The Problem with Us – The Immigrants

By Kai Teo
Cover picture from

When it comes to the issue of immigration, the people of the world has been subject to a lot of fear mongering, misleading “news” reports, and racism disguised as the protection of national interests. And with the Syrian refugee crisis, almost everyone in the Western world was swept into the epic battle between xenophobic nationalists and open-border humanists.

In short, our mundane lives of working and consuming came to a standstill, and we were forced to take a stand. The debate was furious and at times, enlightening. And indeed, in times of crisis, humanity revealed to us its best and worst sides.

Today, the Syrian refugee crisis has lost its steam on social media, and even Donald Trump’s outright ridiculousness has ceased to dominate the headlines of European papers. As I scrolled through my Facebook feeds, I see that we’ve gone back to consuming our staple internet food – cat videos. Life is good again.

Well, Syria is still being bombed, their innocent still forced to flee their homes. The situation’s still shit, but we’ve already moved on to the next big piece of exciting news that would give us more likes on Facebook. “You’re still sharing articles about the refugee thingy? That’s so last season.”

According to a recent study done by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, the general attitude of the Swedish hospitality, one that has provide a safe haven for tens of thousands of refugees, is starting to change.

In other words, Swedes are growing tired, the flame of hope and unity that raged so passionately last year has now weakened to a mere flicker. There has been a growing sentiment of fear towards extremism, crime and lack of proper social integration. In this climate, one news report by the mainstream media about some newly arrived immigrant stabbing someone else could potentially turn last year’s human rights activist into an exasperated citizen demanding that all refugees be deported. 

And unfortunately, not many would isolate the incident and attribute it to “just a disturbed individual with violent tendencies”. In the discombobulated minds of people, their mental headline would read, in dark, bold letters: “Immigrants bringing crime rates in Sweden to an all-time high” (cue doomsday background music, preferably with pipe organs).

So every time there’s an article floating around the web about some crime or robbery or violence, I pray to all the gods that the suspect would turn out to be a white Swedish male, and not another one of our immigrant brothers. Because we don’t need one more black sheep to taint the already bruised image of us immigrants.

You see, I’ve been living in Sweden for over four years, and still, I see myself as an immigrant. Not because I haven’t been “properly integrated”, but because I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the important lessons of loyalty and respect from my Chinese heritage, and how I have singlehandedly changed the staple diet of a few of my friends from potatoes to rice. And no, no one in Sweden has ever told me to “go back to my own country”.

Of course, looking the way I am in Sweden hasn’t always been a beautiful, golden field of raps (or rapeseed, which sounds rather, intrusive). Just last week, in the small city of Ronneby, I was ignorantly called “a ladyboy” by some dude who seemed somewhat insulted by my long hair and nail polish. The remark wasn’t made in earnest curiosity about my gender identity, but was a crude one with an aggressive tone, and an intention to insult. It wasn’t the remark that insulted me. It was the fact that this person thought that a calling someone “a ladyboy” would be insulting. I proceeded to question his judgement but it fell on deaf ears.  

About two hours later on the same day, as I was packing my groceries in the supermarket, another lady came up to me and tapped her hand on her lips, going “Woo, woo, woo, woo”, obviously trying to exhibit her best impression of what she thought was representative of a native American. “Are you Indian?” Well, I calmly tried to explain to her that she meant “native American”, and that they were called Indians because Christopher Colombus fucked up his bearings. But again, she walked away, laughing to herself.

Plus, of course, men have screamed “Fucking lesbian” from cars, and other men have catcalled me, while others have aggressively questioned my “manliness” as a display of their insecure machismo.

And in every incident, these provocateurs of homophobia, sexism, racism, and intolerance, were all non-white immigrants. These separate incidents, to me, were us immigrants letting ourselves fall into the stereotype that have been projected unto us by the media – instead of bringing the best of our cultures to this country, we are importing misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia to what has been perceived as the great Utopia of tolerance, equality, and humane social welfare.

Have we forgotten how much we wanted to move here to build a better life for our families and our children? Or are some of us merely second-generation immigrants, who have forgotten the struggles our parents had to face to migrate here? Or is it because the new-aged Swedish values don’t coincide with those we were brought up with, and we’re trying to “right their wrongs”? Or is this loud, extravagant display a desperate attempt to cling on to a culture that we feel is being eroded as we move to a new country?

The mixed cultures that we bring to Sweden do not represent oppression, and neither do they reflect intolerance of any form. Yes, we might have been brought up with completely different values in our families, but that’s hardly an excuse for us to go out on the streets and hurl insensitive remarks at cultures we don’t see eye to eye with.

Mona Sahlin, Swedish politician.

Mona Sahlin, Swedish politician.

The multitude of colours, festivities, expressions, music, dances, cuisines, knowledge, and even spirituality, which immigrants have introduced and can continue to bring to Sweden is a testament to the idea of open borders and global citizenry. Our active participation in socio-economic environments would further affirm that. 

Dear immigrants, let us break the vicious cycle of stereotyping and its confirmation. When we’re invited to someone’s home, do we tell their children off for not shaking the hands of their elders and start rearranging the furniture, saying, “This is how we do it back home”? Or do we bring our best home-cooked dishes and drinks to present to them an amazing, unforgettable evening?

Dear immigrants, no matter what struggles we have faced before, or what adversities we are going through now, let’s continue being proud. We shall let the world know the greatest that our different cultures have to offer, and let us not let the mainstream media dictate what immigrants should be stereotyped as, or worse, feared for. Let’s not give the rightwing another excuse to drive our refugees back to a land of airstrikes and persecutions.

We are here not just to make a better life for ourselves. Let us show everyone in our new countries that we can even make lives better for them. The path to a more loving and united world requires all of us to walk hand-in-hand together, immigrants and natives alike. Let us all open our senses, our minds, and our hearts, to the new lessons that these new lands, and new friends, can bring. So that we can all progress as one single race – the human race. 

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