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THIS LAND IS MY LAND, THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND

by Joan Bachman
The last book I finished – This Land is Our Land by Suketu Mehta. He offers an interesting look at current immigration issues in the United States. I picked up 2 new concepts – 1) Americans’ reaction to immigrants is not to the individuals themselves but rather the fear of immigrants [fear of the unknown?]; and 2) the immigrants are coming here “because we were there” (i.e., because “we” went to their countries and claimed the natural resources that are no longer available to them – oil wells, diamond mines, deforestation, etc.). The author was born in India, grew up in New York, and is an associate professor of journalism at NYU.

The common concept that immigrants come here to live off the wealth of America is disputed by those involved in resettlement activities and/or who know New Americans personally. The majority of immigrants are thrilled to be here and are willing to work hard, concentrating on earning a good livelihood in their new country. They often have difficulty being hired, which complicates their goal to become successfully independent.  

I first encountered an immigrant in the late 1970’s. A nurse from New Dehli, India, called for a job. (She spoke ‘Queen’s English’ so I could barely understand her.) She also sent a letter requesting work. To both inquiries, I responded that we had no openings. Then on Good Friday morning, I received a call from her (Aleykutty) to tell me her flight from New York City would arrive at the Fargo airport at midnight. I would recognize her by her sari and a gem on her forehead. Well, there seemed no point in arguing, so my husband and I met Aley at midnight at Hector Airport. She was, of course, the only non-white person on the flight, and probably one of the few in all of North Dakota at the time. Her suitcase was enormous and heavy; she brought her life with her. We took her home to the farm where she slept for almost 24 hours (I was scared and finally woke her). My son gave up his bedroom for a couple of weeks while we helped her find an apartment. She worked as a nurse aide in the hospital. Aley was very pleasant, not the pushy person I was afraid she might be. I don’t recall difficulties at work or in finding an apartment. She soon began to study for ND State Boards, which she did not pass. She moved on to Oklahoma to be with family. We corresponded for a short time but I lost track of her and found a recent death notice online. We still have the afghan she crocheted to thank my son for giving up his bedroom. That experience was very positive. 

I am currently involved with several New American health care providers, trying to help them work through regulations and ‘the system’. We obviously come from different backgrounds, but agree on setting and achieving goals and providing quality service. I count them as friends.

I believe: Our fear of immigrants starts and grows because we don’t include each other in our daily lives. Most of us have difficulty initiating conversation to learn about our differences and similarities. Language and religion may be the first barriers to acceptance. While conversing through an interpreter, I suggested it was important to learn to speak English to become a part of this new country. The client replied I should learn her language. My response – I will when I move to your country of origin. I think it is so necessary for a new resident to learn about an adopted home as early as possible; not unlike when I move to a new town, it my responsibility to learn to fit the new environment. Maybe I won’t get the Southern drawl just right, but I manage to follow the rules and fit in as best as I can. Obviously, the differences in language and culture from North Dakota to Tennessee are less than those from an African refugee camp to North Dakota, so the timeframe will be longer, but the effort should be accepted as necessary. And, as a host, I must make the effort to learn the extent and impact of our differences and to minimize the mutual discomfort. This works best on a one-to-one basis.

In a recent conversation in my living room with a New American (Somali Muslim who came to the U.S through Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Canada), he surprised me by insisting that people from around the world want to come to America because “Americans are nice”. He clarified with an example of the lack of “class” distinction in our working and social lives - i.e., in other countries, there is a strict demarcation between “the boss” and the workers, with no possibility of social interaction.

I hope to continue to experience positive interactions about cultures and beliefs outside my personal little circle. We don’t need to agree or argue, only try to understand. If America is the land of the free, we should demonstrate that. I try to remember a couple of maxims that can be practiced universally: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and “My rights end where your nose (space) begins”, and expect the same in return.

Share a smile and your best self every day.

About the Author

Joan Bachman

Joan Bachman is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Nursing Home Administrator, Registered Health Information Technician, and Faith Community Nurse. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Joan has experience as a Nurse, Administrator, Developer, Trainer, Grant Writer, and served as Administrator of SD State Survey Agency. She has consulted with health care facilities and nonprofit organizations and presented leadership training. Joan is the author of Guidebook for Assisted Living Facilities and Senior Service Providers and Guidebook for Physician Services in the Nursing Facility, and she has published in professional journals.

Comments


Beth Roder

The special dimension that immigrants can offer to our lives can be a wonderful experience. I agree it is the fear..not of the person.. but of new ideologies disrupting the status quo is what people fear. It is appropriate for them to adapt to our country if they are moving here for the rest of their lives. Language learning I believe is the first step to adapting!

Vicki Schmidt

You are so right in what you are saying. We learn by being in relationship with others, being open go their lives and hopes and dreams and culture. Say, how about coming to the border February 23-29 with Joshua Boschee and me and others? You will learn SO much more! And by the way, I miss seeing you. Maybe back at LCC sometime in the next weeks.

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