I can tell my immigration story two different ways. One, I came here with $200 and two suitcases holding almost all of my worldly possessions. Two, I came here with a full scholarship to a rich liberal arts college. Both are true, and have shaped who I am and the way I view the world. Give or take a few details, my story is not that different from that of other immigrants who came to the U.S. for higher education or white collar jobs since the post-Civil Rights era. But immigrant narratives are rife with stories with the first arc — we came here with nothing, worked hard, and succeeded, look at us now!
Of course, most of us came here with very little. We started out with few worldly possessions, only what we could cram into our suitcases. We struggled to find our footing, away from family and friends. But we were among the most privileged. Even for those of us who did not come from affluence, we had enough to pay our fare or at least the social capital to be able to borrow against future income potential. That $200 and a one-way ticket almost wiped out my parents’ entire life savings. Yet, my family could afford that airfare, even if just one-way — a luxury still not available to most of the people back home.
Hard work definitely played a big role in my success. But, the scholarship gave me a flying start (regardless of whether you look at it as charity to save a Third World Brown girl or a more sinister agenda to undermine the Civil Rights movement by creating a buffer community). It gave me freedom and helped me save up even on a nonprofit starter salary — a luxury not available to majority of my friends from the U.S. who are still paying off their education debt.
My time in the U.S. hasn’t been all milk and honey. For more than a decade, I was constantly running an obstacle course set up by the U.S. immigration system. I spent countless number of hours gathering documents to prove my worth and tens of thousands of dollars to pay the lawyers and the U.S. government. Things fell through, and my life almost fell apart. A last minute contact with a wonderful immigration attorney saved the day, thanks to the social and financial capital I had been able to build — a luxury not available to millions of immigrants.
So, if I tell my story as coming to the U.S. with $200 and two suitcases, I would be lying, even if every single word is factually correct.