Latina Immigration, Suicide and Belonging

Viernes, 15 de marzo de 2013

I wonder how much of my feelings of not fitting in, ever, had actually to do with having been considered an immigrant all my life, never having the chance to live in a place where I was considered 100% local. It is something most people take for granted, that they have at one time been in a  place in the world where they have felt like they belonged.

In Perú I was always strange because we didn’t do things the Peruvian way, in Costa Rica I had to completely aculturize after bullying in my first few months in school, where I learned lightning fast that speaking in an accent and doing things differently was not going to be a possibility… eventually I was able to feel like I belonged, but only by trying to remove all traces of my past identity. And then, there would be moments in life that I’d be jarred back into reality and reminded me that I was not a tica and did not have the same rights they did. In Colombia I got used to the fact that having a Colombian ID was not enough: I hadn’t studied there, I didn’t have the common experiences and for all intents and purposes, I was foreigner when it came to banking, housing and work.

Now as an immigrant in the USA, I teeter between wanting to fit in and feel like I belong, and letting go of that expectation, because I will always be an outsider. I fear I will be sardined under the “latina” tag, with all the negative stereotypes that conveys and then twice damned because even that group would possibly not consider me “latina” enough, and I can’t really say I’ve felt the full discrimination they might have, because of the lottery that is skin color.

AlJazeera’s The Stream just made a show on the reasons behind the rise of Latina suicides, particularly in New York. Apparently the main causes are feeling like you don’t belong anywhere, lack of parental availability (emotional or physical) , and the divide between expectations at home and expectations outside. They mention that weight issues such as pre-diabetes and obesity also affect teens emotional well-being. I could be a case-study for that as well.   While I did struggle with self-destructive thoughts and tendencies, I can only say that family support and access to mental health specialists when I felt I had reached my breaking point kept me safe.  I am glad people are bringing this out to the open, that there are organizations dealing with making young  immigrants feel integrated and happier. I wish I had known that my feelings were normal and that other kids were going through the same thing, and being able to get in touch with those kids.

As an adult, I feel disappointed that this is still an issue for me, it feels like failure that after all this time, growing up and learning more about life, I still deal with the feelings of inadequacy that being an outsider brings. I still desperately want to belong. It is rough to feel outside all society, and I guess that is why I love internet and the world it opened. It was a place with no nationality, no borders, where the bottom line was the common interests we had and not where we were from.  But as the web closes up with paywalls and pay for access sites, and the “this video is not available in your region”, it is once again bringing forth those barriers.  So I find myself looking outside once again for a way to deal with this.  I am feeling a lot of pressure trying to fit into the USA, and this pressure just comes from within, and my wish to feel like an insider.  Today, an article I wrote for Future Challenges titled A Woman’s Work is Never Done came out, and it touches on this topic: how as female immigrants we have to balance out the expectations we already bring with us with the stereotypes and expectations in our new home:

Girls are being raised to dream big and reach for the moon. Even so, it seems that for many the message being received is that if you don’t actually touch the moon, you’re a complete failure.

As I mention in the ending of my article, I’m still working this out in my head.   As I’ve landed unwittingly into the land of unemployment, I have to accept that this does turn me into a “homemaker” while I find something else.  I either have to redefine what all these words are so that my life makes sense to me once again, or just learn how to deal with expectations and not care.

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