I admit. I had little to no understanding about where I really fit in American society until very recently. Up to last year, I thought that my upbringing, a dream, formal training, hard and clever work, as well as high social capital would transcend any difficulty an immigrant would face in this country. I was wrong… In reality, I’ve discovered, the truth is just a lot more complex than I ever thought. This article is an attempt to demystify this complexity to you.
First, without knowing the history of immigration in the United States is tough to understand what really goes on in the lives of too many first generation immigrants but the truth, as God would say, will set you free.
Americans have been very tough on immigrants for a long time, ranging from the poor treatment of Irish immigrants between 1820-1860, the Chinese massacre in 1871, and the poor treatment of Italians between 1900 to 1910. More recently, latinos/hispanics have been treated very poorly as well by a sizable number of American citizens, especially in the south, which is a sad yet true reality.
Second, legality doesn’t seem to reduce hostility against outsiders much, either. I’ve experienced, seen and heard first hand from a wide variety of legal immigrants what they’ve experienced. The following are some of the things I’ve heard from acquaintances in Tennessee alone.
1. “Get me the owner of the house? I need to speak with him.” A statement said to an Colombian professor in Tennessee who has been repeatedly labeled as a servant.
2. “You are not a Christian, that Christianity you practice (Catholics), what are you doing in this parking lot?” A statement said to a Caribbean professor in Tennessee who was perceived as a criminal unchristian like.
3. “What are you doing around here? I don’t believe that you’re a college professor. Get out of this town.” A statement said to a Brazilian American female professor in Chattanooga who was perceived to be dangerous.
Third, even after the process of naturalization, poor treatment of many Latinos, continue. I think it’s because people just don’t like some of our looks — the “look” of outsiders, despite of what they may say. The Olive tone of Latino immigrants and the mestizo looking Guatemalans or Mexicans push many Americans away, especially caucasians in the south.
Let’s not forget that immigrants have been perceived as cheap labor and uneducated historically which might explain why some foreign doctors are sometimes labeled as poor apple pickets from a farm in South Carolina.
At any rate, once an immigrant, always an immigrant, I say. It doesn’t matter how educated, cultured or wealthy Latinos may be, unfortunately. Poor treatment eventually knocks on your door. At least, that’s what I’ve experienced.