“There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
– Ben Carson, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
When I first heard Ben Carson’s problematic speech to the employees of the Department of Urban and Housing Development, a heady rush of anger streamed through me. I was frustrated that Carson, an African American, couldn’t gain an inkling of the complicated sacrifices immigrants had pursued to be successful in their new countries. However, after several weeks of self-reflection, I finally realized that it wasn’t Ben Carson’s speech that was igniting my anger, but my own complicated immigrant experience.
As an immigrant, I have never felt completely at home in Australia or my native home, Malaysia. I tried to hide the Malaysian slang at the end of my sentences with a long Australian drawl while I was in Australia. I would do the exact opposite in Malaysia, and fail as people mocked me for that weird Australian pronunciation of ‘y-ending’ words. I struggled to find a balance between proudly showing off my Australian feminism values and toning down the long-standing Malaysian tradition of women as “home carers.” There are quite a few Malaysian women who prioritize marriage instead of career, and the Australian values made me reject this notion and fall into contentious arguments all the time.
Now, as I sit here, sipping on a hot lemon tea whilst typing this out, it has dawned on me that this struggle symbolizes a complete rupture in my identity; a 50-50 complex I have never handled before. I can’t call myself Malaysian because I no longer uphold all those values. However, it is still difficult for me to profess my complete love for Australia because I am still latching onto the Malaysian language, Malaysian food and my family roots.
I can’t call myself Malaysian because I no longer uphold all those values.
So where does this leave my parents and I on the immigration spectrum then?
It leaves us at the valley of confusion. A valley Carson tries to justify in his speech above with the notion that immigrants always end up receiving “prosperity at the end” despite falling short of it in reality.
This struggle symbolizes a complete rupture in my identity; a 50-50 complex I have never handled before.
Immigrants and a country’s native born citizens frequently buy into the idea that immigration automatically translates to an elevated position in the professional realm. However, the reality is far more stinging than most of us would like to admit. Many immigrants, like my parents, have often had to step two positions down on the corporate ladder or give up their professional senior roles in order to slowly adjust and be accepted in these new societies. Other less-privileged immigrants have had to staff laundries, restaurants, farms and factories to build up their base in this new land and give their children opportunities that rival those of citizens.
In a sadistic way, we are still struggling to shed off the stereotypes, colonialism and offensive prejudices that come with our complicated identities to accommodate the idea of being an “American”, “Australian”, “European.” A clear example of this was Carson’s inability to separate immigrants from “slaves” at the bottom of “slave ships” in his comment.
As I went through the stages of anger, denial, sadness and calm about Carson’s speech, I realized that we owe it to our ourselves – as the children of immigrants – to achieve our maximum potential to display the power of immigrants, and change the immigration narrative forever.
As the child of an immigrant, you owe it yourself to reach the highest or higher positions and goals in whatever field you choose to pursue to set an example for the incoming generation of immigrant children. You can show them how you accepted your identity crisis and used it as motivation to succeed.
When I first grappled with this identity crisis, I was miserable and hated the fact that we moved. But internships and my studies in New York have made me realize how thankful I should be that I live between multiple countries and understand how complicated the cultural communication process is. It has honestly helped me in my political internships and I intend to employ this experience to navigate the shark-infested waters of politics and diplomacy, and attain executive roles.
Thousands upon thousands of immigrants have come out at the top of their fields from their own blood, sweat and tears. So, why not rise up with me, eye your target, and break all stereotypes and misconceptions people like Carson have about immigrants?