Alina’s Immigration Story: Different borders, different narratives

No matter what side of the immigration and citizen debate one gravitates to, the inability of our nation’s leaders to find consensus has been distressing to watch. During one of our team meetings, we found ourselves sharing our own stories of what the word immigration means to us. We thought we’d share a little more about our team members over the course of time.


When looking at the stories of immigration within my family, the story is very much split. For me, the movement of people beyond human-constructed borders have shaped our world as it is today, and I believe people as a whole are richer for this pattern.

My Grandma and Grandpa T immigrated to the United States, along with my dad in the 1960s.  While the internment of Japanese Americans had ended nearly 20 years prior, it was by no means an inherently welcoming country.  Conscious of the new ground they walked on, and accompanying cultural attitudes, my grandparents imparted on my father the importance of adopting the “American culture.” He was raised to only speak English and say his last name differently so classmates and teachers could understand (which still didn’t work).  They didn’t want to offend any US-born Americans.

My grandparents were not forced to immigrate, and yet in some ways it felt that way.  In Japan, they were often ostracized for being Christian. In a society where the level of personal success was customarily linked to the level of familial connection, opportunity to thrive was stifled by a generational history of hardship. Following their immigration to the States, my Grandma T won awards for her quilts and my Grandpa T personally contributed to research that won their research team at the National Institutes of Health the Noble Prize.  I believe they were proud of being Japanese, although showed it mostly behind the brick walls of their sweet Bethesda home.  I also believe they were proud to be Americans.

On the flip side, I recently learned – to my surprise – that my Grandma on my mom’s side, is also a second-generation immigrant.  It was to my surprise because of the way she’s always acted towards people external to herself and her culture, and how she’s contributed to the immigration conversation.  She has voiced adoration for her mother’s Canadian roots, and simultaneous scorn for those trying to seek asylum from violence at our southern border. To be quite candid, for her – it’s because some are brown, and others white. This juxtaposition of opinion baffles me, and yet somehow I’ve come to expect it from her (she was disapproving of my mother and father’s union, as “interbreeding” was not to be had within her family, or outside of it for that matter).

I’m proud of my Grandma and Grandpa T for the contributions they made to my life and to others during their time on this earth. I’m disgraced and disgusted that those within my family have contributed to the injustices and prejudices imposed on others that can has generational effects of trauma, just because of their own ignorance.

My Grandpa T, me, my sister, and our printed quilts.

In my upbringing, I similarly felt this conflict from two halves of different cultures.  I was made fun of a school for my “unusual” snacks.  I was the only kid of color in my class for the entirety of elementary school and on my soccer team.  Growing up, I only knew a handful of people who were bi- or multi-racial and who identified as such.  I was constantly “othered,” forever in the out-group. When I was younger, I didn’t fully understand why people put so much stake into pointing out differences, and so often with a negative connotation.

When looked at from afar, you can so easily see this world is a puzzle, all of the coast lines’ curvy edges fitting together. I wish that people could see that without each piece, the puzzle remains incomplete, and lacking. While I don’t believe everyone is made completely of where they came from, I recognize how much it can influence who we are, how we think, and where we’re accepted. I like thinking about how conversations about immigration might be different if Earth’s geography was still like Pangea, but unfortunately feel that humans would fall into our folly of blaming for being of a different place rather than celebrating the richness and wholeness diversity brings. To me, people are people are people are people, and should be treated as such. Celebrate the threads that connect us together, and those which make our fabrics unique. Celebrate your heritage, your culture, and allow others to celebrate with you.

[Picture above: My front-toothless self wholeheartedly beaming because the day came when I finally fit into my Grandma T’s yukata (kimono), in the backyard of their Bethesda home.]