Allow me to begin by saying that none of this is intended to start arguments or foster any kind of hostility…. I just wanted to give a little context.
Over the past handful of months, years even, I’ve seen people comment on cultural celebrations and decorations (i.e. people who have a national flag on their car, or up in their apartment window, or are celebrating some national holiday of any nation other than the United States), with a sentiment something like “If they like it so much over there, why don’t they just go back?”
It’s not a sentiment I’ve ever agreed with. And for all of those who have so said those kinds of things, here’s an answer.
It is possible to be proud of where you came from without wanting to go back. It is permissible to love the country you immigrated from – it’s pretty common, actually.
You can reminisce about the happy times you spent there (and even in the worst life, I guarantee you, there are some happy times, however few and far between). You can value and enjoy the culture, the food, the history, the artwork, the architecture. You can remember fondly the red dress that you used to wear with the sky-high platforms, because shopping was difficult to damn near impossible, and no goods were available, so you valued the few beautiful things you could get. You can remember people you loved in your old country – relatives you lost or old friends you left behind. You can wonder how they are doing and remember them fondly.
You can do all of this, without wanting to set foot in your former home country ever again.
Because you can do all of this – love the place that you knew, where you grew up and made important memories – while acknowledging that the place you love has become violent, dangerous and toxic. That the place you loved has, possibly, been destroyed by politics, or drugs, or by natural disasters, or through neglect.
The fact that the place you loved is gone doesn’t diminish your love for it or the beauty of your memories. And it certainly doesn’t make you any less loyal to or appreciative of your new home. It sure as hell doesn’t make you a bad person, or any less deserving of happiness or success in your adopted country.
I’ve been doing a little research, over the past few weeks. It’s been mostly work-related, but it’s also been pretty revelatory.
(I’ll paste in links to all of the sources at the bottom, just to avoid having to cite them as I go. It’s easier that way, I think.)
In 2016, there were more than 23,000 homicides in Mexico. That number makes it the world’s second most violent country, second only to Syria (where there has been a civil war raging since 2011). The first third of 2017 (from January to April) saw 8,705 homicides. During the month of May 2017, there was a homicide approximately every 20 minutes.
These numbers are strictly homicides – that’s without factoring in sexual assaults or kidnappings, of which, I assure you, there are plenty. This past June, the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl on a public minibus sparked protests in the street. Violence against women and girls has become so prevalent that last year a newspaper declared the State of Mexico “the femicide capital” of the world.
Am I telling you these numbers to depress you? Not really. Or at least, not in particular.
Do immigrants from Mexico have pride in their country? Sure.
Do they celebrate their culture and their history and their food? Sure.
Would they want to go back?
No way in Hell.
Maybe it’s because they want their children to be able to grow up safe and healthy. Maybe it’s because they want the opportunity to work somewhere that they can actually earn enough money to support their families (the minimum wage in Mexico is approximately $3.90 USD, by the way). Maybe it’s because they want their children to have more opportunities than they had; to be able to go to college and get good jobs and support themselves.
Maybe it’s for another reason altogether – and maybe that’s none of my damn business.
The example I’m using is Mexico, but you can extrapolate this out to any immigrant from any country.
There has been the idea, in America, that in order for an immigrant to come here and live here, and adapt to American life, that they have to adopt American culture, and leave their own behind.
I remember, when I was in elementary school, and we hadn’t been in the country very long, all I wanted for lunch was Lunchables. Because Lunchables were American. Because Lunchables were what everyone else had. They were ‘normal.’ And I wanted so badly to fit in. But I was a child, trying to adapt in the only ways I could think of. Now, looking back on it, maybe I would’ve been better off if I’d clung more to my native culture. Maybe I’d be a more interesting person, or at least a more well-rounded one.
Immigrants shouldn’t have to abandon their culture, or their love of their culture, to prove their love for America, or their ‘Americanness.’
The two are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be.