Being an immigrant here (or anywhere) means you are, for all intents and purposes, new. A nicely new, freshly-minted, naively-optimistic imbecile. Like a baby, but the birth canal is USCIS.
When you’re new, you’re generally given a grace period for making mistakes, looking stupid and general ignorance. It’s a bit comforting, sort of like having a mummy or a nice teacher that you accidentally call “Mummy”. Once that grace period expires though, you are swiftly relegated to lower than low in the pecking order of general human existence.
It’s a bit of a culture shock. Imagine trying to get anything immigration-related organized before you leave your country of origin. Here’s how this might go:
You: Hi there, I am am an impending immigrant currently in the UK. I’d like to rent one of your flats you listed online. I can even send you the security deposit upfront via Western Union to prove I’m legit. Email me back as I don’t have a US number, US address or any financial/personal references in the US. Bye!
Real Estate Agent: ….
You might think you sound legit by avoiding any spelling errors or reference to any titles you might hold (even this), but you might as well say you are a seeking a beneficiary for the Royal Family of Nigeria or hiring a mystery shopper to only work at Western Union.
The same thing happens with jobs. You will not be able to secure one on your own, because no-one can check your foreign references/work history. Instead, you will be a temp but have that dangling carrot of a permanent job with benefits to lead you foolishly into more and more work. Increased workload, zero rewards. The good news today was the fact that my temp contract was extended (rather than me being made permanent, so I can get said apartment). What would be BAD news, then? Getting fired? Good fucking luck, because I do the job of (as of this month), FOUR people. Yet I get paid a third of one of those people’s salaries. Again: low on the pecking order.
This morning, I was stuck in this permanently freezing cold house (where I can see my breath and my feet and hands go numb if not covered in 2-3 layers…in the DAY) for 3 hours longer than usual. This was due to work-related tech issues, and I had to sit there on standby so I could complete my morning distribution. 3 extra hours in that miserably chilly, damp, motivation-killing igloo. This happened two days earlier, too.
I have to file some fairly important immigration paperwork next week. Because I’m a temp, I didn’t get paid for the January 2nd holiday, and I didn’t get paid for the two weeks I was off, either. Meaning I go two whole weeks of working without getting paid, but I still have rent (albeit minimal) and transport costs to meet. Because my paycheck will be smaller than usual, I have to use almost all of it to pay the costs of said paperwork, leaving me with maybe $20-30 for the whole week. Fun!
On top of that, I still have to save first/last/security for this apartment I may end up taking out of desperation, and that involves almost 8 straight weeks of not buying any food, and just spending money on rent and transport. As unrealistic as that is, it’s more likely going to be 12 weeks rather than 8. Which sort of puts the ki-bosh on my hopes to fly home for a few days around Easter.
And once I can afford the move-in costs for said place, rent would end up being over 40% of my income. Before tax. And before utilities. It’s supposed to be 25%.
My roommate didn’t quite sympathise, and politely advised me to stop being negative, remarking somewhat facetiously that “life is hard”.
Well, it is! I guess not from where she’s standing, though.
Time for a table:
|Owns her own property (possibly with parental assistance)||Saving up to rent (a fallacy in itself) (over three times that of a mortgage payment) without parental help|
|Owns a car||Has to walk in rainstorms/dry heat/snow/etc|
|Like most people, isn’t tied to living in a particular area (also due to having a car)||Must live within a 15-min walk from the train, because my morning work process is on a tight schedule, micromanaged to the minute by existing processes/deadlines (6-8am), and I have to catch the express train to be at my desk by 9am. So I need to be able to make that train and that train alone from wherever I live in that tiny window of time. On FOOT!|
|Works as a teacher (gets to tell impressionable minds what to do/is always right)||Lowest of the low on the food chain at work; gets tons of work with deadlines set by others; is not in charge of anything in any way whatsoever|
|Went to an Ivy League university (tuition costs met by parents)||Went to a bog-standard but high-ranking local university|
|Is a US citizen||Is currently undergoing the US immigration process, which is not exactly simple, short or cheap, and is damn fucking stressful|
|Sets rules (work/home etc)||Follows rules (work/home etc)|
The thing is, her life is more or less content, but mine is in a state of chaos and constant flux, having, you know…emigrated to another country and all. I am simply trying to achieve her level of content, or something close to it. It’s not about wanting and taking, but rather trying to get the same things that everyone else has, or at least everyone who works/lives in your area – a secure job where you’re relatively valued, a home of your own, and maybe even some furniture. Too much to ask?
But because I don’t have the resources available to me that she does/did (either as a citizen or because of her upbringing), it’s considerably more difficult, and the tangible aspects of these issues just can’t be happy-thought-ed away.
But in all of these regards, she has had the comfort, care and financial support by her parents/family even after she had moved out. For my family, it’s difficult for them. UK salaries, even for doctors, don’t really stretch that far out here. If I had been born and brought up in the US, things would have been different. Neither upbringing is more right than the other; it’s just different. But having that comforting shelter throughout your adulthood makes it difficult to comprehend anyone going through some genuinely stressful, complicated, unstable and convoluted life events.
It brings me back to that experiment I did. I can pretend that everything is happy and that there are clowns and puppy dogs and fireworks and candy and clowns everywhere, but none of that is going to change the actual facts, cause and effect of the negative FACTS in my life.
If I had a job that commanded a sense of power and/or fulfilled me in that way, I might feel differently about life. If I didn’t have to pay extortionate paperwork and legal fees, and wasn’t exempt from state and employment benefits and wasn’t completely on my own, family and friends-wise, then perhaps I’d feel differently about life.
But the fact of the matter is, it’s not, and I don’t. I’ve accepted that, but I’ve also accepted that it’s perfectly natural to react to and experience the stress caused by that. It’s there. I know I’m English, but you can’t just sweep it under a rug.
I feel the same lingering sense of resentment when I see a millionaire musician or successful clown/entertainer telling people to “follow their dreams” and “nothing can stop you doing what you want if you try hard enough”, leaving tens of thousands of failed musicians getting the noose tight enough on the third or fourth attempt (because they weren’t trying hard enough).
That sort of well-meaning but clearly hindsight-rooted “advice” is naive, but in a more…insulting, blinkered way, completely oblivious to the struggles that other, less fortunate, less privileged people face. It’s the rich/poor dichotomy, the polarized social mess that makes happy, butterfly-flitting volunteers of the one set and boxed-in, resentful misanthropes of the rest.
And that’s what it’s like to be an immigrant at this stage in the process. “Thinking positively” is ultimately a foolish ignorance of issues that need to be solved and/or simply slogged through. A waiting game. Soon.
To reiterate: when you emigrate to the US, you are a helpless, feckless, useless little baby. Except your mummy isn’t there to help you. No-one is.
Except the clowns.