by Bahare Kazemghamsari
I am going to share my story with you and my experience as a person born in a different culture and in a different land. My appearance, my mother tongue, and my original clothing are different than those of the majority of the people in this country. When you look at me, you can tell that I am not a native English speaker, even when I don’t speak. Yes, I am an immigrant who came from far away to live in this country.
I am going to explain to you what an immigrant is. It might give you better understanding of people like me. It might give you a better sense of judgment. Maybe next time, you will not laugh at my accent or stare at my clothing, and you may have a kinder look toward me. When I enter the stores, you may be tired or maybe you greet people randomly, but I always feel that if I were born here you would treat me differently. I always do my best to tell you what I mean, but sometimes you pretend that I am talking in another language.
An immigrant is someone who does not have a feeling of belonging to any country. Immigrants cannot return to their land of origin, because if it was the right place for them to be why would they have immigrated in the first place? Thus, the immigrant does not belong in this original home where they were born. But, the immigrant does not belong in his/her new country of residence either. Most immigrants always feel lonely. When I immigrated here, I left my family, my closest friends, and my relatives behind. I did not have a chance to see my grandparents before they passed away. I am never going to see them again, and it will happen again.
Also, an immigrant is someone who has to start from zero. He or she is like a new born struggling in a strange land. Everything is new: new culture, new language, and new people. When an immigrant enters to the new country, people’s speech does not make sense. The feeling of embarrassment and confusion will not allow him/her to understand a single word, even the simplest words like hello and bye. Everything is scary. People are scary. The immigrant wishes that the customer service person at the grocery store will not ask any questions. The immigrant runs away from any type of conversation. Phone calls are unpleasant, because the immigrant cannot understand a single word from the other side of the phone line. The world waits for the newborn to discover, to learn, and to start. But, the immigrant does not have that time. The world does not wait for him/her, especially if they have a family to take care of. He/she could continue living without any help. The immigrant might have had an established job or a good degree from his/her country, but he or she will have to start again from the point of zero.
I am explaining who I am, so next time you see me you will not think that I jumped the border to come to this country. It took me two years to enter this country. I was away from my husband for two years, and lived in different places to get my green card. It was not easy for me to get permission to live here. I did a blood test and had a back ground check. I filled out tons of forms to get here. So next time you see me do not tell me, “when my descendants came to this country, there were lots of quarantine controls like medical and background check at the port of landings.”
The immigrant is someone who may hear surprising questions over and over: “Do you ride a camel in your country?” “Had you ever eaten ice cream before you got here?” I am sure you do not want to hurt my feelings, but if you do not have enough knowledge about other countries, please do not ask these type of questions. My hometown Tehran, the capital of Iran, is one of the most polluted cities in the world because of the industrial activities and cars, so for sure we do not commute by camel. Ice cream was invented a long time ago in Persian Empire, which means in Iran 2500 years ago. The country that I came from might not be as modernized as here, but there are so many amazing places and historical monuments there that you may not see them in any other places.
The immigrant is going to have an accent forever. Immigrants have trouble with sounds that may not exist in the language that she/he first learned as child. Every language has its beauty, so you have to respect the person who has never had the “R” sound, for example, in her/his language and the closest sound that she/he can pounces is “L”. Immigrants were raised in a different culture, so it is hard for him/ her to understand a new language and to blend into a new culture. There will always be something new to learn. Sometimes it is impossible to understand some aspects of a new culture. The time zone is different. The months are different. The calendar is different. So, the immigrant become lost in the days, months, and years. The New Year becomes meaningless because people celebrate New Year here differently than in one’s motherland.
This is my story as an immigrant from the Far East. I am from a country in which people have a different culture, handwriting, and a different language. As an immigrant, I am still struggling with talking, writing, and understanding the different world. My kids might get embarrassed by my accent or may like to have typical family name. But, they and their kids will be thankful that they were born and raised in a country where people live with equal rights and live in friendship. Not only me, but all the immigrants go through hard times to make a better life for their family, their society, and as a result, for you.