01 April 2015 ~ 6 Comments

Is Migration Really Beautiful?

Today is a very special day. It was four years ago, today, that the U.S. government initiated removal proceedings against me.

I am not only here–but now I have lawful status, and on an expedited pathway to U.S. citizenship.

(This does not stop people from sending me hate mail, which goes to prove the ‘we support legal immigration’ movement is a sham).

When I was put into removal proceedings, I felt a certain sense of relief. Finally, instead of living in the perpetual limbo of being undocumented, someone would make a decision on my case, and I could pick up on living life again. Finally, I may be able to go home, and restart my life from when it had ended. I truly felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Americans are incensed by this. Of course, there is something to lose — your family, your community, and your life in the United States.

True, perhaps there is some loss there. But my great-great-grandparents were resilient people. And they passed on this resilience to the generations after them. They were taken from India to Fiji, as indentured labourers. Certainly, they must have lost a lot in that migration. Their culture, family, caste, and way of life.

Somehow, people also forget how much we lost, similarly, in moving here. That sense of loss does not go away with capitalist accumulation. Loss combines with isolation because the U.S. is such an individualistic society where everyone is so steeped in the rat race to nowhere, and worried about money.

People in the U.S. don’t smile and say ‘Bula’ when you walk down the street. We do not talanoa with our co-workers. Our neighbors do not know our names.  If they know our names, they cannot pronounce our names. And they cannot seem to fathom the concept of an Indo-Fijian, much less a queer one.

Integration into this society is unpaid emotional and mental labor, and in the U.S., the emphasis is on assimilation, not integration. My integration was also hampered by the decade that I spent being undocumented. There was no instate tuition. No ability to drive. No health access for counseling or basic check-ups. No financial aid for college. No law licenses for undocumented lawyers. No white-collar employment. No ability to travel abroad. And certainly no programs like deferred action to enable any of the above. We had to work hard to make all of these things possible. I had to personally fight and win these battles.

It all draws me towards the conclusion that migration isn’t beautiful for a lot of immigrants. It is devastating to leave everything and come to a new country to start over again. Feeling completely displaced and lonely. Constantly feeling threatened, scrutinized and under attack from anti-immigrants. Having to work twice as hard as everyone else, and be twice as more qualified, for the same jobs. Having to learn and speak English.

The U.S. provides tremendous opportunity to reinvent and recreate ourselves, but that opportunity is often met with tremendous resistance, and frequent isolation. Maybe migration is beautiful but only for those who benefit from it. The cuisines, languages, and cultures that other immigrants bring with them enrich the United States, and the immigrant experience. The cheap and expandable labour–well, we know who mostly benefits from that.

What do you think?

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  • Nitish

    I think you are right. Immigration in world of borders and economic disparities is a painful process. But I can only imagine what you have gone through. I will be an immigrant to the US, too (probably within this year), and I have also gone through the non-immigrant visa processes, but I think my privilege has saved me from much of the pain. I am a middle-class, upper caste, male who has always been legal and legitimate in the State’s eyes, so the discrimination I face is not significant enough to leave scars.

    On another note, I stumbled on to your blog after discussing about hate crime legislation (the Dharun Ravi case) with a friend who is taking a class about the intersectionality of incarceration and gender and sexuality. She told me about the Dharun Ravi case. I come from the position that asking the State to safegaurd against hate crime, when it is the State that commits and perpetuates these acts of hate against people of color, non-heteronormative lifestyles and sexualities, immigrants etc., only legitimizes the State and the prison industrial complex. But this is an intellectual stance that I have no real experience with.

    Reading this post regarding your ongoing immigration experience, the State and its oppressive reach into our lives becomes far more real than the intellectual positions I get to form and engage in.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Moderator

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Nitish! I feel really grateful to have other immigrants with me in my journey, even if we do come from different places and perspectives. And I’ll continue working to make sure everyone has the same opportunities.

      And of course, agree with you on the Dharun Ravi matter, and hate crimes legislation, generally.

  • AJ

    Thank you for writing for this post. In this society, it is consolation, comfort to read things you recognize in your own life. “Integration into this society is unpaid emotional and mental labor.” <3

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  • Khan

    Wonderful post!
    My only advice to you is not give a damn about haters.
    I think most people that you interact with are jelly of your success.

  • piathabia

    Prerna, thanks for sharing your thoughts on migration. I’ve always balked at “migration is beautiful” because so many Filipinos, including myself, have seen and experienced that migration has mostly been forced. The migration of so many of my countryfolks have been due to lack of economic opportunities in our homeland, along with other socio-economic problems. Truth be told, we wouldn’t be leaving the homeland if lives were that sweet — to face a shiny yet detached and cold America.

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