Immigration sounds to be an ideal choice to many people who live in conditions that produces and reproduces suffering and sadness. The experience of immigration has to be viewed as a personal political cultural and social event in one’s life. Leaving a familiar and known condition and moving into an unfamiliar and unknown environment takes risk, adventure and faith. Immigration is a significant life- changing event in one’s life that requires commitment, openness and adaptation. Immigration, like divorce, is a powerful force that reshapes one’s identity.
When one is migrated to a new country, his life including his social family professional networks as well as his employment situation is disrupted. One’s university degrees may be recognized or obtained, job opportunities becomes available, home/ apartment is furnished and a new circle of friends and professional networks are formed but what never gets replaced is the continuity of having a ‘witness’ in one’s life who knows him through his life.
I usually use the analogy of ‘U’ to describe the process of reconfiguration and reformation of life of an immigrant. ‘U’ symbolizes how life of an immigrant is re-constructed from the moment that s/he decides to leave his/her country to the moment that s/he feels settled in the new country.
Like anything else in life, after months of enjoying the new condition, the harsh reality kicks in. The U journey begins with a drastic downhill, continues with staying below the surface until one finds a way out, then continues with going uphill, which may take years, until it reaches back to the surface and moves towards a preferred direction. The gap between two surfaces (life before and after immigration) is his/her unique life story that has to be told, storied and understood!
When one is experiencing the U-shaped journey, his/her social networks in the birth country may not be able to understand his/her challenges in the adopted country and his/her close friends in the adopted country may remain puzzled about stories of his/her past life experiences that led to his/her immigration. Surprisingly, what both groups have in common is their impartial knowledge of an immigrant as a person.
An immigrant gradually learns to be OK with others’ impartial knowledge of self; no one’s understanding of others is complete; perhaps that is how ‘the light gets in’. As we become more comfortable with not- knowing and impartial understanding of one another, we learn to be with each other and assemble moments of togetherness.
When i reflect on my journey of reconfiguration and reformation, i see it as an opportunity/invitation to become part of something larger than self. Although this invitation may taste unpleasant; particularly, when one struggles in his/her U shaped journey; it becomes a precious and priceless experience in one’s life.
Let’s embrace moments of connection; let’s stay real and impartial; let’s give ourselves permission to be OK with not- knowing. Let’s become more active in storing and restoring our past and present; let’s join together to co-create our past, present and future!
Tahereh Barati, M.A, RMFT