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Immigrants of the Global Majority

In October of 2015, thirty-eight RC immigrants of the global majority gathered near Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to work on ending the effects of immigrant oppression.

For immigrants of color to get together is a triumph and a contradiction to racism and immigrant oppression. Immigrants are systematically targeted with prejudice, misinformation, discrimination, and institutionalized oppression. Donald Trump is not the first or only politician who has openly espoused an anti-immigrant platform to win votes. Immigrant oppression operates worldwide, and fear of being attacked, marginalized, and dismissed keeps immigrants from claiming immigrant identity openly and proudly.

People move from their countries of origin for many reasons—to get married, to escape natural disasters, to achieve political or religious freedom, to find educational opportunity. However, large-scale immigration is usually the result of war and global capitalism.

European colonialism, motivated by greed and undergirded by racism, devastated many areas of the world. The colonizers conquered, subjugated, killed, and displaced Native people and extracted their resources. They also colonized people’s minds, imposing on them the colonizers’ religions, languages, and ideas of white superiority.

Today global capitalism and imperialism continue to extract wealth from developing countries, displacing people and causing poverty. One result is large-scale migration to the north.

The structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund force “developing” countries (previous colonies) to privatize, end subsidies and controls, liberalize trade, reduce worker protections, and remove environmental protections. Sometimes the result is war. All this leads to people, both documented and undocumented, migrating to seek safety and opportunities to make a living.

Displaced people are flexible, cheap labor. They do low-paying, backbreaking, life-threatening jobs, earning only a fraction of the wealth they create. Anti-immigrant rhetoric reinforces their status as second-class citizens, making them more vulnerable and exploitable.

Undocumented immigrants are demonized, separated out, and isolated and risk deportation. Thus their labor is even more profitable for U.S corporations, as they lack the means to organize or protest.

We don’t hear about all this. Instead we hear that immigrants are taking jobs, driving down wages, and using public resources. We hear that they are criminals and rapists and a threat to the “American way of life.”

To make us immigrants internalize immigrant oppression, the oppressive society has had to disempower us and isolate us from the rest of the population; tell us we are undesirable, untrustworthy, and to be feared; and make us assimilate, separate us from ourselves, and pit us against each other.

Because of all this, being an immigrant feels scary and unsafe. It feels easier to hide our immigrant status than to pay attention to and work on the oppression. At the workshop, we got to “decolonize” our minds. We reclaimed our languages, ourselves, and each other.

Below are reports from some of the workshop participants.

 Cheng Imm Tan

Boston, Massachusetts, USA


 

Living in New York City (USA) with so many immigrants all around me, I learned to minimize the significance of my immigration experience. I thought, “So what? It’s no big deal [it’s not important].” At the workshop I remembered that leaving my country of Korea and moving to the United States at the age of ten changed every aspect of my life. It was indeed a very big deal.

I think that I knew it was a big deal in the beginning, for the first few weeks or months after leaving my country, but then it became just too scary to notice. So I learned to say, “So what?” and pretend that I didn’t feel anything. As you can imagine, that’s what I automatically do now whenever there is any kind of change in my life. Being at the workshop gave me the opportunity to take a good, long look at what happened to me and to discharge some of the heartbreak and terror I had tucked away. It felt wonderful and safe to do that work with other immigrants of the global majority.

Since the workshop I continue to work in almost every session on my immigration experience and my identity as an immigrant. One unexpected result is that I feel close to my mom in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a child. We came to the United States together, just she and I. I was angry with her for her decision to immigrate, for leaving my two sisters behind (we were later reunited), and for not being able to help me with all that I found hard in my new life. I also felt like I had to leave her behind if I wanted to assimilate and survive, because she couldn’t do it as quickly as I could. It is sweet to notice that I am finding my way back to her.

Thank you, Cheng Imm, for your passionate, unwavering, loving leadership. I can’t wait for next year’s workshop!

Helen Shin

Hoboken, New Jersey, USA


 

Cheng Imm, thank you for keeping the workshop alive by asking us to remember and share our experience of it. It can fade into the background when we get home, much like the way assimilation affects us every day—the way it pressures us to give up important parts of who we are and makes it difficult to remember and hold on to our cultures.

It is a huge relief to be with other immigrants and children of immigrants, and especially to feel a connection with other immigrants of the global majority. Regardless of which culture we originate from, most of us share the experience of colonization, assimilation, and racism. We also share pride, flexibility, and creativity; a wide, embracing view of the world; and a respect for diverse ways of living and believing. I am thankful for the recognition that even though I was born and raised in the United States and identify very much as American, my life has been directly affected by my parents’ emigration from India.

I especially appreciate the way you made space for us to reclaim our languages, whether we spoke them fluently or did not speak them at all. I loved the point you made about how forcing us to speak the colonizer’s language (most often English) is a way of colonizing our minds, because so much of our culture is inherent in our language. When we are forced to speak English, we are forced to think in English and adopt the culture that goes with that language. An example you gave was perfect: Respect for elders is implicit in many of our languages but not in English. Therefore, speaking in English makes us think in a way that is less respectful than what our culture taught us.

It was helpful to hear that assimilation is made invisible to make it harder to organize against. That helps me understand why it is so hard to name and stay focused on this distress I carry.

You had us do some good sessions on internalized oppression, asking us

  • What have you lost?
  • Whom do you trust, and whom do you mistrust?
  • How have you benefited from white society that makes you feel you will lose something if you get close to others who have gotten less (or just gotten crumbs)?

During the panel on Saturday night, it was good to hear the histories of people’s native lands—Haiti, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia, Korea, the Congo—and people’s stories of strength and courage in the face of enslavement, colonization, degradation, and more.

At times the workshop felt overwhelming, but I know it was hitting me in the places I need to discharge the most. I am grateful for you all. With you I can keep laughing about the terror that colonization and assimilation have installed on us. What a contradiction! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hold you close in my heart and can’t wait to be with you again.

Maya Rege-Colt

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA


 

I appreciate your gentleness in encouraging me to share a reflection. I have an old pattern of feeling afraid of speaking or writing about “heavy” things or giving opinions. Assimilation and internalized racism and language oppression are “heavy things” that I haven’t been able to verbalize. This workshop helped me look at them in a much clearer way, and I felt safe enough to work on them. I especially liked the work we did on the “horizontal oppression” toward people of the same ethnic background. It is important, because there is so much division and oppression amongst us, and it needs to get cleaned up and stopped. I also loved that I could speak and sing in my language, and hear others as well.

Marta Rodriguez

Abington, Massachusetts, USA


 

Where else in the world would I get to be with such an array of gorgeous, brilliant human beings being so real and deeply committed to themselves and this work?

Cheng Imm, your fierce spirit and energy, your love for and commitment to us, your passion for liberation and deep knowledge about world history and oppression made it possible for all of us to shine and take pride in ourselves and our people.

A highlight was speaking our languages in introductions—and at dinner, where we spoke our various languages to each other as if we could understand each other and held conversations in three different languages!

Being at the workshop felt like being with family, but without the restimulation.

Amy Tai

Newton, Massachusetts, USA


 

You pointed out that some of us flip a hundred and eighty degrees when we realize we’ve been assimilating and that we can feel frustrated with and blame ourselves.

I’ve been struggling with feeling unauthentic and like I gave up a piece of myself (of course that’s part of assimilation). I’ve gotten mad at myself and the culture I’ve started to adopt, and I’ve struggled to reclaim and show the culture I grew up in. Giving up the adopted culture and turning a hundred and eighty degrees and showing my own culture have felt like an “all or nothing” scenario.

I felt better after your reminder that it’s not “all or nothing.” The adopted culture is also my culture. Adopting it doesn’t make me bad. I can choose parts of each culture, the ones that make sense for my life. I feel like I now have permission to live in all my cultures. I can finally stop beating myself up.

Chhavy Sinuon

Lowell, Massachusetts, USA


 

Since the workshop I have continued to discharge on what it was like to grow up in a household of Haitian immigrants. I am finding that I cannot move forward with my liberation, particularly from racism, when I fail to remember that being the child of immigrants is the lens through which I experience racism as a female who is Black and Haitian-American.

I’ve been reading a book by a Haitian author about the history of Haiti. It gets hard to read about the country’s heart-wrenching history. And my victimization patterns get hooked when the author urges Haitians (inside and outside of the United States) to take responsibility for our people’s distress patterns, which, in part, make it hard for Haiti to stabilize itself. In my sessions I still “kill” the French and USers for what they have done to Haiti. But now I allow my heart to break over where it is hard for Haitians, including me, to once again take charge of our liberation.

Thank you for leading a wonderful workshop, Cheng Imm. I look forward to many more and will prioritize this workshop every year.

Esteniolla Maitre

Boston, Massachusetts, USA


 

Hello, my fellow RC immigrants! I miss you all dearly! How I wish there were more days throughout the year like our workshop weekend, when we could make and strengthen true relationships without fear of judgment and oppression. It is easy for me to feel isolated and alone in the world, and knowing I have all of you with me gives me strength to continue to build relationships and, more important, to keep my mind, my heart, and my spirit well and resilient.

A special thanks to those of you who shared your inspiring reflections. They remind me of how wise and tenacious we all are.

Ku Hunley

Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA

(Present Time 186, January 2017)


Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00