For many immigrants life here is a reverse. When you felt elite, you now feel subservient. When once you felt normal, you now feel strange. When once you felt free, you find yourself bound. There’s the scar of losing your identity.
You see: first comes the Stars.
In your eyes of course.
As you dream of a date with Destiny in a new land.
For one in five immigrants across the globe—that land is America. According to Pew Research Center, the United States commands approximately one-fifth of the worlds immigrant population. Today, of the approximately 300 million Americans living in the continental United States nearly 50 million are foreign born—making the United States the leader in global immigrant populations by far. (Germany has the second largest immigrant population of 12 million.)
I am one of the 50 million.
I came to America young.
Because at seven years old you do not have much choice—or a voice. At that tender age, we are all custodians of adults and custodians of fate.
And for my, our parents—and others of their generation—it must have been stars that motivated the migration from their native land to their chosen one. The absolute faith that it was in the United States— not their fractured land—that they would find a better life.
And so my parents came, my younger sister and I in tow, to make it in America.
It had to be stars and stars alone that would seduce able-bodied, able thinking Black men and women to arrive en masse to the countries famous for stealing, breaking, and harvesting able bodied Black bodies. That they saw a garden in a cemetery is astounding.
For these modern migrating Blacks, there was no middle passage—just a third class carriage on an intercontinental flight.
For these Blacks there is no chain and no shackles, but there remains the humiliation and dismemberment of the middle passage.
For these Blacks, a federal bondage abounds, an emotional slavery is ensured and a cultural holocaust awaits.
But do they even know it?
If they did, it would be hard to tell upon landing.
Because before you can cry for the Black bodies that arrived before you, you are overwhelmed by whiteness.
It had to be stars and stars alone that would seduce able-bodied, able thinking Black men and women to arrive en masse to the countries famous for stealing, breaking, and harvesting able bodied Black bodies.
That was my most distinct memory at seven upon landing in my striped skirt set and bright pink overcoat.
An overwhelming sense of whiteness—from the snow to the people to the lights in the airport.
So white it burns my eyes.
And when I opened them, even at a young age, I could see in one swift commute, I’d entered a new matrix. One where no one was Black like me. Here the land felt free as advertised, but fraught.
For me: fraught with being too Black – but not Black enough.
Fraught with holidays like Kwanzaa that honor Africa, but a distinct sense that Africa is disrespected.
Fraught with the disconnection between feeling the palpable loss of the native Blacks of this land and trying not to feel guilty for counting your own.
Fraught with the feeling that to belong here, to survive here, is to always be off black and aspire to be off white.
Fraught with the truth that the stars that burned have turned to scars.
For after you have understood the ultimate assignment of immigration: earn money and send it home, you see you are left with scars.
First, there’s the scar of losing your sense of place.
For many immigrants life here is a reverse. When you felt elite, you now feel subservient. When once you felt normal, you now feel strange. When once you felt free, you find yourself bound.
There’s the scar of losing your identity.
Being anything other than African American as an African in America means your culture is set aside. After all, Black as I am – if I say soul foods’ you may not think fufu. If I say old school, you may not think Highlife; if I say my president is Black, you may not think of Nkrumah. It’s having to understand your native culture as a subsidiary of a greater one in the diaspora of Blackness.
The scar of losing a sense of community. Diversity has been so delicious; yet, it can leave you yearning for a certain sense of unity.
The scar of losing your family. For me, it’s here that mine disbanded. My parents separated soon after landing here, and I would never again see my nuclear family together except for ten years later—twenty years ago.
After 33 years here, here’s what’s clear:
You will suffer the scars of loss long enough until the constant pain feels salient.
It’s then, when your Africaness, Caribbeaness, Asianess, Europeaness—your original essence is fractured enough—that you earn your stripes: the whipping and lashing, the bending and blending into the melting pot that is America.
A country where be it 400 years, 4 years or 4 months we are all removed from our original essence, spaces, selves and destiny for the power and privilege of being American.
God damn the pain of the process, but God bless the privilege of the results. And God bless USA.