How can we use our culture to grow as immigrants instead of being penalized by it?
Appreciating and leveraging what we bring with us in our cultural luggage can only happen if we don’t attach our “being” to it.
I will give the following example in general terms, so that when reading it, you can personalize it and make it yours.
When I say, “I am Italian,” “I am Chinese,” “I am Indian,” etc., I should feel this simply as a life situation that I share with several other million human beings. We are all participants in a beautiful and rich culture inherited from the past, in which many artists, inventors, and visionaries were born, and my heart should fill with pride and a sense of responsibility for being part of it. If I feel like I belong to this culture without making that belonging a part of who I am, then I own a powerful tool that will master my own immigration experience. Yes, if this is what I do, I am using my culture and not being used by it! Suddenly, just writing this sentence, I feel the freedom that comes with it!
It´s true: if we are able to detach our culture from our identity, we will not play the stereotyped part, and so we will be free to express only what we like from our culture and disregard what does not serve us, leaving room for new ideas, new beliefs, to live the life we want to live!
I remember my first job as a carpenter in Canada, at a window factory, where we manufactured high-quality wood/aluminum windows; it was in the wealthy town of Oakville, Ontario.
There were slightly under 100 people working there, and I would say that, along with tiny representations of several countries from Europe and South America, there were three major groups representing people who had been born as Canadians, Portuguese, and Croatians; in the entire factory, there were only four Italians, and two were management.
Looking back now, I see things that I could not see during the three years I worked there. I was in that initial confused phase; at the time, I just felt this urgency to find a way out, it was impossible to feel happy there, everyone was stuck! Every single comment, every act of jealousy, every frustration from almost all of the workers was somehow directly linked to, and fueled by, cultural differences.
That place was where so many talented people, beautiful human beings, who had immigrated with big dreams and good intentions, ended up killing and burying their potential… all because they were abused victims of their culture! And most of the time, these cultural barriers are the reason of negative feelings toward each other were hidden by fake compliments and by fake multiculturalist preaching.
Because everyone was carrying an imaginary flag tattooed on their forehead, everyone was judging each others´ cultures and being judged according to their own culture, but because of the identification, the individuals themselves were being hurt! You would hear remarks that would range from “look at that guy… classic Asian, always works overtime and makes us all look lazy!” to “this guy works at a slow South American pace… back home, he would be fired!” And when similar comments were shared directly…. anger, frustration, sadness and inner pain would proliferate, causing separation and isolation!
I went from an entry-level position to be the most highly paid employee within six months because I was able to fill the position outside the assembly line, building customized windows of any shape! More than 10 years working with my father as a fine carpenter and woodworker really came in handy…
This fast “career advancement” caused a major rebellion! Colleagues who had worked there for 25 years were complaining that the position had not been offered to them, and I started to be labeled as a classic Italian who had special connections with the management. The least upset of my co-workers would “joke” around, smiling and saying: “you Mafia, Frank, you Mafia…!”
The truth was that nobody had the woodworking skills nor the desire to fill the position; none of them was a fine carpenter, they had been working in the same position and taking the same steps every day for years, and they knew they could not do it. Their behavior came from personal frustration and dissatisfaction, and that small negative side of my culture (the Mafia) was for them easier to blame than admitting their own technical deficiencies.
Let’s face it! We all are products of our cultures: the problem is that most of us are so into the idea that our culture is a significant part of who we are and not just something we belong to that we can’t even see how much the Act of Immigrating can do for us in terms of self-development.
When I detached my culture from my being, I stopped being the victim of it and began to use my Italian heritage to my advantage; and because I had made this change in how I saw myself, I automatically started to see other people the same way. I was able to recognize immigrants who were identifying themselves with their culture, and instead of reacting to their insane behavior with something even more insane, I responded with the intention to help and with the kindness required to guide someone that has lost his way.
This shift became a major success factor: when selling for my own business, after leaving the factory, I was now able to understand where my Indian customers were coming from when they asked for crazy discounts; or why some Asians would be disappointed if I refused to offer discounts in exchange for cash payments; or why other Italian customers who expected thousands of dollars in discounts simply for being from the same culture as me. Instead of walking away offended and full of judgment, angry and without making a sale, I now tell them exactly what I am writing here; I explain it to them and the magic just happens! I either sell and help them shift their own viewpoint, or, worst-case scenario, I leave them thinking…. really thinking.