I’m an immigrant.
But not the obvious kind. You’d be hard pressed to identify me in a crowd of Americans as someone who was born in another country.
I don’t pronounce words with any discernible lilt or lisp. My clothing is more along the lines of a GAP ad than what you would find at your local international farmer’s market.
I spent my formative years in America, and could talk more about the Kardashian’s rise to fame than I could perhaps elucidate on the post-war post-independence condition of my fatherland.
With all of that being said..
The cultural thumbprints of “home” linger.
I see it in the difficulty I have navigating some of the culture of 2018 America. Being African means that I didn’t have to deal with some of the baggage that African-American’s had to deal with. This can lead to confusion when I look at my path and compare it to theirs.
I see it in my struggle with dating. Trying to find someone who understands my unique history and the views I have is somewhat more difficult for people who have not had the immigrant experience.
Trying to figure out what aspects of my culture are helpful and should be kept and what aspects can be modulated and mixed with more progressive viewpoints is mildly annoying. I try to use a rational framework to decide what to keep vs. throw away. It’s not always an easy task. I think respect for elders translates well across all cultures, but there are other features that don’t make the transatlantic trip as easy.
What’s even more difficult is that you’ve been raised in a place that automatically separates you from your home country via distance. You are not in the strictest senses African and yet, not quite American. You spend a good portion of your life, feeling a bit like an outsider in both groups. Each group has a claim to your heart but neither seem to allow you a perfect fit. There is always the faint reminder that “s/he’s not really one of us.”
And maybe, this is more a personal, but I suspect that it is the same for all immigrants who emigrate at a young age.
There are of course, choices that can be made to ameliorate these issues. The most common is to fully adopt the culture of your new home. This is probably the most commonly chosen for those of us who arrive in America at an early age.
Because truthfully, it’s easiest to adapt when you are young. You can disguise or destroy any accent you have. You can adopt the slang, mannerisms, clothing styles, and learn what the social cues and practices are. Often because you’ve made an (unconscious) study of the new culture you’ll understand the unwritten rules in a way that even natives don’t quite grasp.
The problem is that you’ll have something to compare the new culture to. You’ll grasp the hypocrisies and see the places where your new home falls short. You’ll be bewildered as to why your new home does things the way that they do. And when you go back to your fatherland, you’ll see the inefficiencies and foibles that live there.
Being an immigrant, I think, is a good place for an introvert. You get to live in two different worlds at the same time. It is as close to as super power as I think I’ll ever get.
“The truth is, immigrants tend to be more American than people born here.”
― Chuck Palahniuk,