During this unit on immigration, I have learned how immigrants are very similar to me, and how they are very different. Narmin, and immigrant from Baghdad, felt torn between the friends and boyfriend she had back in Iraq and the new friends she was making in Baltimore. She could easily communicate with them through texting and social media, and this sometimes prevented her from being present where she was. When I moved from Long Island a year and a half ago, I too felt torn between my old friends and new, and my constant communication with my old friends, comforting as it may have been, hindered my ability to really dig in here in Baltimore and make meaningful friendships. This is something that Narmin and I have in common. However, just as we are similar, Narmin and I are very different: Narmin often worries about the safety of her friends in Iraq and hears unsettling news from them of the dangers they face. I do not constantly worry about the safety of my friends in New York. Narmin’s family moved to America for safety, after her father had been kidnapped and her home had been bombed. My family moved to Baltimore for my more interesting jobs for my parents. While Narmin and I share a common experience of moving and having contact with old friends, we have great differences in experience; these differences help illustrate the trauma that she has had.
While Narmin is just one example, throughout this unit one thing was especially clear to me about immigrants: we are similar and we are different. We are similar in hopes, fears, and dreams: hopes for wellbeing, fears of danger, and dreams of success. We are different in the things we have experienced, often tragedies that are unimaginable to me. The differences, therefore, only lie in how many more challenges these immigrants have to face. I have never had to learn a new language, because I am privileged that my first language was English. I don’t have to work to support my family as well as go to school. I never had to adjust to an entire new culture with foreign customs in a foreign place. I don’t have to worry about my family being deported, or targeted with xenophobic sentiment. School is in my language, I do my homework in my language: I have so few of the challenges that immigrants face.
I think that immigrants add to our country — after all, we are a country of and founded by immigrants. Having people of multiple different backgrounds adds to a community, in my opinion. Especially important in this age of increasing globalization, having people who have experienced places other than America is beneficial. It is also hypocritical, I believe, for our country, that stands for freedom and liberty, to refuse people who are attempting to escape violence and oppression.
My understanding of immigration in the US has been primarily extended and affirmed by this unit. I continue to believe that immigrants benefit a population and that it is our duty as a democracy to welcome those who would like to be citizens. However I was not familiar with the actual experiences that cause immigrants to leave their countries. I hadn’t realized just how bad it can be in their countries — a privilege that I haven’t had to think about danger in a way that other people have. I also hadn’t quite considered how many challenges they face after reaching America, especially for teenagers — do they undertake the immense challenge of learning an entire new language and finishing high school in four years, or do they go straight to work to help support the family? The challenges of having to decide whether to fully assimilate to American culture, or to keep their traditions. The crushing responsibilities that may lay on teenager’s backs — they are most fluent in English, and must serve as translators, or must be the first family member to go to college yet at the same time be a breadwinner. I was not aware of how the challenges don’t end at America’s borders. I was not aware of how brave immigrants are. I was also not quite aware of how similar they are to me. We have similar wishes and desires; our parents hope for similar things for us.