We think of sailing ferocious seas and looking out to scattered clouds when we think of immigrating to the United States of America. We think of crowded transportation systems, all the transmittable germs and sicknesses, but most of all, the hope of a better life. It’s why most of us decide to leave our homes and everything behind, after all. It’s to search for the opportunities a capitalist society will give us, our families, and all the generations that follow.
Yet why is it that these stories and tales diminish in value and valiance when they are retold? Why is it that we still live in a society where young minds are ashamed to show off their culture and their way of life? Why do individuals and families- very much Americans- still feel uncomfortable talking in their native tongue?
To put it simply, I believe it’s the intolerance and the bad press. It’s the negative stereotypes that have become the sole stereotype.
Just the other day, at your typical supermarket in South Georgia, an elderly Spanish couple of Spanish descent stands to wait for the cashier line with their family. They’re talking in Spanish about what they’re going to cook for dinner when a conservative couple walks up to them and speaks in angry English. They comment on how English is the universal language in the United States and that the family should either learn the language or go back to their country. The family ignores the couple and tensions die down. Yet even so, this is one example situation I’d like to use on how the encounter will influence the young children who observed the incident.
The mindsets of children are not set. They are still fresh lumps of clay, waiting to be molded by society’s hands and judgements. The immigrants of my generation are still children and teenagers trying to find themselves in the world. This process is especially complicated because we are trying to find a dual- identity in a spectrum between the Americans that we are and the culture that our family is deeply rooted from. We are not our parents nor grandparents, but we are also taught to be proud of our heritage.
However, this confidence and pride is easily wavered by fear. In the case of the described incidence, the two children (easily younger than twelve) sees their culture as something to be shameful of. They see reason-although illogical- to hide from it. Unfortunately, this is the case all across the United States, even in a rapidly globalized and connected world. Imagine thousands of these scenarios occurring daily, from small remarks to grander gestures and pranks. It drives kids away from their language, their family, and their traditions. They’re pushed to become more “Americanized”, but isn’t the backbone of America our diversity?
We must remember that we are a nation built on a multitude of skillsets and actions. Our first railroad was built by people of different colors and languages. Some of the country’s biggest infrastructures and businesses were built upon immigrant dreamers and their innovations, and of the sweat and labor put in by them to make their ideas a reality. Our nation is advanced and strong because our people are unique and strong as well.
The stories of those before us, and of our immigrant parents/grandparents should be embraced and remembered because they are anything but small. They symbolize the sacrifices made by the previous generations for the sake of mine to become better, more productive people in a new society. They scream of the dangers and faith and journey lived throughout the trajectory of their experiences that keep our cultures and way of life alive. But most of all, they tell the story of what America is: the land of open opportunities and distant dreams.
As my grandmother once told me, anything is possible here.