I’m an Immigrant

At the end of college I was accepted into the JET Programme. This enabled me to move to Japan and work as a teacher in local high schools. JET came with a one-year contract that was renewable originally for three years, but ultimately this was extended to five. My original plan was to stay for two years before returning to my home country, USA, and seeing what life had in store for me.

Apparently, life intended for me to stay in Japan. I’ve been living here almost thirteen years. My wife is Japanese. My 20-month son is Japanese, although once I finish some paperwork he will be a dual citizen. We don’t know ultimately where will end up living. Both countries have their good points, both have their bad. Certainly the current political climate would be a factor in that decision.

Going just by a textbook definition I would most assuredly count as an immigrant. And while I haven’t given it too much thought in the past, since the birth of my son I have been reflecting more on my status as an immigrant. I suppose you could say I’ve been feeling more like an immigrant.

When we were expecting, many friends, and even some people I barely knew, asked about how my wife and I planned on navigating culture and language with our son. This was a tricky question. My Japanese is much better than my wife’s English and so Japanese has long been our home language. Understandably, it is important to me for my son to learn my language, English. Luckily, my wife completely understands my feelings and not only supports my only speaking to him in English but she does her best to get him using English herself. This goes further with her valuing not only my language, but my culture. Wanting that to be important to our son has never been an issue between us.

This support isn’t limited to my wife. As I mentioned, having a child that is fairly obviously a mix between Japanese and American (or caucasian if we want to make it ethnic) means those around us often enquire as to how language works in our house. When we explain our system not once has their been even a slight objection. We get praise for trying to hold on to my Americanness and for promoting English. This is true regardless of who we are talking with. Japanese, American, UK, Australia, Uzbek, wherever. No one raises an eyebrow.

Over the holidays I was in America. Believe it or not, politics came up, which led to thoughts on immigration, which led to thoughts of Muslims. I was around those who questioned whether Muslims should be allowed. Part of their reasoning why Muslims should not be invited was that “They” didn’t want to universally adapt to being Americans. They wanted to hold onto to aspects of their own cultures. Their own languages.

You’ve probably already spotted the thought that should have flooded into my brain. Sadly, at that time I didn’t. I was too busy picturing the many Muslim friends I have made in Japan. I was thinking of their wonderful personalities and picturing their faces and I was  couldn’t stop thinking “how dare you judge these many on the actions of the extreme few?”

It wasn’t until later that the other aspect clicked. How is it that I am applauded for wanting to hold on to my own culture, continue my language through my child when other immigrants, be they Muslim, Hispanic, or from other lands, are looked down for doing the exact same thing?

I know some will read this and want to say American culture is superior. That other lands are more violent, more close-minded. But is that true? I love America, but it is full of violence. It is full of discrimination. And this isn’t a recent turn. We all know that race and gender plays an extreme role in treatment in America. Certainly America has aspects of progress, but it doesn’t deserve a free pass.

I am an immigrant. But I am a white American, and that difference means that I am graded on a curve, and that my desire to maintain my cultures values is seen as something to applaud rather than something to sneer at. But I think if you were to talk to any group of immigrants, they want the same things I want.

What I want is to live some place safe where I don’t have to worry about my family being judged for my being a part of it. I want to learn from the land I am in without wiping away all the values of where I am from.  I want those around me to accept that their image of where I am from is not always the truth. I want to be a part of a community and be accepted for who I am. I want for people to accept that even though I am an immigrant, there is little difference between us.


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