Migrate: Read About It

Moving to places that don't make it onto ten-best lists, and trying to embrace what makes them tick, was the impetus for starting this blog.  It's easy to love a place where the priorities of the community match mine.  Thriving and finding happiness in places where people don't share my values has required developing new mental and emotional muscles, along with a willingness to more accurately identify priorities.

As mentioned in recent posts, in recent weeks my husband and I have been working to decide our next step.  For a period of time, maybe the last month or two, heading for a home base in Minnesota seemed both sure and sure-fire.  In the last few days, the pendulum has swung back to a grey area as we learn more about possibilities that exist if we remain in Houston, and I'm also feeling unsure about signing up for another immediate upheaval.  The benefits of taking our time heading home in order to make the most of the opportunities right here, mixed with an uneasiness about committing to separation for fifty percent of our time (which basing our lives in Minnesota would require), have risen to the surface of our planning efforts.  In all honesty, I'm stumped by this decision.

In this era, it is amazing to even have multiple good choices, so while I remain truly confused, I don't want to sound ungrateful.  Still, it feels like a true chicken-egg conundrum.  It feels like I am required to choose between a better relationship with my husband, or one with a large portion of my friends and family network.  A significant body of sociological research reflects both the value of a dense and supportive friend/family network, and the value of mobility, which serves as a tool for improving both the quality of our lives and our economy.  My husband and I have lived the ramifications of both of these notions.

At times I have worried that it would be impossible to ever feel happy while living almost entirely without roots.  But I have just finished reading a book that was so full of amazing coping mechanisms, that I feel far more empowered, and even more optimistic about not only remaining on the no-plan plan about where we live, but also about having a family of our own.

The Immigrant Advantage, by Claudia Kolker, culls some of the best coping mechanisms that new members of our nation use to not only survive, but thrive, here.  It is not a book that troubles itself about whether immigration is right or wrong; it stays firmly within the boundaries of how immigrants from all over the world use cultural tools from their backgrounds to improve the quality of their lives here.  I swear it is apolitical, and even more exciting, it is full of great ideas that people from any culture would benefit from reflecting on in a quest to improve the quality of daily life.  Additionally, the author lives in my neighborhood, and I feel that she has captured in this book some of the feeling of diversity in Houston that I think is one of its best features.

When I taught English to refugee and immigrant students, I often felt compelled to defend them to those who had harsh words for their existence here.  Many people feel uncomfortable with immigration right now, and it was hard to explain to them how if they knew my students like I did, they wouldn't feel as upset.  They would see people working hard, supporting themselves, and making excruciating daily decisions in order to improve the quality of the lives of their families.  They were doing exactly what Americans have always done.  What amazed me about my need to defend them is that by and large, my students had much more conservative values than mine or most of my other American, middle-class, well-meaning peers.  Immigrants often show examples of being better at saving, less likely to use services, more connected to faith, and more committed to taking care of their families than American caucasians are turning out to be.  Obviously, there are bad seeds in all groups, and clearly breaking laws to do these things is still problematic and burdensome.

But in the meantime, read this book.  It makes me more optimistic than anything I've read in a long time.  And if it feels compelling, follow it up with the Summer 2012 issue of Good magazine, which is also devoted to the topic of migration and how it's affecting the world.