September 15, 2020
Adaptability and Assimilation: Two Words Immigrants Live By
Being an immigrant is an isolating experience. It isn’t like a vacation where you live off your suitcase in a hotel room and bounce to different locations for a short amount of time. Then you go back to your home, happy with the memories of your trip, but also happy to be back to the familiar.
As an immigrant, you have to accept the fact that you are planting your roots on different soil; and growing in different ways to what you’re used to. Adaptability and assimilation are two words that all immigrants have to live by.
My parents and I moved to Winnipeg from the Philippines back in the spring of 2011. We all had different experiences, and different ways of coping but we were all feeling the same emotion: we were anxious. My parents were in their early 40s and already established a life in the Philippines. They had a good amount of friends they were able to meet with anytime they wanted to, and most of our family members were back home. If we needed any help, people were just a phone call away. It was the same for myself. I am an only child so I relied on my friends to be social. So being yanked from our usual environment, being thrusted in a whole different country, and learning their ways was a challenging experience.
After moving, I felt my self-esteem and confidence lower. In a different country where the culture and the social rules are different, I didn’t know where to begin my education. On top of that, I had to communicate in a language I wasn’t accustomed to using. Being fluent in a language is different from being comfortable with it. It felt like I was trying to catch up with everyone else, and I was running behind.
I didn’t want to be seen as a newcomer and didn’t want to be dubbed as ignorant so when people would tell me “this is how it is here” or “this is how we do things,” I would learn and accept things as they go. I didn’t question anything because I didn’t want to make mistakes.
When I went back to school, I realized that if I continue thinking that way, I would always feel like I have to prove myself to everyone else. When I made it to regular English, on the first day of school, my teacher asked me, “Are you sure you’re in the right class?” That simple question made me doubt my place in that room. And that feeling of doubt followed me for a while. I didn’t feel like my efforts were enough, and I still had “IMMIGRANT” drawn across my forehead to let everyone know that I’m not like everyone else.
I wanted to be the same as others. The term “model minority” comes to mind. Searching the term online, it is explained as having certain demographics deemed to be better than others. I fell for this trap at the beginning, thinking it would make me feel accepted. I focused on getting rid of my accent and keeping my head down. The voice of my own parents annoyed me because it revealed that we were different.
One day I realized that I associated being an immigrant as “others.” Instead of living my life without betraying my values, and even myself, I let other people’s voices get to my head and live there.
Immigrants are brave. Every single one of us needs to be mentally and physically prepared for anything. Immigrants accept jobs—and for some even below their education level—to be able to provide for their families here and/or back home. We are all just trying to live our lives day by day, and survive.
We all have different stories, different lives to lead. But we take and accept the pain of leaving everything we know and love, to have the better life that was promised to us. For my family, my parents decided that we would grow more in Canada, and would be more financially stable here. They knew I’d receive more opportunities and be closer to my dreams.
Through the years, I realized a place would only feel like it’s home when we do what we want and love, and if we are at peace with ourselves. Canada didn’t feel like home for a long time because I didn’t show my true self. Immigrant or not, you can only start being comfortable in your own skin and your own environment once you accept your own place in the community you’re in. Being an immigrant—or being different—isn’t bad. Being an “other” doesn’t mean you have to see yourself as inferior. Just because you don’t speak English fluently, that doesn’t mean you’re dumb. If catching up with others isn’t something that makes you happy, then maybe making your own path would.
There are people who will keep doubting you, and there are people who will question your decisions and actions. But if you find the right support system, and if you believe more in supporting yourself, then you can plant your roots anywhere and call that place your home.