Is Going To Amreeka Worth It?

LEST I am accused of scurrilousness or justification, setting out my vantage point and perch is essential in laying out my argument: I am a failed immigrant — from the antipodes (Australia) to the United Kingdom to the United States to Scandinavia to Dubai — regions that I lived in for some or extended periods of time, I failed to either ‘settle down’ or become a citizen of any of these nations. Now I shall aver the core premise of this essay (which is in the nature of a question): Is going to Amreeka (America) worth it? (I use America here as a surrogate for the West). It is in less developed contexts very fashionable and trendy to go to the West (or Amreeka).

For example, in the context of South Asia, if you have relatives (a son, a daughter or some member(s) of the extended family) in Amreeka, then you are not only the subject of envy but can also boast of these connections to the country. Lo and presto! Your status gets enhanced and a dynamic ensues where others want to emulate you: they too want their sons, daughters to go to Amreeka.

But to revert to the question posed in this essay: Is going to Amreeka worth it?

It depends. If your aim is to make money (that you could not make in your home country), enjoy a relatively enhanced standard of living, get a decent education for your children, or want to escape your culture and so on; maybe Amreeka is for you.  Consider an example: person A who lives in a slum in South Asia, has no real opportunities for improving his or her life chances, if she or he gets an opportunity to go to, say, Australia and drive a cab there, the minimum wage structure, the nature of taxation, public services and education will staggeringly improve their life chances.

But there are invisible prices to pay that become visible after some time has passed. The loss of a definitive identity being one. Followed by feeling like a mere cog in a vast machine. There are pangs of dislocation and acculturation where you subtly and unconsciously become in a manner of osmosis like members of your host society but are not fully or entirely accepted. You watch your children become like coconuts  — white on the inside but brown on the outside. You might, to go to an extreme, own a house in Beverly Hills but your heart might yearn for your place of origin. You’ve crossed the proverbial Rubicon; there’s no way back.

All this is not to impugn host societies for their refusal to give you ‘ equal status’, emotional and psychological, no matter how you have ‘become like them’ and still insist on seeing you as Bangladeshi, Indian or Pakistani. While people are the same everywhere but culture and traditions make us different. For Western societies, no matter how open and liberal their visa and citizenship regimes are, your culture will be either ‘strange’,‘weird’ or ‘exotic’.

In your home country, you are the subject of envy and emulation, you secretly either laugh at them or empathize with them for their ignorance of reality. It’s all about perspective: you have changed; they (your relatives, friends that you left behind) have not. And they have heard wonder stories based on stereotypes and myths about where you live now. “Bhai. Aap to lucky hain/(Brother, you are lucky)”, they will say to you. But within the heart of hearts, you envy them for their rootedness, innocent ignorance of the worlds you now inhabit.

Against this backdrop, going to Amreeka is not worth it. However, it can be supremely worthwhile if going to Amreeka induces an outlook and a worldview that makes you feel home everywhere and nowhere. If venturing to the West or anywhere in the world induces in you an expansiveness of the spirit and the soul which makes you view the whole world as your habitat; if you do not either parochially remain attached to your country of origin or become revulsive toward it and not merely cling to being an Amreekee(American), then going to Amreeka would constitute a journey for you. A journey that will have enriched you, your personality and your outlook.  Your journey back ‘home’ will not be a metaphorical discovery or rediscovery of ‘hidden gold in your backyard’. (That’s something which happens only in novels). ‘Home’, then to repeat , is everywhere and nowhere for you. If this is what going to Amreeka induces in you, then hearken ye, young man or woman, surely go to Amreeka!

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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