Soraya Ghebleh - International Migration, Women, and The American Dream


Published on

This is a descriptive essay that examines international migration and the appeal of the American Dream.

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Soraya Ghebleh - International Migration, Women, and The American Dream

  1. 1. Soraya Ghebleh When families come apart as a result of international migration, new dilemmas, influences, and situations begin to affect these families that they would have never dealt with had migration not occurred. In the discussion of the process of ageing in Indian transnational families, this is very clear. In Indian culture, it is customary for children to care for their elders as their elders cared for them but with migration, the face of this cycle of care has shifted. The two main kinds of support that are viewed as part of the reciprocal relationship between generations are material support and caring services. When the children of Indian parents migrate to a country like the United States, immediately the physical connection and ability to take physical care of their elders becomes much more difficult because of the different geographical locations. Even if the elderly parents migrate to the United States with their children, physical and even material support is also difficult because of the different lifestyle. In the United States, families are more nuclear and most often three generations do not live under one roof and this is very different than in many other countries. Shifts in gender roles also play a part, as women and men both work in the United States in most situations. Traditionally, it is most often women or servants who are the most active participants in the physical aspects of elderly care but it is uncommon and extremely expensive to have servants or hired help in the United States, creating another shift as a result of migration. Beyond the physical and material aspects of care, entire attitudes towards ageing and familial relationships have been affected as a result of international migration. There is a belief and an attitude held by many in the less developed world
  2. 2. that the United States or the West presents modernity, which therefore represents material success and prestige. As more people from the less developed world have been able to migrate to the West, ideas of knowledge and respect have shifted. Whereas before, the opinion of an elder would have been held in the highest opinion or regard because of their age and experience; now in many cases the opinion or insight of the family member who went abroad or lives abroad is weighed the most heavily. Different definitions in the United States of what defines a household, family, support can affect transnational families in that there will have to be an eventual acceptance or a rejection of this different way of life or an incorporation of both Western and traditional ideas. The idea of government support for the elderly is a very foreign concept for Indian elders but if they migrate to America to follow their children, they need to adjust their ideas of support and understand new definitions of how they are viewed by society. It is not only towards topic of ageing that cultural attitudes are shifted as a result of international migration. The cycle of intergenerational cultural reproduction is another issue that has been directly affected as a result of families moving away from their countries of origin. Many ethnic groups outside of their countries form transnational communities both within the country they migrated too as well as with their home cities and villages in order to preserve as much culture and tradition as possible. In the example of Bangladeshi immigrants to the United States, this preservation is especially relevant where marriage is concerned. The desire for successful matches for the children of Bangladeshi immigrants with each other has become a part of the transnational experience of these families in
  3. 3. order to preserve culture. It is also used as a means for social mobility. If a couple from a lower class immigrates to the United States and has children who are able to be educated, a match with a family from a higher class in Bangladesh can be made thus improving the overall social status of the family. Tensions arise however when second-generation Bangladeshi children do not hold the same ideas as their parents about marriage and feel more comfortable with the Western notion of intimate relationships as the basis for marriage rather than simply marrying into a socially defined “good family.” Exposure to other ways of life as a result of international migration affects the relationships between immigrant parents and their natural born children as well as the strength of the ties their children have to their own ethnicity and culture. If parents are unable to relay and connect their children to their culture, they will be more likely to reject the transnational experience provided to them by their parents for an experience closer to that which they see around them. In both of these situations that come up as a result of international migration, the greater question of why the United States is better surfaces indirectly. From all ends of the earth, people risk their lives, savings, culture, and family ties all to go to America in search of a better life. In the Atlas of Unknowns, the strength and pull of the American dream permeates in every corner of the novel but so does the internal dilemma of whether America is truly a better place to be compared to home. Anju betrays her sister without a moment’s hesitation, risking her relationship with her family and her entire reputation as a person of good moral character for the chance to study in America. Her mother, Gracie, let her dreams of traveling and moving to
  4. 4. America destroy her marriage and her family life. The power of the ideology of the American Dream is as strong as the possible success it represents to those who yearn for something more in their lives. When people live in poverty and in hopeless situations and face economic instability and they see others who migrate to America struggle but then succeed and improve their situation significantly, they feel empowered and encouraged to do the same. Unfortunately, the negative components are not idealized and often seem to be pushed out of the overall thought process. The American Dream is often seen or used as an escape mechanism by those in other countries. This could be escape from financial insecurity, abuse, inequality, parental pressure, societal pressure, and any other number of situations that could potentially be alleviated with a move to the United States. Anything one wishes to do in their own country but are unable to can be done in America. The “rags to riches” stories that trickle down the transnational pipeline provide motivation to move. With all this being said, many who move to America find that it was not what they hoped for. Anju went from being the top student in her school to working in a waxing salon. While she experienced many newfound freedoms such as freedom of expression and became much more independent and interacted socially with adults and members of the opposite sex, she compromised many aspects of herself including her academic brilliance and her moral integrity all in the pursuit of going to America. Leaving one’s home, one’s roots, one’s family is not as easy as many make it seem. While social mobility and financial stability are often the ultimate goals for many people who migrate, the compromises and changes that come along
  5. 5. with migration affect them and their cultural identity much more deeply than is often recognized. Every relationship will be affected somehow as a result of international migration and will be tested or transformed. The Indian parents who are left behind in India by their children are forced to deal with transition just as a result of their children migrating without them moving one step. Instantaneously, they must determine how to have a relationship with their children abroad and their grandchildren who may know next to nothing about where they come from. They must deal with the loneliness of being left behind and finding someone to provide care services that had always been the assumed responsibilities of their children as they aged. This is just one example of one problem that may affect transnational families but the implications of migration range far wider. The American Dream does not necessarily indicate the desire to assimilate wholly into American society but rather to benefit economically from the opportunities available in the United States but still remain part of their home culture. With children being born in the United States, however, this becomes harder and harder to maintain so new transnational identities are formed and the conflicts between culture of the old and new must be resolved somehow. In the case of marriages made by children of immigrants, some opt for the cultural commonalities found in matches promoted by their parents and others opt for marrying as they please without much thought to the cultural ideas of their country of origin. Families find ways to adapt but those who migrate cannot expect to pick and choose which parts of Western culture and which parts of their culture of origin hold influence and seniority. The intersection of both cannot be avoided if
  6. 6. international migration takes place and those who migrate should understand this before they leave their country.