Immigrants Terrorize Us
I moved into an urban ethnic neighborhood. I moved there by choice, as a white American – into a London neighborhood where the population was 1st and 2nd generation Pakistani, Indian, Somali, Afghan and others – over 90% Muslim, Sikh and Hindu. I chose to be there.
As an upper middle class white American with credit cards, a passport, and hubris, I discovered that, given my sense of majority and powerful connections, I can “feel” at home anywhere — even where I truly do not fit in.
You may or may not be a white American with hubris fed and watered by an inbred notion of the power of the American state and your place among the wealthiest of the world. * And, if one adds into this my conviction that God is on my side, how could one not feel at home? Is this you too?
Now consider that by chance we are instead Somalis or Syrians or Ahiska Turks or Rohingya Muslims cast out from the Rakhine State of Myanmar. And that again by chance (by which of course I mean, “the sovereign hand and intention of the Lord”) we land on Plymouth Rock, or at least “get placed” in Minneapolis by a federal agency in 2011 or last week. By the way, as a refugee, you have to re-pay the feds for your airfare and you get help for 8 months to get acculturated, learn the language and get a job. (Eight months ago I was sick as a dog and in a hospital and my five years of French barely gets me by. Hopefully these folks land in the USA feeling better and sharper than that, and up for the challenge.)
So America is a great place to be. This is fairly indisputable among the white middle class, despite some setbacks, currently being discussed in the political arena. Among those of any ilk, it is still basically a given, among the vast majority of those here and elsewhere, that America is a great place to be. Not idyllic or utopia, I know—and one can suffer anywhere, but . . .
Yet to have arrived recently in the USA, under some duress, bearing a sense of powerlessness, and because it’s not home and it’s foreign, creates some issues.
Many have not arrived “by choice,” but most are resolved to make the best of it. In general refugees and immigrants come with hope and good intention. (We will leave the discussion of bomb-savvy infiltrators for another pundit.)
For me, in my not-at-all-chic but definitively ethnic London neighborhood, I was there to make my way, make friends, and then to learn my place by coming down a few notches. Take that however you like. I was pro-active, eager to be culturally aware and informed, hyper-ready for the challenge . . . which mostly turned out to be about me understanding myself. At the least, I was going to bully my way in. (“Bully my way in” may somehow equate with the terrorist narrative, eh?) Besides, I had a fall back position – the metro East Coast establishment suburb from whence I had ventured.
For those who come newly to be part of America, what is the welcome?
Not much discussion on this at present.
You may remember that in sending troops into Afghanistan, the American military resolved that they it was imperative to “win the hearts” of the people. Whether there or here, the hearts and minds of immigrants need to be won.
There is some assumption that if you have an apartment in Houston, as an immigrant you have enough, and you should be thankful and learn to be at home. Home for you, however, when it was home, is very foreign to the majority of the Americans surrounding you. So what do you do? You try to have as much “home-ness” as you can but still live in Houston. And you relate to as many people you can find who eat like you, raise kids like you do, do life like you, and think like you. So that’s community in America: Usually isolated from more majority, established communities, you live on an island of sorts, or at least gathered with a few others at the end of a peninsula.
“What are they doing here? Maybe the want to terrorize us.”
I would much like to end my essay here by leaving you with — “What are they doing here? Maybe the want to terrorize us” — but I will offer a little direction towards solace for all: The solution to majority fears and immigrant/refugee not-at-home-ness is . . . lunch.
In 2002, I was having chai in the London home of an Indian man who had lived in the UK for 26 years and who said he had never had an Englishman in his home before. (I noted that I was not an Englishman.) One can live unwelcomed in a new land. But: How long can one live unwelcomed in the new land without some sense of being home– or worse, with a boiling aggravation, or an acted out agitation?
Is it a two-way street? Of course. But when the guy moves in down the street (out on the peninsula) it is less incumbent upon him (not being the incumbent) to reach out in welcome with cake and tea.
If you think you are being terrorized, ask them what it feels like to be at home in America. Almost no one is teaching new immigrants –or you—how to cross into the other culture. What does not make sense to us can really scare us. So we, and they, can sit at home scared, or we can figure out how to have lunch. At lunch, ask them what they miss about their old home and if their new home is making sense.
Making sense of them and helping them make sense of America is an anti-terrorist activity. It’s a frontline antidote to terrorism.
* “Almost nine-in-ten Americans had a standard of living that was above the global middle-income standard.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/09/how-americans-compare-with-the-global-middle-class/