The Problem with Immigrants

(I should point out that I myself am an immigrant and the child of immigrant parents. I was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield in the County of Nottingham, Great Britain – my parents originally came from Poland. I emigrated, along with my parent’s and younger sister to Canada in 1971. That was a great year, we had the snowstorm of a century in Montreal. For a 5 year old kid, this was just fantastic - and I have been waiting every year since then for the same, but all we get a piddling amounts of snow. sigh).

Being an immigrant is hard. You lose you language, your culture, your food, your music. Nothing is familiar anymore. So you seek comfort and join up with fellow immigrants of the same nationality. You form little conclaves – ghettos – where you live in isolation from the rest of society and your own culture.

I’m not saying all immigrants do this, but my experience is that a lot do - at least the first generation. Many of my friends are children of first generation immigrants. The second generation are often torn between cultures. The third generation usually has little to do with the original culture.

I find it sad that a the parents of a number of my friends really could not communicate in English or French beyond simple phrases, “Coffee? Tea? Juice? Please, sit. Sit down. Thank you”

My parents were different. They did not cling to their Polish culture and heritage (this comes with its own angst). Instead they tried to integrate within Canadian society. So my parents do speak English well (with a bit of accent), they do not slavishly hold to old customs and traditions. They adapt as necessary.

They did this because they had seen what happened to immigrants who became isolated within small ex-pat communities. Clinging to the past, to things that had changed long ago – music, clothes, behavior, social attitudes, etc. But, these people, in their isolation, still remembered the land they had left 20, 30, 40 years ago – but they did not experience the changes that had occurred in those years. They lived in a frozen fantasy.

Of course things are different today. We have much better communication. It is easier to keep up to date on what is happening in your country of origin. We can watch satellite TV, log onto the internet, and subscribe to blogs. Information passes more easily and freely than it has in the past.

But, in some ways it only serves to isolate people even more. Why bother to even try to integrate when you can watch the news from your home country. We have Chinese neighbors (they are elderly) who basically live on Beijing time – they sleep during the day and in the evening watch Chinese TV, get their news. Can such an compromise schedule be good? I don’t think so. (To be fair, they are actually up later in the day, I often see the woman tending to her yard and garden - but I do know they get up late because they watch TV from China late at night)

Breaking with the past can be hard and difficult. But, the road forward can be very rich and rewarding. Your heart, your mind, and your soul can be expanded to dimensions you never imagined. Your old view of the world will seem so antiquated, narrow and limited.

Join in and sing the Immigrant Song.

[29-December-2005: fixed broken hyperlink]

Comments

I have always envied those families who have strong cultural ties and traditions. I can't really say that we have any in our family (though I sometimes think it's time to start some).

Gotta love those viking kitties! Every time I hear that song it takes me right back to high school (big Zeppelin fan in those days). :)

Hope your cold has passed and that you are feeling better! :)
Bee said…
that's a very funny link. :) thanks for sharing.

we r all getting more and more mixed in our cultures as the world becomes borderless. Good in a way.
Lunafish said…
I have a passion for movies about immigrant families and traditions:
Avalon and Tortilla Soup
I admire cultural groups that stay together. Having world traveled, I still find it beyond my grasp that people move that far from their roots.
I was involved in assisting a half dozen Russians and their kin move to Dallas, TX just before Y2K for jobs. They had never been to the States. They all moved into the same apartment complex to feel that sense of community and security. I suppose there is good and bad in things becoming *universal* I think it is sad that so few Americans speak only one language (myself included)
And the Viking Kitties, love them. Always think of MIO and the first time she linked me to a blog long ago where I first saw them, long before blogging was a gleam in any of our eyes.
Richard said…
I just want ot assure people that this was not a rant against immigrants.

I think diversity is a wonderful thing and I enjoy sampling as much of it as possible.

My main rant was against enclosing and isolating yourself. This applies equally well to immigrants, as well as any other group which encases itself in barriers to keep out the rest of the world.

I love to walk around in China town, but I also feel sad for those who work there and speak no English - completely cut off from the society in which they live.

MIO: I am sure you have strong traditions. You probably don't recognize them because most people probably do the same. For example, when do you open Christmas gifts? One on Christmas Eve the rest on Christmas Day? All on Christmas Eve? All on Christmas morning? Later onChristmas day?

As for my family, my wife came to Canada almost 11 years ago from Peru to study. I have a pseudo Polish-Canadian background. My kids get a little bit of everything. They both speak Spanish and English (my daughter is also fluent in French - she was also learning Mandarin, until she broke up with her Chinese friend :-(

Lunafish: it is very hard for people to leave their home countries. They only do so if they believe there is a better life for them elsewhere.

I think the viking kittens are pretty cute too (also one of the 2 Led Zeppelin songs I like).

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