Why it’s Important for Every Immigrant to Make Sense of Their Story
By: Sruveera Sathi
Earlier this week, I sat down to help a friend with her honor’s thesis on the experience of 1.5 Generation Indian Americans with the American public school system. For her thesis research, she needed to conduct a series of interviews with 1.5 generation Indian-Americans, so she reached out to ask if she could interview me, to which I readily agreed. We met in a cozy coffee shop and sat down with two giant lattes in front of us, and an iPhone voice recorder turned on.
Of course in my true type-A fashion, I arrived with pages of typed up notes to help recollect events if needed for the interview, but to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t need to rely on the notes as much as I anticipated because the answers to her questions were already there inside my head. There they existed, some dormant, and some bubbling to the surface ready to escape — my various lived experiences which were powerful enough that I was able to recollect them with relative ease, some 10 to 15 years later.
For me, the interview felt like a two-hour long therapy session in which I had the opportunity to spill my guts out to my unassuming friend who nodded politely and laughed appropriately, taking notes as I spoke and processed my immigrant story in real time — in fact, it was the most I’ve ever told anyone to date.
I opened up about the tricky but rewarding experience of being educated in two different countries — in the United States and in India for part of high school; the bullying I faced during grade school for things like having a lot of body hair and bringing Indian lunches, how I questioned my religion and my awful attempts at seeking popularity during my angsty middle school years.
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I also recounted how fortunate I was to have amazing women STEM teachers during high school, make friends who vibed with my nerdiness, as well as teachers who encouraged my creative side in writing. Even though it was difficult for me to condense more than 15 years of feelings and experiences into two hours, and even though my friend remarked in between that listening to parts of it made her emotional, overall, the experience was positive, liberating, and empowering.
Time and distance away from the often confusing period of our adolescent years as immigrants can definitely help us process and make sense of the world, but it can also cause us to suppress or ignore experiences that are uncomfortable or complicated to rehash. The interview helped me realize that I pushed some of these experiences aside instead of processing them.
However, now that I am taking active steps to sift through them, I see how valuable these experiences were because they gave me a perspective that few people have. These obstacles and differences which I think cause a lot of immigrants anguish growing up can actually be the source of wisdom or individual quirks if time is spent understanding them.
This is why I think every immigrant should find a way to make sense of their story in whatever medium works for them. I turned to my writing, which was previously confined to brooding Tumblr posts and half-baked Facebook statuses, but now has an outlet through an online WOC publication. However, there are so many different ways out there to incorporate your immigrant story and make sense of it if you are bold enough to seek these opportunities out.
For example, take Hasan Minhaj, who uses stand-up comedy and verbal storytelling in his one-man show “Homecoming King,” Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang who used screenplay in “Master of None,” Rupi Kaur through her poetry, or even my friend who turned to academia with her honor’s thesis to help her make sense of her own immigrant experience. For me, it was both a combination of growing up and maturing, as well as finally seeing role models tell their stories that made me want to open up too.
The immigrant experience is one that is constantly evolving and one that can shape a human being entirely, yet it’s surprising how little of an emphasis there is in helping immigrants make sense of their own stories. But I do see encouraging signs, like the rise ofAsian American & Pacific Islander Studies Programs at schools like my alma mater which provide more opportunities for cross-cultural exploration and expression.
As for myself, I was fortunate to have found encouragement from my parents, mentors, and friends in high school and college that helped me start this exploration, but I believe I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to understanding my experiences and all the idiosyncrasies that make my immigrant story, my very own.