What Do You Want the World to Know About Your Experience With Immigration?

Have you heard of the Man Repeller Writers Club? Every month we pose a story idea, you write about it, send it to us, and at the end of the month, we run the winning piece. You can find January’s prompt here (which you still have time to enter). but in light of recent events, we decided to add an additional short-term prompt to January.

Last week, Donald Trump rejected the sole bipartisan compromise presented to protect DACA. This week, the government may shut down as a result. If you’re a child of immigrants or an immigrant yourself, we want to hear from you this week: What’s the one thing you wish someone knew about your personal experience with immigration? Tell us in 300 words by way of short-story, essay, poem…the floor is yours.

Send it to write [at] manrepeller [dot] com with the subject line “My Immigration Experience,” by 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, January 21.

Collage by Emily Zirimis.

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  • Rockrenee

    Can´t wait for the stories!
    Rock Renee Blog

  • Patrizia Chiarenza

    Me too! I am an immigrant from Italy but mine wouldn’t make much of a story as far as the political angle goes. I look forward to reading what my fellow immigrants endured though. I know we were luckier than most.

  • Lizzie

    I really wish I had something more eloquent to say on going through the US immigration system than “arghaggggggggggghhhh sob sob” so I’m very excited to hear from those that do.
    Beautiful visual as always Emily!

    • Emily Zirimis


  • Christina

    This is an awesome topic choice. I don’t think people understand how insane the system is until they are involved in it.

  • Adrianna

    I will always identify as an immigrant before anything else, even after twenty years in America. I know I would have hated living in Poland, but I will always feel a void for not getting the chance to hate it.

    My mother is the “cleaning lady” people make vague reference to during small talk. She doesn’t feel ashamed about her business, and you don’t have to feel awkward or ashamed for employing someone to complete respectable labor.

    I was raised by young parents who struggled with PTSD from poverty and war. My mother and I haven’t seen her parents in 14 years. I have felt guilty for my mother’s struggles and sacrifices. On the other hand, her obsession with money clouded her ability to live in the present. I don’t have any relatives, but I have to remind myself that there are dozens of people who share my name and blood in a different country. Looking at pictures of first cousins on Facebook was just too painful.

    My mother is still anti-semitic, my father has been in American prison, and my grandparents wanted their black neighbors to “go back to Africa.”

    We are multidimensional people. We are not tokens for struggle and hard work. We are capable of sexism, racism, and ignorance. We are flawed, and we just want a chance to be as flawed as everyone else.

    As for the logistics of immigration? Nothing makes my blood boil more than hearing an American complain about jury duty or the DMV. Immigration taught me how to wait for hours under strict security.

    • rolaroid

      “I know I would have hated living in Poland, but I will always feel a void for not getting the chance to hate it.” Yes. Yes. I’m Armenian. Same deal, my parents immigrated here easily because they were white, Christian – and as their child born here, I resent them sometimes for not giving me the chance to hate “my” country from close-up. So well said.

    • Cristina

      are these processes (jury duty and the DMV- or the equivalent) pleasant in other countries? I’m not asking to be an asshole, I am just genuinely curious.

      • Bla

        Most other countries don’t have jury duty hunz

  • Oh, that’ simple:

    Dear Germans,

    You have made a solitude-loving introvert out of me – thank you for that, I sincerely love living this ancient part of me. It is so peaceful and full of exciting new knowledge day by day.
    Should you ever get interested in me as a real person, let me know. I’ll see what can be done about it.
    I cannot promise to have enough words to interact with you in a meaningful manner by then, though.

    alcessa the Grateful

    • Sosa


  • I’m currently an immigrant in New York, having come here from England for grad school. I am now working under the work authorization extension they grant upon graduation.

    I feel very fortunate for the legal institutions in place that currently allow me to live and work safely (and legally) in the US. I also know I am lucky to come from a country that is generally liked by the government. The benefits of the latter I have experienced: when going through immigration at JFK for the first time, I didn’t have one necessary document on hand yet I was definitely given priority in the detainment room – by virtue of being white and female I’m sure. It left a horrible taste in my mouth, but I can’t deny I was grateful to be allowed through so quickly, due to the stress of the situation.

    However, despite those clear benefits I experience, it is still so hard to be here. I feel like I am in a never-ending cycle of paperwork, of checking boxes, all while still being restricted from so many things. International students aren’t allowed to work for pay off-campus for their first year of tuition, which is a nightmare for anyone trying to support themselves. Companies have openly told me they don’t want to invest in a hire who *may* leave in 2 years, when my current work permit will expire – despite there being other visa options I could pursue, or an English office I could move to if they wanted to keep me. I have regularly been told I can’t be on my own lease, due to not having a history of credit in the US (and no American family who can guarantor for me).

    I still love this city and am so grateful for the opportunities I have been given and the chance I’ve had to live here. I would like to stay and am trying my hardest to keep that my reality. However, it is deeply demoralizing to feel like you have to constantly fight uphill to be allowed in the country, especially when you have studied, contributed to the community and work hard. Each time I leave the country, I have to have my employers sign a letter saying I have a job to return to, and present it at immigration.

    I can only imagine how hard it is for immigrants without the favourable circumstances I have been blessed with. If deported, I get to go back to the metropolis of London. I have friends who have not been so lucky and that is truly heartbreaking. Then again – I hear it’s as bad for immigrants coming to the UK. I have no defense of our system either…

  • Sally

    Thank you SO much for re-visiting this topic! Would love to see more around first-generation immigrants, or the post-citizenship climb. Often it feels like we’re the “forgotten” immigrants, with not a lot of attention paid to our struggle to really find ourselves in this country and the balance between two identities!

    • Adrianna

      “forgotten” immigrants – that’s how I felt on school field trips to Ellis Island. That museum has since developed an exhibit on current immigration, but I was very frustrated that immigration was taught as an abstract idea that happened in the past.

      I’ve been here for about twenty years, and I still don’t know how to situate myself. That’s one of the main reasons I live in NYC. I’m also in a weird place where I want Polish immigrant communities to exist, but I don’t want to live in one.

      • Sally

        Oh yes I feel you! I find myself at the same intersection between Muslim/Arab communities. Finding the right balance is like a long lost dream… 😉

  • Cristina

    My experience as an immigrant in two different countries is that, even though you have a carreer and speak many languages… You have to make double effort for “them” to notice you. Or at least to value your work the same way the do with a non-foreigner. Isn’t it sad that we still have to listen to comments like “immigrants are here to steal our jobs” in 2018?
    On the other side, the GREAT majority of the people Ive met along the way have been really supportive and caring. Thats the best part of it all. There is nothing to feel like home when you are miles apart.
    PS: If you have ever thought about an immigrant in a wrong way I really encourage you to try to live in a non-english speaking country for some months 🙂 It will open your mind and your heart! Its always a great experience!

  • Daniel Szilagyi

    My parents were lucky to be accepted even though we are white back in the early 90’s, and they struggled as they barely spoke english, my mom didn’t at all for a few years in the start while my dad spoke enough to find work somewhere relatively quickly.
    They forced my parents to attend school to learn to speak and write english and offered a small amount of support money which barely covered the cost of rent back then.
    My dad would go to work and then school, while my mom would attend school and then take care of me and did odd jobs including cutting hair (she was a hairdresser) or house cleaning as well.

    Fast forward 20 years and both my parents worked really hard in their jobs and we bought a small duplex and a small car and moved on with life. I’ll say that in comparison to what “support” my parents got and the support i see current immigrants receiving really is a stark difference though, much more lax and a lot of social services where at least back in the early 90’s it felt more like they put a lot more pressure on my folks to quickly learn to read, write and speak english and get jobs.

    US immigration is such a wacky adventure though, i applied for work a few years ago and I’m a graduate of two professional schools with degrees, have over 4 years of professional work experience with some high level clients and companies (at the time) excellent personal references with zero criminal record, no debt and an actual supplied professional job position given to me by the company i applied to and I still didn’t even get a TN-1 Visa and I’m from Canada and all of this was actually supplied by a professional legal representative and company…so that tells you loads about how messed up the immigration system is in the US

  • Kristien

    Not my first-hand experience, but part of my family’s history:

    My grandfather on my dad’s side was from Germany. He and his brother immigrated to the US in the 1930’s – post-WWI, pre-WWII. I never knew him; he died when my dad was only 23. From what little I do know of him, he didn’t bring much of his language, culture or traditions with him, with one exception that he imparted a deep love of Christmas (a very German quality) on my dad. He settled in eastern Tennessee where a group of other German immigrants from his home town had started a textile manufacturing facility that employed a large percentage of the town. He was a machinist, and made and serviced parts used in the factory.

    My grandfather’s brother’s home was shot at in a drive-by shooting style attack by individuals who hated them for being German. My grandfather was attacked in the factory by a man who hit him over the head with a hammer, also because he was German. He was in the hospital for four months and almost died. No one was ever charged for either crime.

    As a decedent of both a German and an Italian immigrant, I enjoy the freedom they worked so hard to earn. It’s so important we remember where we come from, and remember those who pioneered for a better life.

    • Chloe

      My grandfather immigrated from what-was-then-Germany in 1906 at the age of 6. I also never knew him (he’d be 117 years old?!) but my mother recollects that he never spoke a lick of German and said very little about his home country. It was extremely shameful to be German during that time – here in Minnesota, Germans were being tarred and feathered for celebrating their heritage. It is so interesting so reflect on this – today, someone like my grandfather would be what Trump would consider desirable….a white, Christian. 100 years ago, he was vilified.

  • Oh and, here’s my favorite 2-sentence summary of it all:

  • Summer

    I am Dominican by heritage, but my Grandmother is from Mexico. My Mom was not eligible for dual citizenship. From what I understand, it seems like the hardest part for my family was adjusting to a culture that didn’t want to give you the time to adjust. My mom says she used to be punished and teased for speaking spanish in school (she grew up in the 60s). I’ve lived between the US and my mother country and so have most in my family. I don’t know much about the legal struggles but I understand what its like socially. I know that i look very latin (dark skin, curly hair) and i can almost feel that look people have when they hear someone speak a different language. But I am also lucky because I sound American when I speak english.

  • Karina

    I’m not a first or second generation immigrant, but because of my race (Asian) I’m often assumed to be so. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I would often face questions about stereotypes that I didn’t even have the cultural knowledge to explain away since my own family didn’t have a very strong connection to Asian culture. I tried to distance myself from being Asian and back then the fact that both my parents were born here was a point of pride (and a decent retort to the “ok, well where are your parents from?” question). I’ve found that since going to college and finally having Asian and other POC peers I’ve gotten over my “complex” of being the only non-white person in the entire school and have gained a lot of understanding and empathy about the nuances of race and immigration, especially realizing that my proximity to immigration (on my mother’s side I’m 3rd generation and on father’s side 5th) is just one of so many unique immigration stories to be proud of.

  • L Winfree

    My mom immigrated to the US from mainland China when she was 18. After Nixon opened relations with China, one of the first visas available was a student visa. My mom and grandfather stood in line the very first day the visa office was open. As educated landowners, her family was persecuted during the cultural revolution–my grandmother and grandfather were sent to mandatory re-education meetings. Neighbors shunned them and wouldn’t let their kids play with my mom. Food was rationed. Their house was raided by the military multiple times, leaving holes in the walls and ripped up floorboards. It’s only in the last few years that my mom has begun sharing these stories with me. My grandparents almost never talk about their lives in China at all–a refusal to dwell on past trauma. There are still a lot of gaps in my knowledge of my family’s history.

    Immigrating to American was not easy for my mom. She came alone, knowing that going back was not an option. Once she reached America, my mom did not go back to China for over 20 years–the place she knew growing up is gone, altered beyond all recognition. On the other hand, my grandparents made yearly pilgrimages back to China, maintaining their relationships and culture. I have often wondered if they missed their homeland, if they wished they’d never left?

    It’s hard for me to communicate with my grandparents because their English isn’t good, and neither is my Chinese. This summer, my grandmother took me to the bank, where she showed me the contents of her safety deposit box, her treasures, which my mother and I would be inheriting. Mixed in with pieces of jade and strings of pearls was my grandmother’s certificate of American citizenship.

    I was in China recently with my grandfather. We were walking through the hotel, arm in arm, when one of the maids stopped and pointed at me. “Wai guo ren! (foreigner)”, she chanted. My grandfather smiled and proudly corrected her, “No, we are both foreigners here, my granddaughter and I.”

  • Bella Zaydenberg

    I’m a first-generation immigrant. I was born in Russia, moved to New York when I was eight, and became a full-fledged citizen (by way of my mother, who took the citizenship test) a couple years later.

    My family and I got lucky. My uncle, who was 17 at the time, submitted us for a green card lottery (without telling anyone in my family, lol.) A year later, he found out we “won,” and had to basically tell my mom that we needed to pack our bags, go to Moscow (we lived about 300 miles away, in a smaller town) and make our case to immigration officers as to why we belonged in America.

    I still have the most vivid memory of my mom pulling me aside before our interview (which was fully conducted in English, despite my uncle and my mom knowing maybe a handful of words between the two of them) and telling me that no matter what, to never stop smiling at the officer.

    Anyway, whatever my mom and uncle worked (or maybe the officer was so besotted with my smile) that we hopped on an Aeroflot flight to New York on a hot day in late July in ’98.

    After completing med school (and residency, and a fellowship) for the second time in her life, my mom became a doctor. Again. My uncle is a manager at a bank. We moved our grandparents over to New York later that year, and my mom, my uncle, and my grandparents are all homeowners. My little sister (who was born here) is an honors student. And I became a (paid!) writer and reporter. And to hear our current president say that “the worst people” are selected from lottery systems isn’t just incorrect, it’s nauseating. My family is thriving as a result of being fortunate enough to be selected. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of little girls that also deserve the opportunity to awkwardly smile with their two front teeth missing at an immigrations officer.

    I recognize my privilege, my luck, and my fortune myself and my family have, and I recognize that’s probably what made our climb to achieve “the American dream” possible. However, merit shouldn’t be recognized on the ability to speak English, or a life that someone is leaving behind — only the life that someone hopes to lead in a new country, in a new world, under (hopefully) better circumstances.

  • sedaozcetin

    As immigrants in Denmark, we have had our challenging experience as well. Despite being known as the hygge universe, Denmark could hardly be so for immigrants from non-Western countries. We try to tackle the problem of not being understood and not being welcomed and always being perceived through stereotypes with a movement called “I Feel From”, which simply says anyone can feel from anywhere. Period. Nationality concept is old fashioned and does not really serve the current world.

  • Hansika Vijayaraghavan

    I immigrated to the US when I was 5 years old from India. I have a perfect American accent, I fit every aspect of American culture, and I’ve got the golden ticket of an American Passport. Yet for as long as I live, I will always be asked “where are you from?” and then immediately after, “yeah but originally, where are you from?”