By Leah Abraham | Twitter: @leahabraham9
Dear 13-year-old Leah,
High school is hard, isn’t it? As a freshman in high school, you are more worried about relating to your peers and your changing body than your grades.
Of course you would be. It’s not easy moving from India to America at 13. You’re trying to figure out the simple things, like navigating the grocery store and figuring out how to order coffee from Starbucks. All you want to do is fit in, belong, and not feel so lonely anymore.
But you’ll manage. You’ll figure it out piece by piece. All immigrants do eventually. You won’t call yourself an immigrant for a few years, and you won’t have the time or energy to contemplate the complex race issues of this country just yet. But you will soon.
Right now, you’re learning how to change your accent. Oh yes, it’s hard work. You’re rewiring your brain completely. You’re carefully considering each syllable before it leaves your tongue. You stand in front of the mirror, practicing your speech over and over and over and over again until you can’t remember how to pronounce “February.”
You’re exhausted and embarrassed. But don’t worry. By this time next year, no one will know that you are an immigrant. No one will know your “dirty little secret.” You’ll mask your loneliness with a newfound accent, and you’ll manage to get through high school in one piece.
You just want to fit in. You want to belong, to be loved and to be accepted.
Oh, love, there is no shame in that. You’ll still crave those things years later.
And here’s the thing — in about ten years, you’ll think about the cost of giving up your Indian accent. Remember the concept of leaving home to find home? You’ll start wondering if it’s the same with your accent.
You’ll wonder if by giving up your accent, you were really trying to give up on your people, your heritage, and a part of yourself that you were too young to love.
One day, you’ll wonder if you’ve alienated yourself from other immigrants, people you consider your people.
You see, the current administration isn’t the best. These days, the word “immigrant” bears a new connotation, one that divides and segregates and alienates, and you’ll wonder how much you’re still allowed to call yourself an immigrant.
You’ll have friends who wake up each morning, shaking in fear of being deported. You’ll have friends who feel forced to “act white” and suppress their heritage and culture. You’ll have friends who struggle with racial justice. Heck, you’ll struggle with racial justice.
You’ll be afraid to ask questions that might be “stupid” or “insensitive,” but you’ll do your best to ask them anyway, because you cannot stand the new administration and the hurt it is causing.
You’ll remember your friends who are hurting, your community who’s struggling, and your people who you’ve learned to love over the past decade.
You’ll remember their stories–especially the ones about families emptying their pockets and selling their dreams so they could build a better world for their kids.
You will refuse to look away because you want to be their hope in these dark days.
It always comes down to hope, doesn’t it? Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for freedom. Hope for belonging and life.
You hoped to be loved and accepted when you lost your accent. When you’re 23, you’ll grieve that loss and hope to forgive yourself one day.
Hey, 13-year-old Leah, practice radical hope. Practice it, not only for yourself, but also for the people you are about to meet. Practice it for the immigrants who hustle daily. Practice it for your friends who fear deportation. Practice it for those who struggle with racial justice. Practice it for those who tire under the new administration.
Practice it until you remember that you don’t have to change yourself to be loved, to be seen or to belong. You are loved, seen and invited to belong just as you are.
You don’t have to change yourself to be loved, to be seen or to belong. @leahabraham9
Leah is a storyteller + writer + journalist + creative + empathizing romantic + pessimistic realist + ISFP + Enneagram type 2 + much more. She lives in the Seattle area where she works as an education reporter and features writer. Bonus facts: She loves the great indoors, hates to floss, and is obsessed with Korean food and her dorky, immigrant family.
Read more of Leah’s writings at SheLoves.
New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).
During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.