Over the last few years, people all over the world have noticed ‘problems with immigrants’.
Failure to integrate leads to demands for the host culture to adapt to the immigrants, rather than the immigrants adapting to the culture and accepting the customs of their adoptive land. Perpetuation of non-integration leads to immigrant-youth alienation, which, in turn, leads to immigrant-youth radicalization. This leads to a vicious cycle of conflict between immigrants and their host cultures.
BUT IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY!!!
Immigrants come to their new, carefully selected homeland filled with dreams and hopes…. I know I did!!! Along with these, there are also a few apprehensions, or dowright fears. The greatest fear which I, as an immigrant, personally faced in coming to a new land is that of ‘the unknown’.
Yes, most of us educate ourselves about our new land before arriving here. We study the demographics, the political system, the statistics about the population. Yet, the textbooks can never capture the essence of the landscape, TV-documentaries never reveal the true atmosphere of a place – at best, these are mere glimpses that can help prepare us for the reality which our new homeland will be.
And we want there to be differences! If there were none, there would have been no point to having left our birthplaces! We come here for the differences!
So, it is not the fact that there are differences that is frightening. Rather, it is the not knowing the scope of the differences….and how we will be able to understand them and learn to adjust to them. It is sort of like going through one’s teens all over again – but without the benefits of youth! That is a very real fear most of us immigrants do face when we first arrive.
It is natural that we should reach out to others, who have gone through this before us. Especially the members of our original ethnic groups who will have experienced these differences already, and know how to explain them in cultural and linguistic terms that are easiest for us to understand. It is comforting to the new immigrant to see people who came from similar backgrounds are thriving and happy here, and we try to learn from thier experiences. And that is good – usually…
As with everything, too much of a good thing becomes poisonous.
So it is with this type of help.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, danger is that the person(s) doing the explaining of the customs have not successfully integrated themselves, that their understanding of the mainstream culture and how to integrate into it is flawed.
This does not, in any way, shape or form, imply that there is any malice or ill intent here. To the contrary. There are many immigrants who misunderstand or misinterpret much of the cultural mainstream about them, and only partially succeed in integrating. Perhaps their professional skills and/or their tenacity allow them to succeed economically, but they simply do not have the time, skills or desire to integrate socially. Perhaps their social obligations to non-integrated members of the community hold them hostage.
It does not mean that they are any less intelligent, or any less ‘cultured’! Not in the least! Being able to successfully integrate into another society requires a specific set of skills, and ‘intelligence’ is not a deciding factor in these. Nor is the ‘previous culture’, the one they are coming from, necessarily an indicator of how successful will be their social integration. I really do not know what the indicators are, or what the required skills are – though mastering the language does have a lot to do with it. Simply, I have observed that this phenomenon of ‘partial integration’ cuts across cultures, professions, education levels – even perceived ‘people skills’.
The people who have only partially integrated then naturally cleave towards other immigrants, who are a ‘fresh source’ of contact with their ‘original culture’. After all, intelligent, sociable people have a need for ‘cultured expression’. Those for whom the host culture is incomprehensible – or, at least, viewed in a skewed way – will seek out immigrants in order to satisfy this need to sustain the ‘cultured’ part of their soul.
In turn, they honestly try to be helpful to the newcomers, helping them establish themselves here….mirroring their own un-integrated ways! And much of what they do is helpful – yet, at what cost…
This is strike one against many new immigrants: the very help they receive may, indeed, perpetuate misconceptions about the host society and actively prevent the new immigrants from successfully integrating within it.
The second, much less ‘visible’ or ‘correctible’ danger is ‘social indebtedness’.
One of the best human qualities is our reciprocity in kindness. It is what we need for that most human of things: building communities. It is one of our best qualities – yet, it is also this very same quality which may shackle immigrants and prevent them from successfully integrating into their host society.
When we receive help from someone – someone who is truly interested in helping us, not one who is trying to somehow get an advantage by doing things for us, but who is genuinely doing things because they want to help us, we feel truly gratefull, and ‘well-inclined’ towards them. We wish to reciprocate their kindness. Through this benevolence, this ‘reciprocity of voluntary kindnesses’, communities are built – one relationship at a time.
In order to successfully itegrate, an immigrant needs to turn to its host society to satisfy her/his cultural needs.
If this does not happen, there will not be anything but the most superficial integration. It is therefore ESSENTIAL that these ‘community bonds’ be establilshed with members of the mainstream society – NOT that of the socially un-integrated immigrant community!
Yet, it is exactly within the un-integrated elements of the immigrant community that a newcomer to a society will find help, and it is with these people that the social bonds will begin to be built through ‘reciprocity of kindnesses’.
Before they realize it, many immigrants find themselves living (socially and/or physically) in a self-imposed ghettos, made up of immigrants from their background, who have not integrated into the host society.
As the size of this ‘ghetto’ grows, the need to integrate decreases. Once the ‘community’ is large enough to satisfy both the economic and social needs of the immigrants, there will be little incentive to interact (much less integrate into) the host society. Even worse: any desire or attempt to integrate (outside the immigrant community) will be perceived by the ‘helpful’ elements within this sub-culture as ‘being ungrateful’ for the help received. After all, this would be a rejection of their version of the host society – and, in effect, the rejection of the benefactors themselves!!!
Nobody wishes to be ungrateful or disrespectful of the very people who have gone out of their way to help her/him. Eventually, there will be very strong pressure on the new immigrant to reject integration into the host society.
So, how do we escape this self-imposed ghetto?
I don’t know a ‘good’ way of going about this. I know how I escaped – but I also know ‘my way’ cannot possibly work for everyone….
I escaped by ‘being eccentric’.
I’m the first one to admit it – I am eccentric. And, ‘eccentric’ is one of ‘them irregular words’:
- I am ‘original’/’free thinker’
- You are ‘eccentric’
- he/she/it is ‘certifiably nuts’
I know I hurt people’s feelings along the way – people who were nice people, and tried to help me the best they could. But, I was ‘equal’ in my treatment of others and rejection of their ‘help’. Soon, my ‘would-like-to-be-benefactors’ realized that I was indeed grateful to them, in my own way, it’s just that I was a bit weird…. and incredibly pig-headed, headstrong and perhaps even a little bit stubborn!
So, socially, I was ‘written off’ as a ‘lost cause’…..
Still, when I became of ‘marrigable age’, there were MANY attempts to find an ‘appropriate match’ for me from within the ‘immigrant community’. I suspect that male or female, all young immigrants – and children of immigrants – go through this to some degree. And I also understand that this is really meant in the best possible way.
But, well, that way, self-ghettoization lies!
Again, I know I was seen as rude – but in the most polite way I could manage (yes, that is not saying much…), I rejected ALL ‘help’ equally. I did understand the desire to help me drove these efforts, and thanked my ‘benefactors’ for their efforts, even as I rejected them. As politely as possible, but firmly and definitely.
My best help in this came from my parents. They were supportive of my desire to fully integrate. Had they had a different set of morals, had they thought my desire to actually exercise the freedoms my adopted homeland afforded me was an attack upon them and their honour, I might not have had the desire or courage to make my integration complete. And to them go my eternal thanks for empowering me like this!
In times when so many immigrants live in self-imposed ghettos, it is important for those of us who have succeeded in integrating into our host cultures to share our experiences and insights. It is imperative that we go out of our way to help all other immigrants – not just those from out specific background – succeed the way we have, so they, too, may enjoy all that our new homeland has to offer us!
It is just as important that we do identify ourselves as immigrants to ‘the mainstream culture’ – in order to make people see that immigrants CAN successfully integrate! And, of course, to reassure them that we came here BECAUSE of thier culture and customs, and that we, the immigrants, want them preserved at all costs!!!
Therefore, it is also imperative that we, the well-adjusted immigrants, oppose most vehemently and most vocally the erosion of values in the cultures of our adoptive homelands!!! We are the ones who MUST LEAD the forces that protect the cultures and customs whose protections we sought when we were the most vulnerable!
After all, this is the only way we will be able to preserve our host cultures! We have NOT picked them lightly, we picked them because we liked them.
Perhaps we each and every immigrant is not completely comfortable with all aspects of the host culture, but the whole is what we came for, and this whole cannot exist without the bits we are not all that comfortable with….so we must protect ALL OF IT!!!!
All right, I know I am ranting now – but, well, this is something really, really important!
I do not wish to loose all that my adoptive homeland has to offer – especially its culture! I came here for the benfits the ‘Western culture’ of individualism has to offer – and I’ll be damned if I don’t do everything in my power to preserve it for my children to enjoy!!!