I attended the recent swearing in of 37 new citizens from a wide variety of countries. Most will have to learn a new language, find work, adapt to a new climate, to a new way of living and be home sick for the land of their birth. Most native-born Americans do not understand what a challenge this is.
Language can be a problem even for those to whom it is a first language. Winston Churchill said: “England and America are divided by a common language.” Americans translate English into Latin: “way out” becomes “exit”, “doorkeeper “becomes “janitor”, “lift” becomes “elevator”, “the water closet” becomes ”restroom.” When a woman told me proudly that her son was only a sophomore, but he was already playing varsity basketball. I had never heard the word “sophomore” or “varsity’ or “basketball.” Netball was a girl’s game I had played for years at school; I associated the word "sophomore" with sophomoric, and "varsity" with veracious and concluded that that her son was a naïve, poor–but-honest effeminate young man. I puzzled about what was a Cheerleader? Was it a person who was rude and yelled a lot? One woman told me that she had to buy a tuxedo for her son to go to prom. A prom. in England is a walkway that runs along by the sea. Why did he need a suit to walk up and down by the sea? When a kind gentleman said he was putting a hot dog in the oven, I was ready for an execution. Ordering food was problematic: What was corn on the cob? Hamburgers? (wasn’t that the name of a town in Germany)? At a restaurant, when I ordered tea, someone dropped what I thought was a dead mouse in my cup and covered it with tepid water! When I asked a lady a shop for a tea-cozy, she started to cry.
I had never celebrated Thanksgiving and wondered, when I smelled the turkey, whether we were celebrating Christmas. I was used to observing religious holidays: Christmas, Easter, Whitsun. Now I was introduced to Memorial Day, Veterans Day, President’s Day, Labor Day. Holidays (called vacations) were spent in rented houses near a lake where the wife performs all her household duties under difficult circumstances. One did not go to the seaside to stay at a bed and breakfast and lounge on the beach.
Occasionally, a traveling foreigner had a car accident, and I was called by the hospital to know if I knew someone who spoke French, Greek, German, Arabic, Italian? I found myself running into other “aliens” who were adapting to American life.
We formed a group for women born outside the country, call ourselves the Foreigners and we get together every month or so to socialize and share ideas and concerns. Most of our group speak English as a second language. Among us there must be 20 different languages. We have two doctors in our Foreigners who cannot practice because their English is not good enough to pass the boards. Their own countries paid for their medical education but we are unable to benefit from their abilities. We have teachers who are not allowed to teach in Montana. There is no reciprocal arrangement. One has to go back to college to learn the system.
This group has stories of living under Hitler’s regime, of life in the Philippines or Guatemala. A Syrian lady is best friend to an Israeli and they talk about what is really happening in their native countries. These women are gifted, talented, educated with much to offer their adopted country (although homesick for their own) .
Recently, the word “immigrant” has caused many to shudder. Could they be trusted or allowed? What a drain on the U.S economy! Seldom do people think of the great contribution to America these immigrants are bringing. Leaving the land of one’s birth calls for courage, determination, and a willingness to start all over again at the bottom of the rung and to search out new things. They are people of talent. Hearing it from the people at the other end: “Those with the get up and go have already got up and went” makes one realize how much America is blessed with the gifts of immigrants.
We wish our new citizens welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave.