SF Counseling Center

The Immigrant and The American Myth

America the Beautiful

Undoubtedly, America is a wonderful country – a place of opportunity and an unprecedented experiment in democracy and multiculturalism.  We offer opportunity for a new and different life. This fact draws many immigrant people to our land in hopes of sharing in our bounty.

America is seen in many other countries as a place in which the streets are lined with gold. One culture calls San Francisco “Gold Mountain.”

Unforeseen Difficulties and Disappointments of the Immigrant

However, many immigrants come here, and immediately face issues of limitations due to language, education, racism or other forms of prejudice and perhaps due to legal status.

Many native-born Americans have an impression that immigrants are only supposed to be happy to be here.  While it is true America has a tremendous amount to offer.  However, not only does the immigrant face the difficulties noted above, he or she also has lost everything familiar in their homeland.  The quality of the air, the familiar sites and sounds, familiar people (not only family and friends, but also familiar styles, and ‘familiar faces’), familiar foods, mores, mannerisms and everything that comprises day-to-day living has changed and perhaps been lost.  Today we have unprecedented technological improvements which allow some of us to keep in touch with family in our native country.  However, people who immigrated a few decades prior had to limit all their familiar and useful possessions to whatever they could fit into a ‘steamer trunk.’  For those people, contact with family was limited to postcards or letters sent at various intervals.

The immigrant will always remain an immigrant.  Depending of level of accent, even well-meaning people will frequently remind the person they ‘don’t belong.’  “Oh, I detect an accent.  Where are you from?”   Even this friendly gesture reminds the immigrant she or he is not the same as ‘us.’  An ironic trick of nature is that the immigrant can end up without any place which is home.  After being in America for a number of years, the culture, slang, etc. change in their home country or town.  People die, people marry, people move on.  When the immigrant visits after years away, she realizes she no longer belongs to that culture and is not fully accepted into the new culture.

This reflection is not about assigning blame.  This is human nature.  However, when we can recognize and appreciate some of the difficulties we, our parents, grandparents or our friends or neighbors have endured, we can develop a deeper understanding of both them and ourselves.