Help me write the next chapter of my cliched child of immigrant life
July 11, 2018 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I need help figuring out how to thrive in the US as the child of immigrants. I was born here and am educated- so I have the technical stuff figured out. Like getting jobs, understanding how things work, etc. It's the emotional stuff that I just can't seem to get through. Please help me make the next chapter of my child of immigrants story be one of joy, community, and belonging. Please. Thank you.

I was born in the US to immigrant parents. Many factors make my story easier than others- we had money growing up. My parents were educated and spoke English flawlessly. I have a bachelors and masters from elite schools. I know how this society functions, and can technically function in it at a high level. I have the trappings of material success, and this is not where the majority of my concern lies.

I just don't feel comfortable here. People of my ethnic/religious background are vilified, increasingly by the current administration, but by previous ones as well. I feel isolated, and as of the last few years, a bit scared of the white people around me. They don't seem to need to keep up appearances of unbiased behavior and civility anymore. I am worried that certain values will mean that I will never truly feel comfortable here. Most importantly, I really value relationships, loyalty, and generosity. I don't enjoy the overly transient nature of relationships (perhaps exacerbated by living in an exceptionally transient city), and yearn for deep relationships with people who sincerely care each other for the long run. I do have friends, just feel like they don't have the same standards of care towards each other. Interestingly, I have made a couple of friends twenty years older than me that are deeply caring, but it would be nice to have friendships like this of my own age. The other value that I have that makes me more comfortable in some other countries is the belief that overmedication is bad, and that many solutions to our health problems lie within modifications to our behavior. (To give brief examples without opening a separate can of worms, I do believe in vaccines! Just not medicating away every single behavior issue, and stuff like that...)

I have traveled to forty countries, and lived in one for a few years in which my values and personality simply fit. I even married someone from this country, and he helps me feel at home. So I know that this isn't purely psychological, where I erroneously feel like I would fit better somewhere else.

However, I came back to the US, because this is where my family is. Furthermore, this is where I grew up. This is where I know how everything works. American English is the only language I speak with native fluency. I value aspects of the US, mostly embedded in ideals that seem further away than before- diversity, tolerance, access to opportunity.

Since I grew up in this country, I don't feel comfortable doing what my parents did to build a community- only hang out with others of the same ethic/religious background as themselves. My identity is now much more complex, and this would not serve me.

What's my question, you ask? I am asking you for concrete steps that I can take to build relationships and community in the US, and to create in myself a deeper sense of belonging. I have reached a point where I need this desperately. So I'm reaching out to this great internet community to see if you can help me identify concrete ways to move forward joyfully.

Anonymous because I don't think society being openly aware of how isolated I feel will help me build connections. Thank you and hugs in advance for any hope and kindness that you can offer me :-)
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not you it's us. I'm utterly american, been in the same town for couple decades and feel basically what you're describing. It't very much the zeitgeist of the times, due to the internet or economy or who knows what but the general theme is the amorphic disenfranchisement feeling. Look at the frequent "how to make friends after college" posts here and many other forums.

Research carefully and join a club. Shared interests seems to be the thread that brings folks together these days, proximity does not, I recognize neighbors and chat sometimes but can not imagine close friendships forming. Get to any Mifi meetups, generally good folk show up, well always in my slight experience, heck initiate a meetup.

Too bad that facebook is so problematic, for a period it seemed to be a source of connections for a lot of regular folks, but with all the serious issues tech in general does not have answers.
posted by sammyo at 1:16 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Most importantly, I really value relationships, loyalty, and generosity. I don't enjoy the overly transient nature of relationships (perhaps exacerbated by living in an exceptionally transient city), and yearn for deep relationships with people who sincerely care each other for the long run. I do have friends, just feel like they don't have the same standards of care towards each other.

Feeling betwixt and between cultures is painful and difficult, but the sadness you express in this quote breaks my heart because, ironically, it suggests you really are an American. This is how a lot of Americans feel; don't compare your insides to other people's FB posts because the structures of transience that have developed in the U.S. are unsatisfying and lonely to many people. I hope recognizing that you're not alone in this helps you feel, well, less alone. .
posted by nantucket at 1:22 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


Most importantly, I really value relationships, loyalty, and generosity. I don't enjoy the overly transient nature of relationships (perhaps exacerbated by living in an exceptionally transient city), and yearn for deep relationships with people who sincerely care each other for the long run. I do have friends, just feel like they don't have the same standards of care towards each other. Interestingly, I have made a couple of friends twenty years older than me that are deeply caring, but it would be nice to have friendships like this of my own age.

I don't have any advice, but dude, this totally speaks to me and how I feel wrt friendships (and I grew up in DC, very transient city, and still live here). I think quite a number of us feel this way, immigrant (I am) or not. So you're not alone. I don't know how to fix this (or make it better) and I'll be interested in reading any responses that could address this.
posted by driedmango at 1:27 PM on July 11 [12 favorites]


I'm also the child of immigrants living in the US, and it's really important to realize that things have changed recently and all those things we used to be able to forget about for a while are no longer things we can put aside.

For me, it's really important that I found the people I needed to find. Few of them are racial minorities, but they understand that they can't understand what it's like for me, but they stand with me when I need them. They create a safe sense of space that I need. I think it makes a huge difference that we live in a liberal city.

I also think it's always important to me to feel like I'm doing what I can to fight for what I believe is right for America. I don't always have the energy for it, but knowing that people see the work I do, value it, and are willing to help, keeps me going.
posted by advicepig at 1:48 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


The other value that I have that makes me more comfortable in some other countries is the belief that overmedication is bad, and that many solutions to our health problems lie within modifications to our behavior. (To give brief examples without opening a separate can of worms, I do believe in vaccines! Just not medicating away every single behavior issue, and stuff like that...)

I don't know if you're actually doing this (and I hope you're not) but if you want to build new relationships, don't bring this up to people whom you don't already know very, very well. It's all well and good for this to be a value by which you direct your own life, but as soon as this kind of stuff comes out of your mouth in mixed company you're going to (likely silently and without any kind of notice to you) alienate a lot of people, especially in more cosmopolitan areas where there's fewer taboos around stuff like psychiatry and more people take medication to function.

It's honestly not even a question as to whether you're right or wrong, it's that absolutely no one wants to have their medical choices judged and if they know you're the kind of person who breaks out "people are overmedicated" in conversation because that is a value you hold dear, it's not really going to help you win friends, and it's double-especially not going to help you with people your own age who are far less likely than people about twenty years older than you to agree what is really takes to Get Better is just trying harder.

Maybe I just described a person who isn't you at all! Hopefully I did, even. But if that is you: heads up.
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on July 11 [31 favorites]


I'm also first generation with a similar background and have felt similar tensions. Interestingly, many of my strongest friendships are with other first generation kids, though not necessarily from my own ethnic/cultural background. This is not an absoute, but an interesting pattern.

Making deep friendships as an adult can be challenging. You have to put a significant amount of time into being active in various communities and groups and there are a lot of duds out there that you have to weed through. I've found life-long friends through being active in shared interest groups, mostly around leisure activities/hobbies, political groups, and activity in community groups/volunteering. There is effort in having to put yourself out there - but it generally pays off if you make the effort to keep the connection alive. I'm also pretty clear about who I am - my values and ethics and my worldview. That helps to weed out people who do not share similar values.
posted by quince at 2:01 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I am asking you for concrete steps that I can take to build relationships and community in the US

I don't know if you are the kind of person who would enjoy this, but I have a dear friend who has been hosting a potluck dinner at her house every Wednesday for many years. She sends out a reminder a day or two before, every week, to a large group, and when she meets new people she soon tells them about it and offers to add them to the list. The stakes are lower than some more formal or binding invitation, so it is an easy way to reach out to people before you already know them well. Sometimes a lot of people come, sometimes not so many, but because it is a standing occasion, there is something special and stable about it.

When my family moved to our current city, six years ago, I thought we might try doing something similar, and we did -- our version is a little different, to fit the rhythms that work for us. We do it about every two weeks, on Sunday evenings (because I find Sunday evenings a bit depressing normally), make the same basic foods every week (a big pasta dish, a big salad, some roast vegetables, and bread from the local bakery) and encourage people to bring food or not bring food as they prefer. I am very glad we did this. It has helped me feel more connected to people and more rooted in this place. Maybe you would enjoy doing something like this, too.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:14 PM on July 11 [17 favorites]


Redfoxtail's potluck idea is fantastic.

I can't pretend I understand your exact situation as I'm not a child of immigrants. But I identify very much with the struggle to build a community and the longing for meaningful connections.

I've had some luck volunteering, going to the local UU church, joining choirs, working in community gardens and doing activism work. It's hard especially since I'm a little shy and I've had to learn to pretend to be an extrovert. Once I run into someone a few times and feel comfortable doing so, I ask them to see a movie or get coffee or come to a dinner party.

As far as disappointment in friendships not having the depth of care you want - without more detail it's hard to say. But friendships are kind of mysterious and profound connections don't happen all the time. I think you have to keep getting to know new people while growing the relationships you have.

Message me if you're in my city and I'll buy you a coffee.
posted by bunderful at 3:50 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


When I have looked for community in my life, the places I've found it most easily have been: a UU congregation; a musical community (chorus, band, etc.); and a political group (Greens). Meetup.com is kind of amazing in my area as a place to find people to hang out with; I have had good success finding musicians to be musical with there, and that often leads to friendships in my case. YMMV.

In some places, community organizations can be pretty awesome (garden club, litter league, friends of the library, etc). Also, I hear that sporty people do things that sometimes help build community. Bowling actually still happens. Softball, soccer/football, ultimate frisbee, etc. are all played in leagues for adults, so I hear.

In my town of about 30k people, we have a lot of immigrants and their descendants who are organizing to improve their communities. We have lots of non-profit groups and Friends of this or that park or wildlife refuge. Look there for people who are interested in making the world a better place.
posted by sockpuppetryarts at 7:11 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, I have made a couple of friends twenty years older than me that are deeply caring, but it would be nice to have friendships like this of my own age.

I find it much easier to maintain friendships with people who are retired or nearing retirement, despite a generational difference. Speaking specifically of my friends and not necessarily everyone that age, they aren't as pressed for time on a short work leash as I am, and they're willing to take on a bit of a parent/mentor role in the friendship (they don't mind that I can rarely get it together to initiate plans). It would be awesome to have more friends my own age, and I'm sure that if we all worked 30 hours a week and had high-quality, affordable childcare, I'd have more friends my age.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 7:29 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I posted before the concrete steps: maybe keep making friends with seniors; maybe seek out people in hobbies that are somewhat time- and/or money-consuming, so that anyone participating is unlikely to be too overwhelmed by work and family obligations at the moment. Scubadiving, antique car restoration, community theatre, whatever it may be.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 7:35 PM on July 11


Game nights! Tabletop games like Dominion, Pandemic, the Resistance. My partner and I have been hosting these with great success for our social life and friendships. Its low-stakes to invite casual acquaintances as well as established friends. I think people are more willing to accept the invitation even if I don't know them well because they don't have to worry about having something in common with everyone else or not knowing others in our various social circles - the games are the touchpoint.

Friendships form through frequent, casual social interactions - this is why its so easy to make friends in school and then we all hit the wall as we age out of our school social groups. If you don't mind hosting and can try to do it regularly, being the person who creates the space for people to get together is not as hard as it seems.

Book clubs are also good for this, but its easier to get acquaintances to show up for one night of games rather then to get them to read a book.
posted by ProtoStar at 8:12 PM on July 11


I’m a first generation immigrant who shares much of your values. Bacially, I want American tolerance and energy combined with Asian loyalty and graciousness/generosity. I’ve had the best luck with other first gen immigrants and Americans who have spent significant time abroad. I also have “regular” American friends, and I tend to look for reprocisity in the beginning. I’ll buy coffee or a drink, and see if they automatically offer to get the next one and follow through. I also find that I have to be fairly proactive in terms of reaching out to people who I’m interested in being friends with, because not everyone is looking for a new friend (but almost everyone is happy to make one!) I’ve made friends at work, with other parents, adult recreation leagues, etc.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:32 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


My life trajectory has been a little different from yours but I am also an immigrant who misses the warmth, community, traditions and strong social bonds of my home country while also valuing the tolerance, diversity and better outlook for females in the country to which I have migrated. I am extremely well-integrated here because I've had the privilege of growing up speaking English and a good education, but in recent years I've done a lot more socialising with groups of people from the same city I came from. I don't mean I socialise with only them, but we are each other's little pieces of home. We can reminisce or complain about home, we can talk in our language, we can eat food from home. We don't have to code switch the way we do with Westerners, we just revert to our default code.

I get that it's different for you because you are already at home; but I wonder if it's worth perhaps tapping into any immigrant networks your parents might know or be part of (I don't mean to generalise, but just in case they do?). I get that you don't only want to seek out people of the same racial origin. But those immigrant parents may well have adult children who share your outlook and your experience.

Have you read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri? I suspect it will speak to you.

I'm not in the US but feel free to message me if you ever want to talk. Your message struck a major chord with me.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:34 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I am a born-in-the-US daughter of immigrants from East Asia, so I relate to your question. As mentioned above, there is a profound lack of community in American society in general, but I also think the community issue is compounded by being Other in American society. I'm unclear if you are a person of color, but it sounds like you were not born fair-skinned and blond-haired.

I want to affirm for you that, despite your flawless English and elite education:
It.Is.So.Difficult.To.Not.Be.White.In.The.United.States.

Finding community, then, is that much more difficult. It's kind of like dating: it's a numbers game, and just be up front about who you are, so that you're not having superficial conversations, which lead to superficial friendships.

There are lots of good suggestions above that involve attending groups or taking classes in that interest/hobby/creative outlet. I also found a very good friend through MeFi, so try attending a local IRL Mefi Meetup!

Good luck. <3
posted by honey badger at 4:34 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


I am also a first-gen American, privileged in many ways, but increasingly aware of being Othered. I'm also pretty introverted and have had to move four times in the last decade for education/work; I don't know if that applies to you, but that's been a challenge in finding my community. I also think the late 20s and 30s are a really tough time to make friends, because people tend to pair off and then make babies (who are cute but also a big timesuck), plus those are critical career-development years, so there is less time for peers and fun, at least for a couple decades.

You mention that your spouse's home culture feels like a much better fit for you than American culture; is there a way you could move back there? I know you say you returned to the US to be closer to family, but it sounds like you don't have a strong connection with anyone currently. While the logistical challenges of figuring it out in a different country are big and scary, they are not insurmountable, and your post sounds pretty miserable.
posted by basalganglia at 6:49 PM on July 12


You said that you don't want to only hang out with people of the same religious background as yours. But would you be willing to hang out with some people with the same religious background as yours? As a white American, I too find that the average person just doesn't seem to care as much about other people as I do, and I enjoy having friendships with people of different ages and backgrounds, and my church is one place that I find those friendships. Depending on your religion, you may be able to find a group that is diverse in other ways (ethnicity, socioeconomics, etc.) while sharing your religion. Or, as others suggested above, you could try UU, which is welcoming of people of all religious backgrounds.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:09 AM on July 13


I am also a child of immigrants. Since you have parents who speak English fluently, you attended elite schools, and you have traveled to over forty countries, you have privilege over other first- and second-generation immigrants who did not have those skills and opportunities. I would suggest building solidarity with immigrant communities at risk to whom you could donate your time (ex. tutoring, legal advocacy) and/or money. There are plenty of immigrants, migrants, undocumented people and others who have less than you and could use your support.
posted by elisse at 3:54 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


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