Yesterday, I went to a mehmanee, where I met two brilliant and beautiful Afghan sisters who recently immigrated to the United States. They desperately missed life in Kabul and were talking about how living anywhere without the love and closeness of family leaves a large, pulsating void.
When I explained that I was born and raised here in the United States, one of them looked at me and said, “It’s not hard for you, then”.
This comment stayed with me long after I went home.
There has recently been a sizable influx of Afghan immigrants to the US, especially those granted SIV visas. Many of them (and others who immigrate to “kharej”) come to realize this part of the world isn’t all that glamorous and wonderfully heavenly as they had dreamed of. Like anywhere, it has its hardships. And reality can be difficult, especially until you adjust. ‘Adjust’ is the right word, because that is what I have done, as well as any immigrant – whether they’re first or second generation or came here in the 80s, 90s or today. Everyone has their own challenges in life and immigrants continue to face varying degrees of discrimination and disadvantages for generations.
I wish I could’ve told her that it’s been hard for me all along. I didn’t have one first cousin anywhere in sight and barely any extended family around for decades. I longed to meet my grandfather and grieved his death from a million, empty miles away. His love is one I would never know. Lost stories and sweet bonding went straight to the grave. I won’t make this a pity party, but there is a different kind of hollowness and psychological pain from being raised in a new land. The soul seems to know it’s been uprooted away from all ancestors. To make matters more complicated, there is also an identity crisis – merging two often-incompatible cultures.
Years later, when I traveled to Afghanistan, I felt alive in a way I had never felt my entire life in the United States. Because I had become used to living within my quiet walls, it was a fascinating shock to be united with hundreds of family members. It was so sweet because they all knew my name. Unfortunately, I am not so great at names – especially when I meet dozens of people all at once. Similarly, the social festivities were fabulous. People were always together. And although I know that has its downfalls sometimes too (gossip, backbiting, etc.), I don’t know if it’s worth trading for loneliness.
Some of the best-tasting, naturally delicious and nutritious fruits and foods I ever had the luxury to slurp up were from that trip to Afghanistan. No amount of dollar can find you such flavor around here. Even though it’s a war-ravaged country, constantly in recovery from the errors of previous dynasties and nasty neighbors, Afghan mountains have their own vast, wise serenity. Many of the children have a strong sense of character and conscientiousness that unfortunately, you can’t even find in the President of the United States today.
In my motherland, I felt a belonging I hadn’t felt before. During my trip, I thought a lot about everything I missed out on because my family had to flee the country due to insecurity and war. I reflected on all the culture, relationships and support systems I could’ve had if we had stayed and all the experiences that could’ve made my life richer.
I know people often don’t recognize their own privilege or understand the sufferings of others, but it is unfair to assume second-generation immigrants have it better. Every one of us suffers in some ways and none of our suffering is more important than another’s. And every one of us has privileges that we may take for granted.
I’m no different.
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