the dearth of career and personal opportunities even for the best and the brightest, lowered trust on the government, the congestion and pollution, and so forth. We are very much subject to these societal factors that ultimately resulted in our lives pivoting to another direction.
I write about our experiences primarily because of three things:
1) to remember this very important story in our lives, no matter how long ago it has been or how far we’ve come,
2) to help us understand our selves, values, inclinations,
3) to better understand how our relationship with this story evolves and how different it is from others’ stories.
I am not biracial but I share the experience of being bicultural and multicultural at the same time. For the first 14 years of my life, I lived in Manila, where people had diverse backgrounds (Malay, Spanish, Chinese, some American) but held collective beliefs and identified as one ethnicity. Moving to the States changed the environment I was in: people around me had diverse backgrounds and identified as bicultural- their parents’ ancestry and their American nationality.
It’s interesting that here in the States, even if we know that people come from different parts of the world, we are less global in our orientation than in other countries where the population is more homogenous, like Japan. This is because we think of ourselves as the center of the world, and while we know that there are people coming from other regions, we don’t acknowledge their perspective because we highly believe on our own ways of doing things.
Many of my peers who grew up here and who were educated in American universities are drawn to travel. They claim that “learning new cultures” and “meeting diverse people” are the key motivators for traveling. This is great to hear, until these same people make pejorative comments or dismiss others who are of different backgrounds, here in their country of origin. They talk about the problems with Mexican people in the States (I hear more of this in the Midwest than in California, where people are more open to the Latino population in general). They complain about not being able to understand people who have accents. They tease out culture as a weakness in people (ie, “Oh, that’s because she’s Chinese). They roll their eyes when someone who looks different from them say something they don’t like, instead of seeking to understand others. This is the irony that I encounter on a regular basis.
It’s interesting to notice these, and I’m very observant of them due to my experiences and background. This will probably be a recurring theme in this blog.