On Reconciling Double Consciousness and Being an Emotional Immigrant

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From a few weeks ago after a pretty amazing but tormented first year in New York City and dealing with the weirdness that sometimes comes with life changes and upward mobility:

On Monday night, I was on my way home after a meet-upy thing I’m super excited about that I wouldn’t have even considered a few years ago bc I would have been no joke like “that shit is for white people.”

I opened my phone to figure out the best way to get home and instinctively opened Waze and chuckled. I had spent the last week and a half in LA back on freeways but mostly back in the neighborhood I grew up in, where everyone is more or less like me. I couldn’t wait to leave this time last year (when I signed the contract for the job I have now), but as always, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

I switched to Google maps to check train times while walking through the cacophonous internationalism and diversity that is NYC on an extraordinarily beautiful night. I’ve always really wanted to be a global citizen despite inclinations for tribalism.

Lately, I’m always switching place to place space to space. I put on different clothes, talk with a different accent, speak in a different language, change different IDs and transit cards out of my wallet all without thinking. Feeling like an emotional immigrant, not quite real and definitely not down.

I’ve struggled in the past year to finally get that this life is both a gift and a responsibility and that is ok, even though it can feel like a burden with sense of torment, the constant mix of ecstasy and guilt immigrant Americans can feel. Of always being an outsider, but someone who moves past borders, real and invisible. My adaptability has sometimes made me wonder if I’m a plastic person.

But I can’t keep worrying about feeling like selling out or that I’m being a faker – I’ve made my choices with no regrets. Maybe I can be a bridge and accept it as both a form of duty and a stroke of luck, because let’s face it, most of the world cannot be global citizens. Choosing the best parts of life and knowing that to much is given much is expected, but I can enjoy it, appreciate it, use it, and forever be grateful for this moment in life.

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Warning: Life is Not as It Appears on Facebook

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Warning: Life is Not as It Appears on Facebook

I share all kinds of stuff on Facebook.  I have family and friends scattered around the world and love seeing what people are up to and want people to know what I’m up to. Unfortunately, I’m also a flawed petty and prideful person. I sometimes like to show how well I’ve ended up sometimes because I never thought my life would be like the one I have now. It wasn’t easy, it was not just my singular effort, and I am thankful. The other is that the world doesn’t let up on vacation of course, and that feels especially clear abroad.

This is a super douchey Facebook post, and my friend and I laughed about it. What you don’t see in this story was moments after we took this picture, some weird crazed looking man came up to us and went on a rant we couldn’t quite understand but we could make out “why refugees and why not us something something.”  Clearly he saw us and didn’t like what he saw, two non-White people enjoying the seats outside the National Museum of Denmark.  We weren’t the only foreigners frolicking in the fountain set-up they had, but we were the ones he decided to confront.  (A very LA part of me was ready to pick up the chair next to me and defend myself with it if necessary).

Later we talked about the irony of the situation given that we are the direct American descendants of refugees or products of open immigration policies – chances given to unwanted people.  My friend was in Denmark because she has family that was settled after the Vietnam War.

There’s such a twisted irony that we’re able to fool around in Europe in our nice clothes on a nice vacation as the direct result of open policies for people in bad situations to one day be accosted by a Danish man upset about this generation’s refugees. We are a living testament of generations of our families working and being allowed to be in a place where we could succeed beyond anything those we came before us could imagine. Unlike many Americans, we don’t have to go beyond the living for memories of families fleeing burning towns to go into distant lands as unwanted people.

Other than the indigenous people, all Americans are immigrants. As a people, we have a tendency to either desire or were forced to completely forget where we came from or people maintain a grip into past cultures to never forget, sometimes to a fault. I definitely fall into the latter camp. Hanging onto to languages, customs, passports, and memories can be a source of torment, but it’s also a source of perspective.

I’m aware I’m totally making a blanket judgement here about Europe and thinking too much, but the more I see things the more:

1) I’m convinced that we as Americans need to get our shit together and be active citizens that vote and shape policy because:

2) The United States and Canada are likely the only ones who can solve the refugee problem with resources, culture, and conditions to absorb people in a way that they don’t become a permanent and unaccepted underclass. Even though we have significant problems with racial justice in the United States, European societies are a much less realistic place to attempt to take these people on.

In a generation or two they’ll be totally American, loyal and productive and eventually be drivers and rebuilders of where they came from after the night has ended. Maybe they’ll be doing what I’ve been doing. We also bare responsibly for being complicit in Bush’s war and Obama’s mistakes in not containing ISIS of why the world is as it is now. Seeing signs about the crisis and seeing it on the news here when you’re not an ocean away does make it more real and sickening. Indeed much support for today’s refugees from from Southeast Asians who were settled after the Vietnam War and Asian American justice groups. I’m not naive, it won’t be easy or without cost or conflict to take on this challenge, but the US and Canada, are uniquely able to face this challenge.  

Despite our own own current flirtations with fascism, the reality is that most non-White people assimilate and take on American and Canadian identity in a way that Europe doesn’t seem to have a social set-up for.  It’s absurd to think people imported from former colonies could become the French or German, identities that go back to ancient times.  I, and many other Americans like me, don’t identify nor share any semblance of historical bloodline with people around me who have ancestors that go back beyond the Civil War, but I’m able to become a part of the American story.  That’s a powerful bit of soft power America and Canada have that America appears to want to squander now.

Who knows what will really happen but the decisions we make today and realizing how lucky we are was not just luck and we bear responsibility. Many Americans have no memories to realize how lucky they are or to realize that such a life is fragile and is intentional, there’s no magic here. People make decisions to create a better world and we’re failing horribly at our responsibilities right now.  People need to vote, in elections other than presidential ones.  Even Barack Obama’s historical election had only about 57% turnout rate.  Those of us with resources need to lobby and contribute to causes.  We’re letting the bigots drown out our voices right now.  While I wasn’t going to pop off on a crazy Danish man, I’m voting and giving money and resources to the causes I care about here at home, and that includes refugees.  

And yes, I’ll talk about it on Facebook.