Monday, July 09, 2007

An Immigrant Experience

I recently read a book called Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri which describes vividly the reality of immigrant life and contains the following passage:

“ .. being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.”

I read this book with the shocking realisation that I have become the Immigrant Woman who I used to see walking along the roads of Birmingham or London, neither here nor there, holding up the queues in the supermarket with her faltering English and insisting on talking to her children in her native language.

What, I would wonder, would possess these women to abandon all they know and go live in a totally alien country for no other reason than that their husband happened to come from there? Why not find someone closer to home?

Without realising it, I have turned into one of them and now I have nothing but respect for these women. Being an immigrant means the sudden contraction of your world. I’m the one attracting curiosity when I venture out in something traditional, I’m the one holding up the queue in the supermarket with my faltering Greek, I’m the one who speaks to my godson mostly in my second language even though I know there’s not a snowflake in Hell’s chance of him knowing what I say.

I’m the one who people speak to rudely on the phone because they quickly deduce that my poor and accented Greek means I’m a foreigner. Today a woman dismissed my query about the price of a holiday telling me only that it was “very expensive”.

Was she just badly trained, or did she mean that it was too expensive for the likes of me?


toomanytribbles said...

she meant it was too expensive for you.

her rudeness has no excuse.. don't try to imagine one.

chase said...

I am not sure that you have much of a choice. You sound like you will be an outsider wherever you land up, even your South Asian 'homeland'. Don't forget you are one of the brave ones. Those that insult you are the cowards. That is unless you are submitting to one of the most extreme forms of patriarchy, leaving your home for that of your man, but this time in a different country. I cannot judge.

Blackbird said...

This made me very sad.
However, like someone else has said, 'you are one of the brave ones'.
I think I have allowed myself to lurk in the background and, to avoid becoming the immigrant woman, have just faded out completely.

Hope said...

My mother was an immigrant for most of her adult life and I remember feeling so embarrassed of her accent when I was a child.

Now? I have so much respect for her because of all she achieved for herself and her family, despite her broken English.

Echoing the others 'you are one of the brave ones'

AL said...

I understand how you feel. In fact one of the rudest sales ppl i've met was while i was in Athens. Not sure if it had anything to do with me being foreign.... but i do believe it had something to do with me being a small female who was alone and kinda not speaking the lingo. It was humiliating to feel like i was being ripped off and taken advantage off. Actually it wasnt 'one of' the worst. It was THE worst experience.

However, i agree to a certain degree about the 'brave' one theory. People who we pass by on a daily basis should have not so much a permanent bearing on how we perceive our life. They are just going about their day. If they suck, they suck. I find the harder part of it will be,... to not feel 'home' or not to 'belong' in a country. I'll be taking the same route you have. I don't have too many fears but it does seem to me that i will never be 'greek' no matter if i live there for the next 20 years. Its something about blood lineage. I know my kids will be considered as Greek.

Thats something i havent sorted out in my head. Where and how i fit into the long-term scheme of 'belonging' and creating a home there. Perhaps one day owning a piece of it. Having a business and/ a family will shed some light but for now... its just about being ME on my journey and for as long as i'm there... i have to remind myself i am not 'borrowing' space. Remind myself that the world is not marked by borders, i can stretch further than that. I have just as much right to be there as i do anywhere else. Maybe for a higher purpose... who knows... still finding my way too!

Sorry to hear about the doggie.


iamyuva said...

my experience with namesake

i can safely say-- with very diverse living experience, I find easy to get around stuff and didn't face any major crisis(atleast just yet-- touch wood)).. but still home is always home... and home means (not birth place but) where we grow-up school/univ.. since that will hold specially innocent memories..