Josna Rege

409. A is for Alien (also Arrival, Assimilation, and Asylum)

In blogs and blogging, Family, Immigration, Stories, Words & phrases on April 1, 2019 at 12:19 pm

A is for Alien, the first post of my Blogging from A-to-Z April Challenge, on the theme of Migrants, Refugees, and Exiles. A is also for Arrival, Assimilation, and Asylum.

Shutterstock photo

It all begins with the figure of the Alien; what an image, evoking comic-book extraterrestrials,  greenish Martians with pallid faces and googly eyes, utterly foreign. Aliens are a breed apart, not even human. When my family immigrated to the United States back in 1970, we were admitted with immigration visas, which gave us “Resident Alien” status. That is what was printed on our alien registration cards, or “green cards”, those coveted certificates of legality, if not belonging. Thankfully, in 1997 the Alien Registration Card  was officially renamed the Permanent Resident Card, which conveys a greater sense of security.

Nevertheless, the Alien persists, and is still in everyday use in terms such as the recently resurrected illegal alien and, in reference originally to Jewish immigrants and later to Asian Americans, the repugnant unassimilable alien. You can find this product advertised on Amazon, amply demonstrating how at least some of our fellow Americans see their undocumented brothers and sisters.

In my youth I would speak of my “alien” status with bravado, wearing it as a badge of pride, perhaps attention-seeking, perhaps compensating for my feelings of alienation by self-exoticizing. But as I grew older and was excluded from voting, even from Town Meeting membership in my own hometown, I was ashamed of not doing my civic duty. And especially after September 11th, 2001, in the hostile climate after the terrorist attacks in New York, I realized that it was now unsafe to be an alien in America, even a “resident alien” with the privilege of legal status. So began the long process of applying for citizenship; another story for another day.

To Karl Marx, alienation is a state where human beings no longer feel fully human because capitalist society values things over people (“commodity fetishism”) and their unrewarding work enriches others and gives them no fulfillment. To paraphrase something Cornel West said many years ago, as human beings there is no fellow-human or human experience, culture, civilization that should be alien to us. A noble vision for us all: Alien no more!

I cannot entirely overlook other important A words: Arrival, Assimilation, and Asylum.

Arrival in a new land is only the beginning of a long process of adjustment and assimilation. In Trinidad and Tobago, Indian Arrival Day is celebrated on May 30th, in commemoration of the arrival in 1845 of the first ship bearing Indians to work as indentured laborers on the sugarcane plantations which had until recently been maintained by enslaved Africans. To arrive is to reach a place at the end of a journey or—importantly—a stage in a journey. Someone who has “arrived” is said to have achieved success. Immigrants will be familiar with the phenomenon when relatives back home all think that you have arrived and now you are sitting pretty, when in reality that is far from the case. Those high expectations can be a source of shame and stress, in addition to the stress of being a newly-arrived immigrant.

Assimilation is one of those double-edged swords. Every immigrant both wants and is expected to assimilate to the new society, to adopt and adjust to its language, customs, and norms, to “fit in.” But immigrants can be regarded as unassimilable, made to feel unwelcome or face downright hostility, even violence. In such situations, the natural human response is to withdraw to a place of safety which, for immigrants, may be to a group of other immigrants like themselves. Then, however, they are blamed for mixing only with their own kind and for refusing to assimilate. There have been many different models of assimilation over the years, in the United States and around the world. The Melting Pot model prevailed for much of the twentieth century, in which immigrants shed their old cultures and “melted” into the new. The problem with that model was two-fold: one, is it desirable, even humanly possible, to leave behind entirely everything that made you and that you hold dear? And two, what if you are not allowed to melt? Oh, and there is a third problem: the melting was not conceived as a reciprocal process in which the newcomer contributes some of their own culture to the host society; rather, it was an entirely one-sided process in which the onus was on the immigrant to adapt to the dominant cultural norms of the society. Later, during the era of multiculturalism in the 1980s and 1990s, the “mosaic” or “salad bowl” model of assimilation replaced the melting pot; but that in turn was challenged after the September 11th, 2001 attacks, when the failure of immigrants to melt came to be seen as a threat.

Asylum is the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee. Asylum-seekers are currently in the news, since there is a record number of refugees worldwide. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) describes asylum-seekers as those who come to the United States seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and political opinion. Until recently refugees were allowed to enter the U.S. temporarily, pending resolution of their asylum application. Now, however, U.S. policy with regard to refugees who arrive at its southern border seeking asylum is to make them wait in Mexico until their asylum case is heard, which, given the current backlog, is an indefinite period of time. Many refugees have thereby been forced to return to their countries of origin, where they may face persecution and even death. We will return to the border tomorrow, with the letter B.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

AtoZ2019Header

  1. Hi, another Linda here! The word Alien reminds me of my first visit to England in 1998. At Heathrow, we were directed to form two lines. One was for British and European citizens and the other was for “Aliens”. We were part of the British Commonwealth but nevertheless, we were Aliens. When I visited again in 2004 they had replaced the Alien sign with something else. It certainly is a word that makes you feel isolated and set apart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Linda! (How is it that all my fellow-bloggers in Australia–that’s where you are, isn’t it?–seem to be Lindas?)
      Yes, isn’t it weird to feel yourself to belong, and then to be made to stand in the “Alien” line? It’s downright alienating! Here in the States, too, the name had changed, but the latest incoming Administration charged the Department of Homeland Security to call unauthorized immigrants by their “proper” name: illegal aliens.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just found a version WITH translation. 🙂 https://youtu.be/qn6rgisZm1M?t=664

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Re-reading this post suddenly reminded of a song by Jorge Drexler called “Asilo”. If you, by chance, speak Spanish I totally recommend looking it up! Or even without understanding the words exactly, it is a sweet song, about lovers asking for a night of “asylum” in eachothers arms…

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  4. Hi Josna: Thanks for dropping by my blog and for your insightful comments. I too noticed that there are few blogs on the ‘politics/news’ theme. I am glad I found your blog!
    This is such a current and hot subject, sociologically, economically and, more so, politically. In many countries now the issue of immigrants is a major issue, with opinions sharply divided. You have brought out multiple perspectives related to aliens in this wonderfully written post.
    The word ‘alien’ brings to my mind the film ET and anything extraterrestrial. And I find it very odd when I see people using the word ‘alien’ as a synonym for ‘foreigner’ or ‘immigrant’.
    Looking forward to your subsequent posts.
    – Pradeep | bit.ly/pradeepnair

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Pradeep. Can’t think how you found the time; I am already dropping behind even on my posts, let alone on visits and comments to fellow bloggers. I was inspired on the first day and it was a weekend. Now I’m mired in my workweek and totally swamped! Visited and read your Confirmation post; perfect for me this week as my first-year students are starting their research papers and learning how to vet sources for reliability.

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  5. This is a terrific start to the A-to-Z Challenge. I look forward to reading more!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, just wow. This is just so broad and also detailed at the same time, so universal in scope and yet very personal. An excellent piece, Josna.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Thank you very much for visiting and for your kind comment. Don’t know whether any further post will be able to live up to this first one, since my life and work have now caught up with me with a vengeance!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If only everyone realised we are all citizens of planet Earth, we are all here together. How can one person look on any other as lesser because of where they were born is a mystery. It’s luck. As climate change becomes more prevalent we will have wars for land because we don’t seem able to share or welcome those in need. And Trump does not believe in giving money to help those in need even in his own country… there are citizens in mine who resent giving aid to foreign lands. Climate change can only be fought if we have equality everywhere, and are all well fed and watered because basically it will take everyone and people who are starving or not equal or who are working every day for a pittance do not have the energy or money to choose green alternatives or fight for the planet. Great article. ~Liz http://www.poetryroundabout.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Liz. What a lovely comment! I read it aloud to my husband last night and he liked it too. The younger generations are taking the lead on climate change, bless them, and it occurs to me that you must encounter a lot of good poetry on the subject.

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  8. I love how you explain the facts of your chosen words and also add in personal stories. Great theme
    Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, Debbie, For me this subject can’t help but be personal, and I was also hoping that the combination of facts and feelings would make it an easier read. All the best with the Challenge! I just visited your blog and am determined all over again to read Dan Brown. Can you believe I’ve never read The Da Vinci Code!

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  9. Great first post! Important topics. Assimilation is an interesting question to me (I have been a “non-resident alien” in the US before) because Hungarians tend to assimilate almost immediately, and don’T usually form communities in America (with some exceptions…)
    Happy A to Z!

    The Multicolored Diary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your visit and comment! I wonder what your U.S. experience was like? Is there a part of the U.S., I wonder, where there are more Hungarians than in others? Or are they dispersed around the country in small numbers? I must look it up. Now for B, and I’m already sleep-deprived! Cheers!

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  10. This is a great first post for the challenge, Josna. You cover both the personal and the general so well. It is a pity that there are no other posts in this theme, but good for you for being brave enough to go for it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for the encouragement, Linda. I remember discovering your blog way back–in the first A-to-Z challenge I participated in, I think–and have so enjoyed and admired your writing (and your work ethic). Since I wrote to Linda (the other Linda!) that mine was the only blog in this category, I have found one more–Time and Tide–and written to its author; so we are two. All my best.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Good to see you back to this Spring Challenge.Great opening jab Especially for an Alien who has spent 50 years Assimilating but still cherish the gifts of the Alienness .that we brought with us.. Looking forward to more.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great first post in the challenge and such an emotive theme. Loved the read and your writing style. Linda

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    • It’s kind of you to say so, Linda. I agree that the theme is emotive, and only hope that it doesn’t generate more heat than light. Tell Me Another is a bog of personal stories, but this time, given the theme, I signed up under the “Political and News” category, even though it didn’t feel altogether accurate. Now, scrolling through the list, I have only found one other blog listed under that category!

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  13. Your writing shortens, focuses, and clarifies, yet uses detail that enriches and gives the full depth of the picture. HOW DO YOU DO THAT? Wish I could write like that!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • How sweet of you, Sally! I thought I was rambling, and didn’t know how to end. Noone has ever praised me for brevity, so I treasure your praise all the more. But if you are the Sally r I think you are, then you CAN and DO write like that, only better!

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  14. Such an emotional topic sometimes, all those “A” words you mention. I look forward to your posts this month. Well, I look forward to your posts always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kristin! The feeling is mutual. And yes, it is an emotional subject. I want to remember to include, over the course of the month, some humor and warmth to balance the inevitable servings of doom and gloom. After all, on balance, I’m glad we moved here!

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  15. Great opening to your challenge. Assimilation is a very tricky subject, because, I think, everyone feels thretened by it. Maybe if we called it ‘learning to know each other’ it would work better.
    But I’m dreaming, I know.

    Liked by 1 person

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