Sometimes family is all you have to push you through the immigration process.
Since I am an only child, my parents were the first best friends I ever had, and they were also the most financially generous. As a child, I used to call my mom “Anne” and my dad “Steve” perhaps because I saw them more as my friends than as my parents.
People always commented about how close we were and at the time I don’t believe any of us thought we could get any closer.
One day on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, my mother and father sat me down and asked how I would feel about moving to the United States. My first thought, being an 11-year-old girl was: Britney Spears lives there, they have Bonnebell Lipsmackers and really good ice-cream flavors like cookie dough, so I would like to live there too.
We started the daunting immigration process and within a few months we found ourselves living in Las Vegas, Nevada. We had my dad’s family who I just met for the first time but other than that we had no friends, no familiar faces and definitely no familiar foods. We only had each other.
So how did it make us closer you might wonder? It made us closer because I immigrated at an age where adolescents typically push away their parents. I had no choice but to stay close to mine because they were all that I had.
Instead of going to the movies or bowling with my friends, I stayed home on weekend nights and watched game shows with them. At the time, I felt sort of like a loser, but looking back on it, those were some of my most fun and most memorable nights I have had. And those were the nights that got us through immigration.
If your family is considering immigrating or has made the brave move, here are a few tips on how to rely on your family to get you through.
I recall a time when we went through the Starbucks drive through and tried to place an order. The lady kept saying “what?” “Can you repeat that please?” and we would just giggle so hard we could not speak. By the time we got through placing our order, we would be surprised every time when the order met us in front. I mean I guess Earl Grey can sound like a vanilla latte.
These moments occurred frequently but instead of getting frustrated, we laughed through it all and I became a coffee drinker after one too many times not receiving my Earl Grey.
There were days where I was homesick, my mom was homesick or my dad was homesick but we were never homesick together. We treated our immigration like a war mission, if one soldier broke down, the others could not follow suit. Instead, we had to be strong until that soldier felt strong again.
Every time we felt melancholy we would discuss why we had made the decision to leave South Africa and almost instantly we were reassured that things would turn out ok.
It’s extremely important to stay strong but with that said, take comfort in your family members and instead of internalising your feelings, share them.
Up until three years ago, my parents thought adjusting was a piece of cake for me. They told their friends how easy it was for me at school and how well I did. What they did not realise was that for the entire first year of middle school, I ate my lunch, Now and Laters candy, in one of the stalls in the bathroom.
It was painful going to school and I dreaded being teased about my accent every time my English teacher would call on me to read. I wasn’t just the new kid, but I was also the new kid “who spoke funny.” I know that if I had told my parents how I was feeling they would have been very understanding, but at the same time I knew things would eventually be great for us in the States and I did not want to risk my parents re-thinking their decision.
I watched copious amounts of Disney Channel shows, imitating the accents of the young female stars, and I quickly caught on to the American accent. This is one of my deepest regrets today but when you are a 12-year-old girl, you just want to fit in and be “normal.” I faked it until I made it.
Bonus tip: Don’t lose yourself in the process rather embrace all the traits that make you unique, including your accent.
My parents were extremely supportive of me making friends or trying new activities. They were lenient with my choice of fashion which was far less conservative than typical South African fashion and this made adjusting easier for me.
If you have children, remember that you brought them to a new country where the friends that they make may have parents with a more lenient style of parenting than your own.
Use good judgement, but try to make adjusting easier for them by letting them independently partake in activities or try out the same fashion as their friends. We did not have much money when we moved to the States, mostly due to hefty immigration lawyer fees, but when my dad starting earning a good salary, my mom took me on my first shopping trip to Abercrombie which was at the time the store where the ‘cool kids’ shopped.
I came home with an extremely short skirt, terrified that my dad would make me take it back, I quickly showed him what I had bought. His face said it all but he took a moment. Laughed and said: “I hope you didn’t pay full price for half a skirt.” That was the extent of it and I continued wearing the clothes that my classmates wore. This made fitting in so much easier.
Basically, this tip is combining all the above tips. In order to make immigrating successful for every family member, you must make every family member feel like a potential success. This is not the time to be selfish. This is the time to continuously check on each other and make sure each family member is doing OK.
Remember you immigrated as a family. The days when you feel homesick, remember you have each other and that together you will achieve your immigration dream.
It’s been over a decade and not much has changed with my family. I went to college out of state but almost immediately after receiving my degree I moved home. I now live in my own apartment but here’s the kicker – my parents live in the same apartment complex! Now maybe it’s just my family who are disgustingly close but something tells me that if we had not immigrated and had not had to rely on only each other for all those years, we may not have ended up as close as we are.
Having a family that is big or small is a precious gift. Don’t let immigration strain your family or tear your family apart. Let it be the little bit of magic that brings your family closer than you ever were before.