Immigration has long been part of American culture—almost all Americans can trace their ancestry back to another country. Thirty-nine percent of American Nobel Prize winners are immigrants and fifty-one percent of billion-dollar startup companies have at least one immigrant founder. And yet, being an immigrant in America comes with stigma.
Steven Neuberg, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe, has this to say about the underlying causes of prejudice against foreigners:
“People tend to be invested in members of their groups, to have ongoing histories of fair exchanges and reciprocal relations, to treat one another reasonably well, to create and follow a set of agreed-upon norms, and thereby build up trust. Outsiders aren’t going to have that same built-up investment in us or our group. Because of this, we tend to believe that people who are foreign to us are more likely to pose certain kinds of threats: We believe they may be more interested in taking our resources, more likely to cheat us in exchanges, to violate our norms and values, to take more than their fair share, and the like. These perceptions of threats are linked to negative emotions such as anger and moral disgust that contribute to anti-immigrant prejudices.”
As an immigrant, does this mean you should fully assimilate into American culture to be accepted? As an American, should you assume that people who aren’t like you should be treated with suspicion until proven otherwise?
Our answer to both of these questions is a resounding no. We believe that the world is a better place when we respect and accept those who are different from us. In this article, we discuss how immigrants and Americans can both help to change others’ minds about immigrants.
How immigrants can change minds
When you first come to America, you may feel that you are faced with a balancing act. You feel a sense of “hyphenated identity,” as you try to maintain your culture and traditions of your home country, while also trying to integrate into your new home.
For the United States to be successful at welcoming new immigrants, acceptance has to come from both sides. Immigrants choose to adopt the ways and culture of the United States, while Americans make efforts to accept and welcome diverse cultures in their workplaces and communities.
Understanding is key in creating acceptance, and both sides need to be receptive for integration to take place. You may think you have too much on your plate when you come to a new country. Not only do you have to learn the language and the social customs, and find a job and a place to live—you also feel you have to be a spokesperson for your country and your beliefs.
By being open with Americans about your culture, practices, and traditions, you create a bridge between your home country and your new life. Your willingness to share will make the world better for future generations.
What you can do as an immigrant
Contribute to your new country. By becoming part of the American workforce, you add value to the nation. Gaining an income is the first step in building a better life for yourself and, in turn, contributing to the country that provided you with new opportunities. Working in the United States is also a path to meeting new Americans and becoming integrated and accepted.
Don’t be afraid of questions. People fear what they don’t understand. Be open to their questions, and know that you are helping to change people’s minds about you and your culture. In return, ask them questions about American customs and things you don’t understand. Create an open dialogue with friends and neighbors. Patience is key—Americans can be ignorant about the world around them, but remember that you are putting a face to what it means to be an immigrant. Take it a step further and don’t just talk about your culture, but find ways to share it with your community.
Share your immigration story. It may take courage, but your account of immigrating to the US may change the mind of one person who will turn around and share your story with another. If enough people dare to share their stories, more people will listen, creating a ripple effect in informing citizens about the immigration system and what you have to endure to be here. Your story makes immigration personal and can touch hearts, helping Americans understand why people move to the United States.
Get involved in the community. Don’t isolate yourself or shy away from new experiences. Show up to community events; volunteer at your local church. If you have children, get involved in the school. Talk to your neighbors and invite them over to share a meal. Join a local meetup group or take your children to the local park. By participating in everyday activities and events, your neighbors and community can see for themselves that you aren’t much different from them.
These are just a few simple things you can do to help change Americans’ minds about immigrants. Sometimes, a simple smile or a conversation is all it takes. In this video, a man talks about how his Muslim neighbors helped change the way he thought about Muslims, by merely being good neighbors.
How American-born citizens can change minds
Welcoming immigrants into the United States has always been an American tradition. The day the United States closes the door to immigrants is the day that the US stops moving forward in terms of economic prosperity and human compassion.
Throughout the history of the United States, immigrants have proven to be beneficial. They contribute to the revitalization of neighborhoods and business sectors. In smaller towns, immigrants have helped offset population decline and add to the local economy with their purchasing power, tax revenue, and small business ownership.
By becoming an advocate for immigrants, you are using the privilege you were born with to help others see the value in accepting and understanding the diverse culture that makes up the American way of life.
What you can do as an American
Support organizations that help local immigrants. Donate to or volunteer for organizations such as:
Host an open neighborhood dialogue. Community involvement is key to helping immigrants feel welcomed and integrate successfully. Create an open space at a church or other places where the community can get together and have a peaceful discussion about why immigrants are important to the community, and how they benefit the economy. Encourage people to share their own immigration stories.
Welcoming America offers a great guide to help you plan a productive dialogue.
Rise above the ignorance. Use your privilege to speak out against discrimination. If you hear bigoted or racist statements, have the courage to put a stop to it. When you stay silent, you contribute to the problem. Use your voice to challenge others to think differently. You can also use your voice to join protests and write to your government officials against unfair treatment of immigrants.
Support immigrant-owned businesses. These businesses are creating jobs and contributing to the economy, as well as supporting their families and their dreams of a better life. Your purchases can help send their children to college or help their family members back in their home country.
Help your immigrant neighbors in their integration. Welcome them into your home to share a meal. Invite them to join you for a coffee or an outing. Be open to their questions about American culture. Make them feel welcome by inviting them to your church, or your book club. Sometimes a kind smile can go a long way in an unfamiliar country.
Teach your children about diversity. Encourage your children to be friendly to everyone who is new at school, regardless of where they come from. Discuss with them the difficulties that immigrants may face in a new country, like having to learn a new language or feeling lonely. Encourage play dates with new friends from other countries.
Out of many, one
Printed on all United States currency is the phrase “e pluribus unum”, meaning, “out of many, one.” The United States isn’t made up of one type of person; instead, our country is culturally diverse with many different backgrounds, thoughts, and opinions.
At Stump & Associates, we believe America is better economically and culturally when all are welcome to live and work here. Not only is it our job to represent immigrants during their journey to become new American citizens—we also hold the belief that our job is to educate, motivate, and inform people.
All of us have a responsibility in making our homes, lives, and communities better by getting to know our neighbors, regardless of where they come from. We all benefit from each other’s successes and, in turn, so does the United States.
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