The journey of an immigrant – from New Delhi to New Ulm
To the editor:
What does it feel like to me an immigrant to the US?
More than a quarter of a century ago, I boarded a plane from New Delhi to the US. I had my green card (permanent resident alien) paperwork, and a huge package that contained my chest X-ray (declaring me free of Tuberculosis). I was wearing my best Indian dress.
I landed in Michigan, was greeted by a friendly US immigration officer who checked my paperwork, took my fingerprints, and with a big smile, said, “Welcome to America!”
I had a suitcase full of my medical textbooks, some Western clothes that were woefully out of fashion, and less than $100 in my pocket.
The initial journey as an immigrant is awkward. It ranges from the existential, as one struggles to reconcile the worldview of one’s country of birth, to the mundane (“So that brown coin is a penny? How do I buy groceries here?”). But that journey is marked by a hundred acts of kindness by strangers — Americans who patiently tell you, in an accent yet unfamiliar to your immigrant ears, how to fill out the forms to get your Social Security number, or the correct bus to take to where you need to go.
And then, somewhere along the journey, the immigrant identity and the American identity begin to merge. America changes the immigrant, and for the better. A kinship for your fellow citizens develops and strengthens, as you build a bond with those with whom you have no connection by bloodlines. When you merge with a country you were not born in, it is a powerful experience. When you take your oath of citizenship to the US as a naturalized citizen, it feels right. When you give birth to your children who will be US citizens, it feels right. When you are asked where you are from, the answer ” Minnesota”, is effortless, it feels right. The prospect of taking your last breath in the US, and having your ashes scattered here, feels right.
You become an American.
Americans individually may not perfect. But the idea of America, as enshrined in our motto in 13 letters, ” E Pluribus Unum” (Out Of Many, One) is powerful and unique, and is felt deeply in the hearts of those of us who came in from the ” outside” and did become One with America.
It must never be allowed to die.