Immigrants of the Global Majority

Barely a month after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, about forty immigrants and children of immigrants of the Global Majority gathered for a workshop I led in Charlton, Massachusetts, USA.

It is always good for immigrants and children of immigrants to be together and discharge—and it was particularly timely and necessary at this particular time.

Immigrants and children of immigrants generally have a hard time proudly claiming their immigrant identity, because of immigrant oppression. Those of us who are immigrants of the Global Majority have been unable to assimilate because of our brown skins and more obviously different languages and cultures, and the targeting of us has been particularly overt and vile since 9/11. It has been used as political platforms to divide and conquer, leaving us feeling that to visibly claim immigrant identity is to make ourselves a target.

Immigrant oppression leaves us feeling bad about and separated from ourselves. It also separates us from our families, our people, our culture, our traditions, and our languages. This is racism in action. We feel unwanted, not quite right, and that we don’t fit in. We are always second guessing [questioning] ourselves, feeling that we don’t know enough. We are afraid to take up space and claim our significance and power. We feel terrified, urgent, distrustful, and isolated.

The recent election of Donald Trump was particularly scary. He campaigned and won by demonizing immigrants and Muslims, denigrating women, being racist and anti-Semitic, and more. For those of us who came to the United States fleeing repressive, divisive regimes, what is happening feels only too familiar. Like nearly everyone else, many of us are incredulous and terrified. Other old feelings being pulled up include urgency, hopelessness, and feelings of defeat.

Some of us are tempted to just hunker down [wait, out of sight] and persevere. We have been good at that and it has served us well. Some of us feel pulled to “go away” and go numb, or to bury our heads in the sand [not pay attention to what is happening] and hope things won’t be so bad or that bad times will pass quickly.

However, this is not the time to hide under the blanket. More than ever, it is not a time to give in to restimulation that would make us stay on the margins or wait for someone else to act. We do not have the luxury to crawl under the blanket, or go away, or give in to feelings of hopelessness or defeat. We cannot wait for someone else to bring back humanness.

The racism we have encountered—the blaming and targeting—is going to get more overt; it’s going to get worse before it gets better. “Shit” will happen and is already happening. Bias, harassment, and hate crimes are increasing.

We each need to reclaim all of our mind, our full power, and our humanness. Being connected is more urgent than ever. We cannot wait any longer. The world needs us. We have the tools to bring back humanness and human perspectives.

We have to discharge the early hurts that left us with feelings of defeat, powerlessness, terror, and not being good enough, and figure out what we can do. What we do will be different for each of us. And we don’t have to figure out everything before we start to act. The point is to try, to not be held back or be silent, to discharge and then try again. If we fail, we have at least tried and learned from the experience—and we get to try again.

To lead powerfully and intentionally, we will need everyone’s mind. We will need each other to find strength. We will also have to refuse to give up on anyone—even those who voted for Trump, many of whom are our friends, family, or colleagues. We will have to refuse to let anyone be dehumanized. Acting on our human connection is the only way to turn things around.

We will need to find ourselves and each other. We will have to undo the effects of colonialism, assimilation, and internalized oppression, which have kept us separated from ourselves and each other and made us vulnerable to taking on [acquiring] oppressor patterns. Our strength lies in having each other and backing [supporting] each other fully to reclaim our minds and power.

THE WORKSHOP SCHEDULE

Here is what we did at the workshop:

Friday evening: We had a minute each to introduce ourselves in our own language.

Saturday morning: Muslims, undocumented people, Jews, LGBQT folks, refugees, children of immigrants, and people from different ethnic groups got to show themselves.

Saturday afternoon: We worked on colonialism. Colonialism (and global capitalism) laid the foundation for modern-day large-scale immigration, displacement, and impoverishment. And the imposition and internalization of white superiority made it easier to force us to assimilate. Immigrants from different countries shared what the colonizers had done in their countries and how white superiority had been imposed.

Saturday evening: We worked on assimilation (racism) and internalized assimilation (internalized racism). We had a great time as we shared stories about things we “hide” from the dominant society. We worked on terror! Terror is a tool to keep people under control and “in their place.” We got to go to our scariest places and take a look there. We also worked on asking for help. In order to reclaim ourselves and act powerfully, we need to ask for help and let each other in. Asking for help contradicts our feeling, from immigrants’ oppression, that we have to do everything on our own [by ourselves].

Sunday morning: We worked on giving up victimization, reclaiming the center, owning up to [admitting to] being a USer, and the USer commitment, copied below:

For the survival and cleansing and long-range flourishing of my beloved United States, I promise that, from this moment on, I will speak out and act against every injustice, no matter how long-established. I will insist that the ideas and goals which inspired the founding of our country, and for which our people have repeatedly striven and fought and sacrificed, shall be lived up to [acted on].

The United States is my country. I shall forever claim her with pride in her every good quality and with determination to correct any of her past, present, or future wrongs. My United States! With freedom and justice for all!

Amidst all of this work, we danced and we danced to all kinds of global music!

Below are reflections from some of the workshop participants.

Cheng Imm Tan

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

 


 

REFLECTIONS FROM WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS

I’m reeling from the transition back into the “real” world after the Immigrants of the Global Majority Workshop. It was the first time I had seen a Chinese woman lead any kind of class or workshop. There were many wonderful contradictions [to distress] that reminded me of our people’s strength and voice. I remembered that my worth is more than the sum of my parents’ hopes and desires for me. I am working through the differences between who I want to be, who I’m trying to be, and who my parents wanted me to become. Only through this can I claim a more true self and develop a stronger relationship of love with my folks and with myself. 

Victor Yang

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

 


 

I realized that my discouragement about being close to people is connected to an early heartbreak: my parent left the family for a time to study overseas (at a “good” university). The confusing message I got was that it was silly or bad for me to show how hard this was for me. That, and my own and my family’s upwardly mobile immigrant patterns (I left my family as a teenager to go to a boarding school and then went to college in the United States), have made it hard for me to notice that it is good to get close to people and that relationships matter.

A lot of fear came up for me during the workshop, and I loved Cheng Imm’s reminder that closeness is the way to contradict fear. I also loved how Cheng Imm gave every person time in front of the entire group. This contradicted the internalized anti-immigrant and racist ideas that immigrants should be quiet and invisible and that some immigrants are “good” (and deserve resources) and some are “bad” (and don’t deserve resources). It also made me feel closer to every person at the workshop, even though most of them were new to me. It was an example of something Cheng Imm had said: that showing our full humanity and connecting with others are a way that we are powerful and take a stand against oppression.

One more highlight was hearing people speak in different languages, especially in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Hokkien—languages I heard a lot around me when I was young. Just hearing those languages spoken in RC, to say nothing of speaking them, will help me work on early material [distress] I might otherwise not look at. It will help me recover parts of my mind and thinking that I gave up when I decided to make English my primary spoken language.

Wong Shin Ming

Oakland, California, USA

 


 

Since the workshop I am noticing a sense of well-being. There’s more of a spring to my step, a higher lilt to my voice, and a furious flurry of the languages I speak rising from my mouth. I have committed to lifting the weight (physical, emotional, spiritual) of the recordings [distress recordings] that limit the way that I move in the world.

The workshop allowed me to bring all of the disparate parts of myself together, united. I’m used to “boxing” my different identities, taking each one out when needed, and then putting it back in the box, “under wraps.”

The work we did on marginalization made me start accepting that I do belong, no matter where I am. The memory of speaking Haitian, incorporating Jewish rituals, and talking and discharging about colonialism and post-colonialism will infuse my being for a long time.

Marjorie Salvodon

Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA

 


 

I loved how we all got to be in front so many times and how Cheng Imm invited us to speak and participate from the floor. This made it easy to open my heart to everyone and was a powerful contradiction to the silence and feelings of invisibility that come from immigrants’ oppression.

On the way home from the workshop, I noticed all the Global Majority immigrants on the New York City subway train. They didn’t look like the usual mass of faceless people. I could visualize each of them telling their story and being playful and loving at our workshop. In fact, since the workshop I’ve been looking at the faces of all people more than before. I’m not so afraid to make eye contact, and I think this has something to do with [is related to] having been so visible at the workshop. 

In one of my sessions this week I described how so many of us at the workshop were from countries that had been colonized and how when we’d shared our histories, we’d spoken about terrible things like genocide and racism. But I remembered that rather than feeling sad and despairing, I’d felt powerful and hopeful listening to everyone. I discharged a lot in my session saying, “There were so many of us! And we had all survived!”

After the election and before the workshop I had been realizing that I love this country and what it stands for. The USer commitment, on the wall at the workshop, was just the right direction for me. In my mini-sessions I said that I was a great American, the best American there could be, and that they should make a statue of me. One counselor said that my statue should replace the Statue of Liberty, and I’ve been repeating that and laughing a lot in my sessions.

The above re-evaluations have made a huge difference in the way I take in [absorb] the news about the president-elect and talk about it with others. I no longer think how “those people” are ruining my life. I think how “we” are going to fix “our” country. I can tell [see] that I have just as much right to have opinions and speak up as any white person born in the United States. After years of being an extremely private user of Facebook, I’ve started sharing news and videos about racism so that anyone can see them. This is a huge step for me!

After the workshop I had a new thought about the connection between my immigrant experience and my struggle to trust my thinking. When we come to this country as immigrants, regardless of our age, we experience an oppression similar to young people’s oppression. There is so much we don’t know because we have never been here before. Misunderstanding our lack of experience, people treat us as if we are not intelligent. We experience a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment.

For me, this led to silencing my thoughts and voice unless I could ensure that I was a hundred percent correct and no one could challenge me or make me feel stupid. This took a lot of exhausting work! Often it was easier to stay silent. I’m going to push myself to open my mouth and speak whenever I can—and maybe even be a little obnoxious about it!

Helen Shin

Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

 


 

Thank you all for sharing yourselves with me at the immigrants’ workshop. I had so many highlights, but one that sticks out is the love, caring, strength, and support given by Cheng Imm on Sunday when we each went to where we felt small and defeated. It reinforced how we are not alone and how working together can make a difference. I am encouraged to reach out to the People of the Global Majority in my Area and try to connect with them more. I can look to the future and see the United States with new eyes. One of my favorite quotes from Cheng Imm is “Dynamite comes in small packages.”

Ku Hunley

Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA

 


 

A few days before the workshop I’d returned from a trip to India. It was a great contradiction [to distress] to be at the workshop among first- and second-generation immigrants of the Global Majority.

I loved hearing Cheng Imm remind us of the connection between European colonialism in various countries and the European occupation of Native people’s land in what is now called the United States. Also, Europeans arrived only a bit earlier than we did to this land, so I am no more of an outsider than they were. Driving back from the workshop, it was empowering and reassuring to claim my U.S. identity while discussing U.S. elections.

Cheng Imm said that when people feel bad, their first inclination is to try to get away from the feeling instead of thinking better. To avoid feeling bad, we immigrants often end up conforming to our new country, even if it means going against ourselves.

It was important to hear from so many participants how immigrant families had been pushed to assimilate, give up their mother tongue, and adopt English and speak it without an “accent.”

I saw how the oppressions of children and of immigrants are similar. When we are young, if we do not behave well, privileges are taken away from us. As immigrants, if we do not conform to our new country we face many consequences, including deportation. Thinking of big government authority not as an agent of oppression but rather as people in some institutions acting out their distress similar to how distressed parents react to their children has lightened my burden and helped me discharge.

It was easy to connect with anyone at the workshop, probably because of the flexibility and openness we all carry as immigrants. Since the workshop I feel more hopeful and trusting that as immigrants we can organize our lives around liberation from oppression. Our real strength is in relationships, both locally and internationally.

Bishu Chattopadhyay

New York, New York, USA

 


 

At my first immigrants’ workshop (led by Cheng Imm), each class and every session left me feeling like a new frontier in counseling was opening up to me. 

During a subsequent immigrants’ workshop, I started feeling proud to be an immigrant. It was a powerful re-evaluation of how I’d felt as a teenager in the intolerant and xenophobic environment of Dallas, Texas, USA.

At yet another immigrants’ workshop, I realized that I preferred to embrace my immigrant identity (and the accompanying hardships) rather than continue down the path of assimilation.

This year, I had a difficult time discharging on several of the issues we covered (for example, colonialism), and by the end of the workshop I couldn’t pinpoint what, if anything, had shifted.

But then after the workshop I had some of the best sessions I’ve had on my experience as an immigrant. Growing up, because of my parents’ concerns and the racism of those around me, I’d had little space to express my feelings (especially feelings of fear). Without realizing it, I had internalized that constraint, which is why I couldn’t discharge effectively at the workshop.

However, the work I did at the workshop contradicted the feeling of having no space and gave me the opportunity, after the workshop, to discharge deep feelings of rejection, disappointment, and isolation—which had made me susceptible to the hurts of racism and the pull of assimilation.

I am feeling much less restimulated by Trump’s plans to change U.S. immigration policy and more comfortable claiming my immigrant heritage as a U.S. citizen.

Seshasayanan Pratap

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

 


 

This workshop, like no other, felt like “home.” There was such a shared understanding. Despite our varied histories, we all knew the immigrant experience first-hand. I was not alone.

For a while I felt like there were not many children of immigrants there, and then Cheng Imm asked us to raise our hands and our group was actually quite large! Nope, not alone.

I loved Cheng Imm’s loving, playful, unpretentious, smart leadership.

I loved that we introduced ourselves in our native language, no matter how well we spoke it. I could see how loss of language is a central hurt for so many of us. It certainly is for me.

I loved that we all had many chances to speak, be visible, share our story, and take in the group attention.

My favorite moment was going “popcorn style” around the group, sharing experiences and laughing a lot. We shared little quirky things that we, or our parents, did that were clearly a consequence of our immigrant background—like holding on to things, recycling and using everything, haggling for a better price when shopping. It kept us laughing for a long time.

I hold you all dearly and close in my heart. I am especially grateful for our connection now, as we deal with the fallout from this president’s hateful decisions. Let’s stay close!

Maya Rege-Colt

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

(Present Time 191, April 2018)


Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:42:50+00