First Generation Immigrant

by John Smith

John Smith is in his mid-50's and was born in England. He studied physics but immediately went into journalism and spent several years travelling the middle and far east as a radio reporter. He has lived all his peripatetic adult life as a 'first generation migrant' in one country after another. He now lives in France having moved there from Sweden where he resided for 7 years. After a period as a University lecturer he became a full time simultaneous conference interpreter and translator, running his own translation company. His interests are contemporary jazz, stage cycle racing (read: Tour de France as spectator only) and mathematics.

The life of a first generation immigrant (not a hyphenated resident: xxxx-american / australian etc) can be broken down into 7 very distinct periods whose duration is highly dependent on the migrant's ability to live in the community at large and away from any tight, immigrant community (or ghetto). If he lives with other migrants of similar origin, then periods 2 and 3 take much longer to evolve:

  1. The halcyon days; this can last up to three or four weeks when you feel a distinct euphoria at being somewhere else rather than in your own backyard. It is a typical syndrome experienced by tourists, especially those from greyer, drizzly, northern climes, when they go on holiday to a sunny (but not underdeveloped) country. It is the period when time-share salesmen make a killing.
  2. The pining period; the euphoria has evaporated and you wear rose-tinted spectacles when thinking / talking about your country of origin ... and pine for its supposed superior charms. Here you invest in a MW/LW/SW radio to pick up radio programmes from your home country's stations. You hang around pubs (if you are anglo-saxon), exotic cafés playing backgammon (if you are from N. Africa or middle east); playing football on a threadbare piece of open land (if you are a S. European or S. American); join a church group (if American) ... in fact anything to give you your daily fix of 'home comfort' for the soul.
  3. The veil is lifted; often happens after 18 months when you are more fully adapted, speak the local language better, have made a few, locally born acquaintences and have decided to really make a go of it. Anyway, in the meantime you've probably been home at least once and seen that it hasn't changed an iota, being just like it was when you left: and you begin to understand just why you left!
  4. Settling in; you'd like to move out of rented accomodation and buy a place of your own. This is called 'putting down roots'. You feel comfortable in your job and don't want to move because, at last, you have some local workmates (unless you work in a car assembly plant where all you meet are others like yourself) who you maybe go out to drink / play cards / talk about girls with to wile away the time till your next shift on the production line. You have a TV and look at the same dross that everyone else is watching. You begin to feel 'at home'. However, you invest in a satellite dish to get the TV channels from your country of origin.
  5. Semi-assimilation; you now speak the local tongue with much less of a foreign accent, have (at least superficially) adopted many of the host country's cultural tics, and feel you would be prepared to fight for it, if ever it went to war with a third nation. You know the names of the magnet country's principal politicians and celebrities and are beginning to think that they are almost as good as the local heroes of your former life were.
  6. Biting the hand that once fed you; by now, you have become hyper critical of your country of origin, seeing its faults magnified through the lens of the magnet country's press coverage. You go as far as to say (in whispered tones and to yourself only) that you would fight for the magnet country if ever it went to war with your country of origin. The english perceive their (passport holding) countrymen as beerswilling, football hooligans; germans see theirs as swastika toting, teutonic barbarians (but who can still make a bloody good car): americans see theirs as overweight and naive, convinced that the USA is god's own country while continuing to blast each other to kingdom-come with their OTC (over the counter) guns. One of the few exceptions is the Chinese who see themselves as linked to a much larger, global diaspora whose soul lies in the heart of the middle kingdom; etc, etc. Jews look to Israel but prefer to place their bets on NY.
  7. The twilight years; a degree of nostalgia sets in about one's country of origin. You always intended to make enough money to go back and lord it over the other poor suckers who stayed in the village / market town / run down district you grew up in. But, secretly, you know you never will, nor can, for you are in a no-mans land and fully belong to neither place. The old order has moved on, so you subsist on wishful thinking and pleasant memories of, (frequently imaginary) better, more vigorous days.

... and now for some observations and recommendations ...

A First Generation migrant is NOT a tourist, gazing at the sights. At a later date he may spend some time wandering around them as part of his itinerary when 'finding his way about' his new home territory. A first generation migrant (usually it's the male who migrates first) has a one-way ticket (or has cashed in the other half as quickly as possible to buy food / gamble on the dogs / pay for a woman / etc). Within a short time, he will be surprised to feel shafts of irritation against tourists who, he thinks, are muscling in on his new territory and making 'integration' harder for him with the locals. He is afraid of being mistaken for a tourist.

As a first generation migrant, (don't be surprised to hear yourself called a 'f*****g immigrant' by the local population) you have crossed frontiers / continents for one specific purpose; to make a better / different / more interesting / exotic / anonymous life for yourself. You are not however prepared to admit to being an economic migrant. Consequently, unless you come from another developed country where there is potential reciprocity in migration, in which case you don't have to justify yourself, the f-g migrant presents himself as a political refugee. He claims to have fled from a bloodthirsty regime / dictatorship who 'refused to tolerate me peacefully protesting against their clepto-cratic ways and banged me up in prison from whence I escaped to make make way to ...(name of magnet country)..., a recognized 'haven' from injustice ... and anyway, my grandfather / father were dragooned into fighting your 1st World War / 2nd World War so I have a moral right to be here'.

The tourist generally arrives by plane while his luggage finishes up in Iceland (unless Iceland is the tourist's destination, in which case his luggage is in Ulan Bator). The first generation migrant generally has all his worldly goods in a back-pack, roller travel-case, or corrugated sheet-metal trunk. Any of these contain a few clothes, a toilet bag with soap, toothpaste and a ratty toothbrush, some 'down or back-home' packaged food typical of his country of origin, and maybe a book or two. If you're an illegal, you've already thrown away your passport and other identity papers so that you cannot be deported to any given country and frequently have to be given the benefit of the doubt, a shrug and residence papers.

You will arrive by all manner of transport: plane (if legal with valid passport and visas), boat (idem, except if you were a stowaway in which case you risked being thrown overboard by the ship's crew in international waters), bus, car, hitchhiking, sometimes even on foot, skampering over the border at night while trying to avoid nasty customs officials / coast guards etc whose only aim in life is to catch you and send you packing.

Once you've reached your intended destination, you, as a new migrant will look for a hotel / crash pad / squat / relation / countryman (to show you) where you can lay your weary head. In this case, if the migrant comes from the first world, the magnet country is your oyster since you will usually have sufficient money to tide you over till you are flush again. However, if you come from the third world, then you will head for the nearest ghetto in the magnet town (Chinatown, little Africa / Turkey / Algeria / Jugoslavia) in order to blend in more quickly (quite literally 'home from home') and get the feel of the place. Here you can also get tips about finding a job / organising a scam / milking the system / avoiding the police (the ratio's are not equal).

By definition, migration obeys the laws of thermodynamics where heat flows from hot to cold to balance out the temperature gradient. (Few Maxwell's demons exist in this world. It would be tantamount to masochism). In this case, the populations from countries suffering from overpopulation and underdevelopment (red-hot) move to developed countries with lower demographic growth (temperate). So we shall assume that most immigration (in contrast to refugees from confict, parked in camps for varying lengths of time) takes place from the third and former second (ex-communist block) worlds to the first, developed, western world and Japan. A migrant moves to settle permanently or semi-permanently; a refugee moves to avoid being killed but is ultimately prepared to return to his place of origin.

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