***Disclaimer: This piece is written in an accusatory fashion. In attempting to convey my displeasure I have employed a finger pointing tone because I feel it fits the subject matter. It is meant to be an indictment and it is not directed at the lovely people who have I’m happy to call friends. The images are snap shots of Xenophobia through the decades.***
Here’s a little tidbit about me. “I’m not from your country”. I am *gasp*, an immigrant, just like someone in your family tree probably was at one point. I’m very vocal about this fact because I’m proud of where I’m from. However I enjoy a number of privileges that make it so you would never know that unless I told you. I have white privilege so I don’t look any different that you do. I don’t a noticeable accent, unless I get very sincere or passionate about a topic and slip back into it. Most importantly English is my only language. I pass as an American but I went through the same degrading immigration process as everyone else. In order to gain citizenship I had to renounce everything I hold dear and swear to serve the American military in time of crisis etc etc.
Taking the oath of allegiance is meant to strip you of your old identity so that you can have a new one. It is a gut wrenching experience, particularly if you never wanted to be here in the first place. This is all taking into account that I am keenly aware that my experience has been what I would call “prejudice lite” but I still encounter it all the time from the jokes that just aren’t funny to the daily grind of living somewhere where everything around you is uncomfortable and different. Every time I have felt slighted, been made to be the butt of some stupid isolationist “joke” I have wondered just how much worse it would be if I were obviously ethnic and didn’t speak English. What would it be like to stand out like that? Or to try and navigate the maze of red tape while trying to master a new and let’s face it ridiculously complicated language? What would that be like?
Every single immigrant group that has come here has faced this same cycle of prejudice before some were humanized because another group showed up that the locals hated more. For instance Maine has a sizable French Canadian population therefore we have a great deal of anti-Francophone sentiment but that’s taken a back seat now to anti-Somali prejudice. I always find it amazingly hypocritical that every March everyone suddenly wants to be Irish and drink green beer, when there was a time that Irish weren’t really even considered people. (Here’s another sign and I want to draw attention to the fact that it is professionally made. I think that draws attention to just how invested people were in this attitude. Also this was made in 1915! That’s not that long ago.)
Do you think that maybe in a hundred years everyone want to be Somali for a day? I really fucking doubt it. Although we are perfectly happen to misappropriate African culture, take African dance classes and celebrate interesting drum beats. The same goes for other cultures as well. As Eugene Hutz so eloquently puts it “you love our music but you hate our guts” which pretty much sums up the prevailing attitude toward Gypsies. I also think it’s applicable across the spectrum of immigrant groups. I think there is something we enjoy from every culture that is added to the melting pot you just don’t want the people and language and discernible differences that come with it. You might want a killer manicure but you’re miffed if someone there doesn’t speak perfect fucking English. This is something I have directly observed. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
I sincerely wish that it was socially acceptable to come here and keep your heritage alive. People do it but they face slights, dirty looks, outright racism and religious intolerance for it. Why? What is so wrong with wanting to preserve as much of your familiar way of life in your new surroundings? I’ve traveled abroad with Americans who zero in on McDonald’s just to have familiar food. We all want to feel comfortable to have something that we associate with normalcy and there is nothing wrong with it. Language is essential to who we are and there is nothing rude about speaking the language you are most comfortable in. You are the one being rude for wanting people around you to speak English so you can eavesdrop on conversations that have nothing to do with you.
It is also true that if you move somewhere that your language is not the primary on you will have to adjust just to survive. However having to “deal” with someone to whom English is a second language taking your order at McDonald’s should not that big an inconvenience and if that is the only thing that cramps your day then I think you should start listing the privileges you enjoy on a daily basis. I’m going to go with White Privilege and Class Privilege just for a start.
I know without a doubt that I have it easy. What I want to be crystal clear on is that if you diss immigrants in front of me, you’re insulting me. When you talk about people needing to go home because they’re struggling with their English I’m going to take that personally. If the situation affords the opportunity I will call you out on it as well. What’s more I will write you off as a person. Unless you can demonstrate that you had no idea your words were, inappropriate, in poor taste and inhumane, there will no coming back for you. I’m like Mr. Darcy in that regard. “My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”
I wonder if maybe the French gave us the statue of liberty as a backhanded joke to forever symbolize the farce that is the dream of coming to the supposed land of opportunity. Perhaps she stands with her face to sea because she can’t stand to see the cruelty that goes on behind her back. But I will tell you this, your bigotry will not stop the tide of immigrants leaving war torn countries, economic enslavement etc because enduring your bullshit on a daily basis is still better than a slow death by starvation or no life prospects at all. Chew on that for a moment. Being shunned, reviled, criticized and ostracized is better than the life they are leaving behind. Now don’t you feel like an asshole. Maybe you should find out just how many generations you are from “the boat”. It’s probably closer than you think.
Before you tell me to shut up or go home, believe me I plan to. After twenty years of this shit it is frankly too much. Besides, I never wanted to be here anyway. I’m going to exercise another piece of privilege and go home to my developed first world country but most immigrants don’t have that option and even if they did you still shouldn’t tell them to. The arrogance and rudeness in that statement is just appalling to me. Maybe because I’m part of this group and not part of it at the same time I have more patience than you do. I’m guessing though, that it’s just because I’ve lived through the upheaval of moving somewhere new and a lot of people who spout this anti-immigrant bullshit seem to have not had that experience. (I wouldn’t want to stereotype the xenophobes)
It all comes down to privilege. Rubbing elbows with someone vastly different from us reminds us that we are not the only cultural group on the planet. Other people have the gall to have separate languages and religions and cuisine. How very dare they. Well I’ve got news for you, “We’re coming rougher every time” and it’s your choice whether that sucks for you or not because as long as global crisis keeps creating disenfranchised downtrodden people they will flock to countries with better opportunity.
PS Here is a little story I enjoy immensely where a group of clowns In Tampere Finland chased off some anti-immigrant protesters just by laughing at them and surrounding them with silliness. Maybe this is the best approach.