An Immigrant’s Silent Struggle
Back home in Ghana, I am the epitome(model) of success. But life in America hasn’t always been easy.
“I want to be just like you. You are from uptown, aren’t you?” the young man asked in the local slang with an exuberant smile oblivious (unaware)of the scorching tropical sun. Selling bags of onions at the roadside, his extra-large T shirt and drooping jeans were a testament to the ubiquitous(everyday everywhere) influence of American pop culture in Africa. I had accepted a seat at his onion stand to take a break before concluding business in Accra that afternoon. Between brisk(quick) sales serving customers stuck in traffic, he asked incessant(endless) questions about life in America, convinced that having a visa to the United States was like winning the lottery. How could I tell him that I envied his simple life and blissful innocence when I was guilty of the silent culture that had helped to perpetuate(force) a false image of Africans living abroad?
Outwardly, I looked like the poster boy for success visiting from the United States. My white designer shirt and matching pants were straight from the megamalls in Detroit, where I worked as an engineer. Inwardly, I was caught in a web of ambition and cultural disenchantment(disappointment). My attire suggested affluence, yet I could not afford the numerous requests for money or to make gifts of my belongings. Uncles and aunties who were prepared to mortgage their homes to help me leave 10 years ago now expected me to finance cousins hoping to make the same move to the United States.
After two weeks in Ghana, the excitement of my homecoming had waned. I was broke and looking forward to returning to the States. This time, though, it would be without the naiveté(innocence) that had fueled my ambitious departure. Back then, the thought of someday resettling in Ghana afforded me unusual endurance. Now I face the challenges of life in America with a greater sense of permanency.
America had fulfilled my ambition for furthering my education and professional experience. I had arrived with the equivalent of a high-school diploma, and after 10 years, I hold a graduate degree and have a relatively successful professional career. Every inch of progress, however, had been achieved through exhausting battles. My college education had been financed partly through working multiple minimum-wage jobs. I was fortunate to secure a job upon graduation, but adjusting to corporate culture exacted(require) another toll. Initially, I found myself putting in twice the effort just to keep up. I learned to feign(pretend) assertiveness after realizing that I would not be taken seriously otherwise. Scared by a wave of layoffs, I went to graduate school part time because it was the only way I knew that afforded me an edge in job security. By the time I became eligible to apply for citizenship, I had spent a small fortune in legal fees and endured stressful years grappling(coping) with the complexities of securing permanent residency in America.
It was as though I had run 10 consecutive marathons, one for each year abroad, and my body screamed for rest. My trip home was in anticipation of a respite(relief), but instead, I felt as though I were drowning in a melting pot of cultures. Part of me wanted to settle permanently in America and put closure to the direction my life was heading. Another part still longed for the uncomplicated life I once knew in Ghana—despite the illusive price of acceptance. Most of us leaving home never considered how much we would change or the scarring challenges ahead of us. I could still remember a time when my thinking was no different than the onion seller’s. Someone had seen beyond that and given me a chance to come to America, so I still felt compelled to give something back.
Perhaps I should have been asking myself if I really wanted to trade places with the onion seller. Deep down I knew my answer was no. Enlightenment had come with the loss of innocence and a silent struggle. My cultural dichotomy(paradox) was no different from what other immigrants from other cultures faced in America. I could stop dwelling on being torn between two countries by accepting my new identity as a progressive blend of the two and embrace its new responsibilities.
The strange irony was that I could learn from the onion seller and approach life with cheer despite its trials. If I paced myself and continued to work diligently, I just might enjoy my marathon life in America while providing something worthy for loved ones in Ghana. That is probably the missing ingredient separating a life of disenchantment and frustration from one that is engaging and fulfilling.