This is What No One Tells You About Surviving as an Asian Immigrant


Moving from one’s country of origin to another is not an easy task. The move is a process of adjustments but all along an eye-opening journey of self-discovery. As a Muslim Pakistani and now American who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, I have faced all sorts of questions and curiosity about my ethnicity, religion, and language abilities. Over the years, I have learned to embrace my new culture and have considered myself fortunate at each step. Being an immigrant in a new country will leave you with a void, nothing can replace home. In addition, leaving your home breaks the pattern of familiarity which is a challenge itself but gives you perspective all along. On top of that, the struggle of working or going to school in a new environment sometimes makes it more challenging. Moving from a collective culture to a more individualistic culture can lead to feelings of loneliness. Other times meeting new people can ease the process.

American media has been more inclusive of actors with Asian ethnicity. This promotes awareness and inclusion. On the other hand, it reinforces stereotypes as well. For instance, Asian immigrants are mostly portrayed as cab drivers but are seldom shown as other professionals. An example of such exaggerated caricature that reinforces stereotypes is Apu from The Simpsons. Unfortunately, such stereotypes can lead to obvious or subtle bullying that does not end in school but continues into college and workplace.

“Fresh off the boat” immigrants can both generate curiosity or create awkwardness. People who are attracted to the new immigrants usually have a lot of questions to ask. Some might genuinely care to include them and make them feel at home. Others might not know what to say to them. This type of scenario can often be confusing to the immigrant. They do not know how to be included in the groups. How much should they embrace their culture, and how much can they let go to assimilate into the new environment. The cultural differences can range from very subtle to very obvious.

Here are some issues the immigrants deal with:

Embarrassment: Embrace your individuality and uniqueness, it may seem counterintuitive to the Asian culture of collectivism. Strong sense of individuality is very important in such circumstances. Being different should make you more resourceful and can help you generate new ideas and concepts. Remember this to maintain your confidence. Being American or living in America does not mean everything we do has to be rooted in American culture, it actually is the exact opposite of that. We can retain our identity and learn new ways and assimilate with the culture. It is essential to respect all cultures especially of the land you are living in.

Loneliness: As an immigrant, we are fortunate to have the option of moving to a new place and new cultures. In addition, being an immigrant doesn't mean you are the only one feeling lonely. Everyone might be feeling that way. Most of us do not express our inner battles. Be kind to everyone. Basic human rights do not change over the span of different cultures.

Stereotypes: Asians are known to be smart in school and emphasis on education is an important part of their upbringing. It is expected that an Asian immigrant will work hard and solve even the most difficult problems. Although this might be flattering, it is also an added pressure to live up to. Every individual has their strengths and weaknesses.

Awkward silence: Sometimes when you tell people you are an immigrant, the conversations might become shorter. Sometimes people feel that there is no longer a common ground. To handle this situation, initiate asking questions and show interest in other people.

Lack of identity: You might feel lost, but remember this opportunity makes you unique. You are fortunate that you have traveled and are multicultural. The concept of lack of identity should be removed from your mindset and be replaced with a proud multifaceted and multicultural identity.

Pronunciation: We often spend time helping others pronounce our names right. Sometimes we get sick of people pronouncing it wrong and let it go each time. For some people this becomes frustrating, one way is to help them pronounce it the right way by repeating it or spelling it phonetically. Understand that the other person is trying. Be patient and kind to others while helping them pronounce your name right.

Sensitive issues: You can choose to ignore or decide to ask them why they think a certain way (politely of course). Understand that most of the issues arise from being unaware, not any sort of hatred for a particular group of people. It might not be a personal attack. Try to educate them on the issue politely.

What can be done to deal with these issues?

It is important to distinguish between what to retain and what to let go. As I said earlier it is a journey of self-discovery. It is important to challenge your own set of mentalities as well. Be humble enough to accept things that were rooted in your culture but you no longer accept them or you are challenging them now. This is part of growing and being open-minded. Asian culture is very family oriented but sometimes learning new ways means you need to stand up and challenge traditional cultural ways of doing things. Remember that everyone is struggling, stereotypes are everywhere that have been part of the society for a long time. If needed, educate them politely but no matter what don't forget to love and accept each other. When it comes to accepting others, try to take the initiative. When it comes to being kind, compete with others. A difference in culture does not mean we all do not crave the sense of belonging and the need for love.

As an immigrant be proud of who you are. People travel to other parts of the world to experience different things, you are fortunate to be living the life. It might get lonely at times, but never lose hope. People out there are willing to love and accept you. Do not be afraid to take the first step. Be prepared for rejection, or awkward silences. American culture is about tolerance and consideration for uncertainty and unknown. Everyone is hustling and still figuring things out. Stay persistent and think of the big picture and long-term goals. Focus on what is gained not what is lost. Just wait and watch how the world opens up.