Immigrants and Children of Immigrants of the Global Majority

I started the Immigrants and Children of Immigrants of the Global Majority Workshop[1] by reminding people of their close connections and that the recordings[2] of feeling on the outside, unwanted, unwelcomed, and targeted were all part of immigrant oppression. We began reclaiming the languages that had been stolen from us by introducing ourselves in our native languages. It was powerful.

On Saturday morning, we continued to reclaim our languages, cultures, and connections and to contradict the effects of assimilation that have separated us from our cultures, our people, and each other.

After lunch we worked in constituency groups on the internalized oppression, lies, and misconceptions that have kept us separated. On Saturday evening, we chose people from different cultural groups and told our life stories in four-way sessions. We then had a fabulous and raucous culture-share to end the night. 

On Sunday morning, we shared what it had meant for us to tell our life stories and what we had learned about being allies.

The following are reflections from some of the participants.

Cheng Imm Tan
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

 [1] A workshop held in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA, in October 2014, and led by Cheng Imm Tan, an RC leader in Boston, Massachusetts, USA
[2] Distress recordings

 I am sharing what feel like insignificant and unintelligent thoughts, as I step out of my distress and fight for my mind, voice, and space.

Being in a diverse group in which English was not people’s first language, or not their parents’ first language, created understanding and safety to work on language oppression, assimilation, and internalized oppression. Being surrounded by people who did not speak English perfectly and were not as assimilated created a safe space for me in which things didn’t have to be done perfectly. This was a huge contradiction[3] and allowed me to show myself more. There was a space to breathe and just be. Because of the safety, I could feel an underlying terror about being all grouped together in one space—like maybe we would be targeted, or something would go wrong because there were no white people around. It reminded me of the huge impact assimilation has had on me. At the same time, I got glimpses of the true me shining bright underneath. My language, my culture, and my thinking may be a little rusty but are not lost.

We had the time and space to introduce ourselves and tell everyone the meaning of our names and where we were from in our “heart” tongue. This allowed us to notice how diverse and unique we were within each ethnic and racial group as well as how similar we were even across ethnic groups.

Since the workshop I’ve worked on an underlying terror related to being visible, accepted, and understood that seems to have come from when I first came to this country and assimilated to the language and culture and rejected my own. I have decided that the only way I am able to go against what seems to be my biggest struggle is to just do it, to show and share more—not to think too much but just do it, mistakes and all—and discharge as I go.

Each time I participate in the Immigrants of the Global Majority Workshop, I am reminded that I am actually a fine human being, just the way I am. I can clearly see how the oppressions make us feel marginalized and smaller than we truly are. It is a great contradiction for me to see this as a systemic occurrence. (Because it happens so subtly and in isolation, I tend to blame myself for not being able to do something about it or figure it out.)

I can still remember everyone’s faces and caring and our connections, similarities, and differences. It reminds me that the struggle is not just my struggle, that I am not really alone or isolated.

Thank you, Cheng Imm and Kinara,[4] for making this special and unique space available for me, so I can “catch my breath.”[5]

Lotus Lien
Manchester, New Hampshire, USA

  [3] Contradiction to distress
[4] Kinara Yang is an RC leader in Quincy, Massachusetts, USA, and was the organizer of the workshop.
[5] “Catch my breath” means get some space to breathe.

With every week that passes, the workshop’s relevance has only grown for me. I reflect back on it when I think about the extraordinary protests happening now in the United States, particularly around the message that “Black lives matter.”

I just got back from a two-week trip with my parents to China. I had to think hard about what it would take for me to really show myself to my family and show how much I care for them. A lot of internalized oppression is still in the way, but I can be closer to them because of the work I started to do at the workshop.

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

 I appreciated the opportunity to introduce myself at the workshop in Malayalam, the language I grew up speaking in South India. It brought up an incredible amount of embarrassment. For me, speaking Malayalam was the most direct way to show that I am an immigrant.

When I immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s, there were no other immigrants in my public school classes and none of my classmates or teachers seemed interested in knowing about my culture. I felt a great deal of pressure to learn English, and to speak it grammatically correctly and without an accent, in order to be accepted. So I worked hard at learning English. But in the process I forgot my language and erased a part of myself.

Since the workshop, I have been trying to do sessions in Malayalam in my RC class (which is all white). This has been terrifying and embarrassing. In the beginning I could only say, “My name is Rashi,” over and over again. But as I have continued, I have been able to recall more and more words. I can tell[6] that I am reclaiming myself. I feel more authentic and whole. I have a glimpse of what it would look like to show myself fully and be totally pleased and proud to be an immigrant.

Rashika Mathews
Arlington, Massachusetts, USA

 [6] “Tell” means notice.

 The Immigrant Workshop was particularly hard for me this year. Heavy feelings tend to come up at the workshop, as immigrant oppression and the topics surrounding it are so integral to most of my chronic distresses. I’m constantly in fear, worried about money and career, and on top of that feeling isolated and alone, even when I’m with people! I also feel like I never quite “fit in.” All these feelings came up, and the best part of it was knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It was good to be able to discharge the feelings with other people who get it.[7]

I wholeheartedly enjoyed introducing ourselves in our languages. Of course I was terrified. I was afraid that I’d be judged by the other “native” Spanish speakers. I have lost a lot of confidence in speaking Spanish, and it was good to take a look at the terror that came up. I was also proud and happy that I was able to say a few words in Taino (Tainos are the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Haiti) and remind people of the complexity and richness of Latino/a heritage(s) and our Spanish language(s). Moreover, I was able to be visible as someone who speaks an Asian language—an “identity” that I’m shy about. What a great thing to be visible, period,[8] and take up space!

Cheng Imm, our awesome leader, read an excerpt of the Willie Lynch letter.[9] It was hard for all of us to hear, but unfortunately it is a reality for us Black people. We have suffered from so much oppression, which has resulted in heavy internalized oppression among Black folks. It was important for others to recognize and remember that. I worked on how I didn’t want non-Black people to pity us but rather to stay connected to us, so we could all work together and free our minds from the racism that confuses us about staying close to each other as people of the global majority.

Because of the sharing of the letter, I felt for the first time that there was space for me to work on slavery and my African-heritage identity in terms of immigrant oppression. Enslaved Africans were immigrants to the United States but did not come here by choice. It’s hard being African heritage and a USer. U.S. citizenship and history have blocked all discharge of the anger, sadness, confusion, and resentment we feel as Black people about having been forced out of our home, transported to a new land, and forced to assimilate into a new culture.

White-run U.S. policies have desperately attempted throughout the years to assimilate Black people to “whiteness.” But even as much as we have assimilated (by straightening our hair, lightening our skin, having “white” names, adapting our culture and speech to that of the mainstream United States, and so on), we are still treated as second class—even third class—citizens in our own country. So in a sense we can never truly assimilate.

I need to be able to discharge the resentment I feel about my people having been taken to the Americas and how I am by default a USer but still not given equal rights or treated with dignity. I want to have space to say, “I want to go back home,” “I’m not really an American,” or at least, “I don’t like ‘xyz’ about the United States.” It’s hard to do that when so many people risk their lives to come to the United States. But I felt that it was possible to create this space at this workshop.

Similarly, it was nice to have the chance to work on being an immigrant who had come from U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and St. Thomas). I hope that I can continue to fight for space to work on my anti-U.S. sentiment and my resentment at having my lands colonized and controlled by the United States.

Thank you for making this happen, Cheng Imm and Kinara! You’ve pushed my re-emergence so far with your love and care!

Tatiana Williams-Rodriguez
Malden, Massachusetts, USA

[7] “Get it” means understand it.
[8] “What a great thing to be visible, period,” means what a great thing simply to be visible.
[9] Willie Lynch was a British slave owner in the West Indies. In 1712 he delivered a speech, in the form of a letter, to the slave owners in the colony of Virginia (now in the United States) in which he described how he controlled enslaved people by dividing them and turning them against each other.

Cheng Imm, your tackling such difficult and “heavy” material this past weekend took much courage. A lot of us are not so aware of our society’s ills. You have taught us to become more conscious of them and to be more thoughtful of our fellow Co-Counselors. I was gratified that during those few short hours I could at least attempt to be a conscientious “buddy” to the less experienced RCers. I do intend to follow up on your suggestion that I “go after”[10] some Co-Counselors who are not from my own constituency.

Newton, Massachusetts, USA

[10]  “Go after” means reach out to.

 I have never had an easy time writing, but it is so important to contradict my chronic feelings of being insignificant, not enough of anything, and isolated. I have a voice and I will share it.

It helped so much to have four other African-heritage people at the workshop this year—the first time we have had that many of us. I was able to work more deeply in the support group because of my connections to all of them.

The work on internalized oppression among the races was revolutionary. We must do this work to have each other and ourselves more fully. Telling our life stories in four-way sessions with people of different ethnicities was such a contradiction to the distress that separates us from each other. When people shared on Sunday what they had learned from it, the commonalities were so striking. We are more alike than we are different.

I remember telling my life story in my fundamentals class thirty years ago and feeling that my story was boring. Of course it wasn’t. It is always such a rich experience to hear others’ stories and to hear my own retelling of my story. It brings us so much closer. I am excited that our four-way will get together every few months.

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

 I feel so supported and validated to realize that I am not alone in my struggles against the oppression imposed on me and others like me by people who think they wield power.

The issues of immigration are complex. At the heart of these issues are human beings who seem to be on opposite sides of the fence—“us” versus “them,” “legal” versus “illegal.”

I discharged feelings that I have kept under control all my life, including some I did not know existed. I was a little surprised at how strongly I felt about my and my family’s experiences, and the experiences of other immigrants like me.

Lynne May Lim
Newton, Massachusetts, USA 

I have spent my entire life in a ninety-eight percent white environment, including in my current RC class, Area, and Region.[11] To be among people of the global majority—to see our faces everywhere I looked, to hear our voices everywhere I turned, to have our thinking be the only thinking that mattered, even for just that weekend—was a seismic contradiction to a lifetime of marginalization.

As a biracial person of Asian and European heritage, the workshop was also a contradiction to the entrenched belief that I never would or could truly “belong.” My biggest fear about the workshop was that I would be viewed as an intruder and an outsider—that I would stick out like the proverbial sore (and in this case, white) thumb[12]—and thus be prevented from getting to truly connect to anyone.

I was challenged the first night about my right to be in attendance. It could have easily wrecked the entire weekend for me—but that didn’t happen. Instead I found myself gently though assertively contradicting someone’s confusion about me and speaking up for my right to belong, even though I didn’t actually believe it at the time. By the end of the weekend, I had come to feel that I did belong, that I had a people I could claim and who would claim me—something I have wanted all my life but given up hope of ever having.

To say that the workshop was transformative is a huge understatement. I have taken away from it the knowledge that there is a place for me among other human beings. And whenever I begin to doubt that, I can return to those moments during the workshop when I was actually seen, and wanted, and not alone, and be reminded that “otherness” is not my lot in life.

I gained a clearer understanding of how the immigration experience—with its marginalization, racism, classism, and pressure to assimilate—has affected me and my entire family. I was able to connect with and show myself to others in my Southeast Asian support group and know that my presence was appreciated and helpful. I could connect with and show myself to those of other racial and ethnic backgrounds and see firsthand how our oppressions (and means to liberation) mirror and intersect with each other. I learned how to be an ally to other people of the global majority, despite any perceived differences.

Elizabeth Gordon
Fitchburg, Massachusetts, USA 

[11] An Area is a local RC Community. A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas.

[12] “Stick out like a sore thumb” means be very conspicuous because of being different.

I re-evaluated about the relationship between my living on Indigenous land, the colonization of the Americas, and the genocide of Indigenous people and my parents’ immigration from China to the United States.

The Europeans tried to enslave the Indigenous Americans. They killed many off via disease and then found that the survivors refused to work for them. So they captured West Africans, imported them, and kept them in an enslaved condition in the United States until the Emancipation Proclamation in the mid-1860s. After that there was no more captive labor force, but the United States needed to build railroads. So they took advantage of poor conditions in Ireland and in Asian countries, especially China, and got a labor force that way.

That is at least part of the genesis of Asian American immigration, which actually began much farther back than that with Pilipino/a people, some of whom are believed to have arrived in the Americas on Spanish ships in the 1600s.

Even though I want to have the illusion that I am “not involved,” my being here is the result of historical forces and individual choices that make me complicit in and make me collude with the colonist and imperialist attitudes and actions of Europeans in the past, which remain in the form of racism and anti-immigrant oppression in the United States. Heavy thought!

Francie Chew
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA 

Immigrants’ liberation has always been near and dear to my heart. My entire identity has been rooted in the immigrant experience. Being a refugee becomes a part of you—like how cotton was made into my favorite t-shirt. I guess that is just how oppression works.

I am a Khmer-Cham[13] refugee female. After years of discharge, I made a commitment to live with more intention, and attention in the present. That meant that my heart had to be fully open and my mind fully functioning. And that meant that I had to take myself seriously and take a stand in all the places where my distress patterns make me confused, lost, dumb, quiet, numb, small, silent, passive, polite, insignificant, and invisible. It felt almost impossible, and I quickly lost sight of the commitment as the isolation consumed my vision and made me see myself as not capable and the fight as too much to bear.

Being the organizer for and attending the Immigrants and Children of Immigrants Workshop this year gave me the clarity and strength to take on[14] once again the commitment to live my life big and bold! The connections, safety, topics, and leadership were the missing piece of the grand puzzle of my liberation. Working on assimilation, and internalized oppression within and between groups, was just what I needed to push me over to the other side of my distresses—where I could see my significance and that I do have the space to be fully human and powerful.

Since then I have quit my job and traveled to Thailand to celebrate my sister’s matrimonial union and I have visited Cambodia with my younger siblings (who were all born in the United States) to reclaim my people and land despite our war history. I was unemployed for several months (terrifying for a refugee) before making a long-time-coming move to Brooklyn, New York, USA.

Discharging on the terror and insignificance connected to genocide and war has made these decisions possible. All the connections and safety built around me by each and every person at the workshop have had a huge impact on my living and loving this big, powerful life I am building. Thank you all, and may we continue this partnership toward our liberation and re-emergence!

Kinara S. Yang
Quincy, Massachusetts, USA

 [13] The Khmer and Cham are two ethnic groups in Cambodia.
[14] “Take on” means undertake.

  What makes the Immigrants Workshop so special to me is the closeness and connections with people. It contradicts my deep isolation and creates a safe environment to not only show my feelings but to work on them as well. I also love that everyone is so different. We come from different backgrounds, yet we all share one commonality—we are all either immigrants or children of immigrants—and this from the start makes me feel closer to everyone, which makes it easier to work on internalized oppression.

I can still feel the connections I made and remember people, and it’s been over a week since the workshop. This almost never happens for me after a workshop. I left feeling connected, less isolated, and it made all the difference in how my week went at work and at home. What I’ve been holding on to is noticing my goodness. So simple, yet so effective!

Yen Huynh Kortua
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

  The Immigrant Workshop is significant to me because it brings up many feelings about family. Immigrant families have special ways of being close—really really close—and that closeness is replicated in our workshop. The feelings that come up for me and that I get to discharge are, “Leave me alone! Get away from me!” I get to discharge directly on dismantling my isolation.

Cheng Imm said that when we feel really safe, we start to feel like crap (she might’ve used different language, but that’s what I heard). I felt like crap most of the weekend, because I felt so safe and loved. Funny[15] how that works. It’s made me rethink the other places I feel that way—like sometimes in my relationship with my girlfriend.

Which brings me to another highlight! I got to work directly on being Queer and an immigrant. My Queer identity becomes invisible, because being an immigrant is already so hard. There is no room for it, because I have many more pressing things to address. My family and others have also seen Queerness as a U.S. “thing” or as assimilating. So affirming my Queer identity has meant negating my cultural heritage. Claiming being an immigrant Guatemalan Queer woman brought up lots of terror for me. It also made me hopeful that one day I might not have to hide any piece of myself, in RC or in the wide world.

Thank you, Cheng Imm, for encouraging us to write, reflect, and reconnect! I miss you all.

“Ella Maria”
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

 [15] “Funny” means it’s strange.  

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00