The United States is a nation of immigrants. This makes it essential to review the experiences of immigrants as a way of understanding how these experiences shape the economy of the country. One of the core issues of immigration to the United States is the American dream which makes immigrants relocate to the nation in pursuit of new opportunities and improved life.
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The number of immigrants into the United States continues to grow with the majority coming from Africa and Asia. Immigrants accounted for over 12% of the United States population in the year 2009 (Fishman, 53). More so, American history especially around 1800, immigrants into American have not been identified as Americans as seen Indian-Americans, Mexican-American, Spanish-Americas and so on. Immigrants are expected to assimilate American culture regarding values, and customs fast and shed off their homeland traditions. With this challenge, immigrants have been able to forge a unique identity which has helped them effectively blend with the rest of the American population. African immigrants into the United States are more educated and proficient in English as well as having a higher social-economic status than immigrants from other parts of the globe (Fosco, DD). It has for long been assumed that immigrants come as laborers to improve their lives. Looking at the experience of immigrants today may shed new light into the issue of immigration. Therefore, this paper examines the experience of immigrants in acculturation to the United States.
For this study, I interviewed an immigrant of African decency to establish his perception of acculturation to the United States. Thus, there is a need to have an overview of the interviewee. Therefore, the discussions in this paper rely on oral history conducted on one individual. My interviewee was a twenty-five-year-old man, Timothy, from Nigeria’s capital Lagos. While still in Nigeria, Timothy had acquired a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management as well as a Master’s Degree in Business Management from one of the leading public universities in Nigeria. He now stays in Colorado and is pursuing another master’s degree from a University in Missouri. Like most students in Africa, Timothy started learning English from a young age and continues to study the language even past high school level. He was also a teacher in college while in Nigeria. Though he has not focused on studying English as a core subject, he was proficient in American university even outperforming some of the American students. His choice of coming to the United States was motivated by the financial offer and was more so interested in entering the American culture. Timothy considers returning to Nigeria but coming back to the United States remains a possibility for the future. His class and social status could be viewed as to have been critical in his transition to life in the United States. He maintains a linkage with other Nigerians in the country which maintains ties with his native country.
The narration by Timothy and the development of his identity as a Nigerian-American is not a norm among Nigerian-Americans. Majority of Nigerians in America are a working class and strive hard for survival. According to Brown and Marie, 989), the migration from Nigeria is meant to escape poverty, hunger, extremism and also for job opportunities. More than 60 percent of Nigerians live below the United Nations poverty line with the majority of the population unemployment or the lucky ones, underemployed. As indicated, he is educated and still pursuing a Master’s degree. This means that in his stay, he has not experienced hostility as other migrants who came earlier or those who came primarily for jobs.
Timothy’s choice of immigration was for a personal goal. He applied for a scholarship hence his moving to the United States was a deliberate and showed concerted effort. Research indicates that the level of voluntary or involuntary migration affects the level and rate of acculturation to a new culture. When immigration is involuntary, it forces an immigrant to forced status against their will. It forms an act of forced assimilation which results in marginalization and hence discrimination and social subordination. On the other hand, voluntary migration, the reception to cultural maintenance is lower.
The other aspect that affects timothy is the perception of opportunity in the United States. Core to this is the American dream which he regards as the essence of having a good job, beautiful house, good car and enjoying the necessary luxuries. On the same not, motivation to studying English for Timothy was ingrown from a young age as his parents were travelers. His mother encouraged him to study English as the language would help him communicate anywhere in the world.
I also enquired to Timothy about acculturation and acculturation stress in the United States. This rose as I inquired about what inspired them for being in the United States for the first time. He expressed that he was already exposed to the United States lifestyle through media. But for him, the reality was different from what was portrayed in media. Regarding acculturative stress, he said that throughout his life, he was learned of culture. He says that he had an idea of the enormous gaps between cultures.
On the other hand, culture shock, which are that initial difficulty when arriving at a new culture. For him, the difference was that America was more of cities and development. He says that this was a shift from a small town into a developed city. We further discussed on his expectations on coming to the United States as based on media portrayals. Timothy developed his perception of the United States from watching American programs. These experiences shaped his understanding of the United States. From his description of the United States expectations, Timothy was living in a misconception. For instance, in the programs, America is portrayed as more of suburbs and cities with buildup areas. This was different from where he lives in America as it is a smaller town. The rush and craziness of the city in films and programs do not exist or not as in the movies.
Another critical aspect of immigration was language proficiency. Though Timothy is fluent in English, he still finds a difficulty in communicating with natives; majorly due to accent.
Today, the number of Nigerian-owned business in America is higher compared to twenty years ago. There is a substantial number of restaurants, clubs as well as cultural events not to mention Nigerian themed businesses and church. The increase in these social amenities serves to point at the significance of the number of Nigerians abroad. It also suggests that Nigerians are inclined into staying in the state. This can further be supported by the events that more Nigerians are buying houses and paying taxes as well as sending their children to American schools (Fosco, Daily Dose).
The booming number of Nigerians in the United States is looking to engage in business both internationally and locally. More people are setting up businesses in the United States rather than their home countries even with steady economic improvement in those countries. Nigerian nationals are looking to improve on their abilities and talents as well as resources for them to effectively compete in a global economy.
With the increasing number of Nigerians in the United States, there has been a developed class of Nigerian-Americans. For instance, Timothy is pursuing a Master’s Degree and holds yet another Master’s Degree. The education status among Nigerians makes a professional class with contributes to the development of the identity. The proliferation of Nigerian-owned and themed businesses, restaurants, clubs, and the festival has shown, it has helped immigrants maintain strong connections with their country of origin. But one’s relationship to homelands both past and present can be affected by circumstances surrounding one’s migration, as the example of Timothy migration demonstrates.
Apart from the experiences described above, there are push or pull factors that make an individual migrate to another nation. These can be viewed as the factors that compelled Timothy to come to the United States. One of the factors that contribute to Nigerians coming to the United States is family. I Nigeria, there is the threat of terror group, Boko Haram and which has been waging wars and kidnaping people on the country. The move, in this case, can be viewed as a way to safeguarding own security. The grave danger from the terror group would lead to a self-imposed exile. For, however, education was the core reasoning for migration. The United States offers better education and opportunities that home country. Acquiring education from the United States means that he would be in higher demand in his home country (Duany, 156).
The Chronology website relates the transitioning in identity for Timothy as to have been greatly influenced by his academic credentials. This is because education is setting for personal growth, it would have become an essential instrument in the transition of Timothy. The notion of white supremacy to him does not exist as he fairs better than most of his white learners. His academic successes and skills, therefore, helped in setting him apart of the rest of the population and aided in his integration in a white society. Further, exposure to the English language from earlier ages made him ready to face a different culture. He is able to fit in the American society seamlessly. Though it is required that he returns to his home country, he is looking forward to returning and continuing the identity with the English language.
Timothy has lived in the United States for three years. In that time, he has not managed to return home. This has led him into perceiving that he is part of the mainstream American population (Dodd, NCAAFB). Despite this, he still connects with his backyard in Nigeria and has contact with Nigerian heritage. He still has hope for returning home and improving their status.
In his stay in the United States, Timothy has developed duplicity of identity. He is not Nigerian any more, and he is American too. He still holds in high regard his Nigerian growing and says those cannot be left behind. Throughout the interview, he described himself as American and Nigerian. He yearns of returning to Nigeria as, though he has American perceptions, he argues that he is Nigerian all way.
He noted that he felt distinctly American. Considering his official residence status, the process took time as he came to the United States using an education Visa. He says that he would very much like to naturalize, but he is afraid of being said to be a traitor to his homeland. If he chooses to remain in the United States, it would be a choice he would not regret having made. He continues to say despite having African decency. He says that blacks should stick together. The culture in the United States and Nigeria seems similar hence there would be no need for them to separate based on country of origin (Knight et al., 843). It is common that in identity, a person will identify with nationality first then region but for Timothy, the region comes first and nationality second.
This paper has expounded on the factors that contribute to the development of immigrant identity. For some immigrants, they view themselves as neither mixed not fixed, but they are dynamic in that they can fit in two or more cultures. The story of Timothy may not be unique when it comes to immigrants, but it illustrates how one’s community, class, networks, educator and language can impact on a person’s experiences and immigration circumstances. These factors contribute to shaping a sense of shared identity. It can be argued that the development of an American – Nigerian identity is not an issue of transition, but rather an issue of connection with Nigerian background. The number of Nigerians in the United States is also ballooning which has contributed to the formation of association linking Nigerian nationals in the United States. The association makes him enjoy the privilege of riding in his Nigerian heritage. His social status and education contributed immensely in fitting in the American society. His education and English language proficiency contributed to his eventual assimilation in American society. The experience in American perhaps helped him in developing a sense of shared identity between American and Nigerian.
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