What it’s Like to be a White Immigrant

I was honestly hoping that my next post here would be a follow up to the latter half of my Vacances de Toussaint.  I was hoping to post about really getting into the groove of teaching.  I was hoping that my next post would be about my long weekend, and how I’m going to see a good friend in Poitiers.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that.  Today (and technically, yesterday), I feel a little afraid.  Donald Trump was just elected president of the United States of America.  During this election, there were online fights and in-person protests like you wouldn’t believe.  I thank every person who were passionate about keeping me, my friends, and their friends safe.  I do.

This election brought the worst out in people.  I think it brought the worst out in me.  But I’m not going to stop fighting for what’s right.  And that’s why we’re going to talk about immigration today.  In the past few months, a lot of people on the news and my Facebook timeline openly discussed their feelings about immigration.

Before I begin, I want to say a few things.  I’m American.  I’m white.  I’m not living below the poverty line.  I’ve never had to do back-breaking work.  I’m privileged.  But, I am in the process of becoming an immigrant.  Due to work purposes, I’m constantly filling out paperwork so that I can receive the same benefits as French citizens, which means I must fill out the OFII paperwork.  The paperwork that opens my immigration file here in France.

I’ve seen a few people openly, well, detest immigrants.  And, I’ll be blunt here, those immigrants that they’re talking about are Mexican immigrants.  The ones that do back-breaking work to get you your vegetables.  The ones that do PTSD-inducing work so you can have meat.  The ones who work in sub-par conditions with under-the-table jobs.

This is why I’m making this post.  If you won’t listen to immigrants of color about how difficult it is, maybe you’ll listen to me, a white immigrant.  Let me explain my immigration situation.  I was accepted into the TAPIF program, which allows me to work 12 hours a week in a school to help teach French students the English language.  I have a temporary work visa.  But, after 3 months, I need to prove that I’m legally allowed to be here for such a long time in France, or at least have my immigration file opened.  Otherwise, leaving and re-entering the country will be difficult.  My immigration status comes from a position of privilege.  This job, this internship, is the last thing that stands between me and my Bachelor’s degree.  I chose to be a French major, to be a double major.  I was able to put the money into my education like that.  I chose to travel and live in France for 7 months instead of doing 240 hours worth of community service in a French-speaking setting.  I chose to be an immigrant.

And let me tell you, all you people who think immigrants aren’t worth shit, it’s fucking hard.  As a privileged, documented immigrant, it’s hard.

To all of you who want immigrants to just…learn English, what, like it’s hard?  I’ve been learning French for 4 years.  I’ve had at least 1 French class every term.  Do you know what I can do?  I can tell you all about the fantastic genre, I can explain to you just why I love The Phantom of the Opera, I can describe things, hold a basic conversation.  Do you know what I struggle to do?  Opening a bank account, filing paperwork, getting phone service, looking for an apartment, and so on.  Y’know, the important stuff.  The stuff I need to do to survive.

People who hate immigrants are upset partially because they just don’t know English.  Why is there a press #2 option for Spanish?? So stupid.  Why can’t you just learn English, like an American?

Do you know what I’ve noticed, here in France?  Most people speak a little English, some better than others.  But when I have to make a phone call, there’s a lot of confusion between me and the person on the other line.  There’s no Press #2 For English option.  I’m stuck trying to figure out what the “You’re on Hold” message is telling me.  I practice what I’m going to say in French before somebody gets on the line.  And, when somebody does get on the line, all hell breaks loose.

I’ll let you in on a secret.  I can’t speak for everybody, but I think that all immigrants would LOVE to just be able to speak a country’s official or vehicular language.  I’d LOVE to have no problems ordering coffee.  I’d LOVE to not feel hypervisible all the time.  I’d LOVE to be able to pronounce every word correctly.  I’d LOVE it if there was a bilingual person at businesses at all times.  I’d LOVE having no problems talking to a banker.  Or a grocery store clerk.  Or my coworkers.  Or with an information booth attendant.

Learning another language is hard.  Yes, I’m learning a lot more about the French language by being constantly immersed in it, but it’s hard on the ears.  It’s hard when you don’t understand someone because they’re talking too quickly.  It’s hard when you don’t even have the vocabulary to buy a train ticket.  It’s hard.

So, you heard it here first, folks.  I’ll repeat the moral of the story once more: being an immigrant is difficult.  The paperwork is hard, finding a job is hard, knowing the official or vehicular language is hard.  It’s hard enough without being hypervisible It’s hard enough without people applying stereotypes to you.  It’s hard enough.  Maybe, if we all work together, we can make it be easier.

Just think about it: if being a white immigrant by choice is hard, imagine how hard it is for being an immigrant of color who didn’t have a choice.


One thought on “What it’s Like to be a White Immigrant

  1. Awww, Amy…. this was a great piece!!! And I can relate having been an immigrant to the US. I was a child so learned English in school but my parents had a difficult time.


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