This is a story about finding my voice as an immigrant writer. To write this story, I have to expose my problems with writing. Of course, this is hard because we are not taught to admit our weakness. But when our inner voice wants to write, we have no choice, but to embrace the embarrassment as part of our journey.
One question I have for us is when do we start to expose ourselves? What are our chances to survive when we explore what is hidden in us, or when we don’t? In our journeys, the cultures and the society we live in are the image of us. It is part of our journeys to make sure that we are counted, and help to transform our society in a sustainable and human way.
My inner voice is screaming to be heard in a written format by my brother and sister immigrants, as well as by Americans who have English as their birth-speaking language. Responding to – rather than burying — this inner voice is a struggle, but I am finding that today’s incoherent sentences can be turned into be a full-fledged story, if I keep writing.
Before Katrina, I was in
The good thing was that I had money, and I had full control over my spending. In the French Quarter, there was an element of true ‘democracy’. It had a free market economy functioning well with a little touch of principles: from each according to their satisfaction, and to each according their wildness. In my wild days, I would have jumped into the
When I came to
The image of
At this moment, I want to postpone what we can do as a nation. Instead, I want to focus on why I can not write or speak as native Americans (if there is any nativity!) do.
I was safe when I was studying finance and economics. I really didn’t need to master the English language to be good in economics. What I had to see was how the numbers would play. At school, economics was taught as if it is all about numbers. However I had different problem. My interest was in what the numbers signified. As I saw it, economics was not just about numbers; they affected people’s lives. The more money we have the better chance we have to succeed in a society where money is the driving force of life. As an immigrant I clearly could see that there was economic injustice in the
It was difficult for me to learn about this injustice without becoming involved on a personal, emotional and political level. As I listened to my heart, I came to realize that I had to find a way other than economics to survive, where everyone is counted and valued.
I needed time to evaluate my life. I needed a cleansing period. I needed to develop a new strategy, and I needed to re-learn economics to fit it to my values. I needed to learn new skills, and learning the English language became necessary again. The problem was Languages had not been my favorite subjects in school because I was better in math and economics. English grammar is based on rules and lacks logic, which made it difficult for me to master it. One day, I shared my problem with
So here I am, trying to write this. I can not stand it not knowing how grammar works. I really want to break the cycle, and I also want to break the grammar rules too. I could be wrong but I see that the English language is an inefficient language. I would like to inject new ideas and use fewer articles and prepositions, a strategy that could work for immigrants. To do so, I have decided to study grammar. I have a big library, and it has good reference books. I have audio tapes and CD’s with fancy teaching programs. But I still have a big problem.
In my studies, I have come to recognize the roots of my problem with grammar — I don’t pay attention to the grammar rules when I write or speak because it interferes with my natural flow. It seems to me that my native language is deeply embedded in my identity, and I have noticed this in many immigrants who came to the
When I write in English, there is clash between the mechanics of writing and the emotions of it. That is why I’m writing this piece - to resolve whatever conflicts I have in expressing myself. Ultimately, I want to tell a story of why immigrants are undervalued in American society, and how this can be confronted. I want to affirm that there are many ways to speak and many ways to write. And that having a voice, a style of writing, is what counts.
Let me confess again, this not my first challenge in learning a new subject. Although I was strong in math and economics, I had difficulties when I took Principles of Accounting/Bookkeeping classes in 9th grade, when I was first introduced to the subjects. At times, it was frustrating not knowing what was going on. Once I found what the secret was, and how the balance sheet dances, I came to realize how economics impacts people’s lives. I believe anybody is capable of learning if the resources are available to them.
Speaking of resources, right now, my partner is a native English-speaking woman who can edit my work without taking away my voice. But I still have to do the hard work, the research and the writing itself, which is central to the learning. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend to all immigrants to get married or find yourselves an English-speaking partner in order to edit your work, but it is important to find someone who can work with you.
Imagine, someone like me with an accent and weak in the English language trying to show the gap between the rich and the poor that exists within the system. It was a puzzle to me, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Would it matter if I mastered the English language first before I dived into the basic issues of economics that keep apart the haves and have-nots in the system that I want to live in? There are so many ifs in life, either we are too late or too soon. The truth is, I was busy trying to learn, and I was determined not to repeat what I was preached – learning was an emotional journey for me, falling in love with the new knowledge, and deciding what to embrace and what not to embrace.
In the process, I have found that grammar and culture are intertwined. I find that English grammar is rigid, it doesn’t quite suit me – I agree to disagree with it as long as I make an effort to communicate. My love of reading has been my salvation – I learn grammar as I read.
Now, most of my energy is focused on raising basic economic issues. How wealth is allocated, and what methods should be used to evaluate how well the system is working. I came to recognize the importance of disseminating good economic news, stories of everyday heroes and heroines who are finding ways to live sustainable and humane economic values in their lives.
Back to my writing and not writing. I look at how a story or written material is constructed, and I ask what the author is trying to communicate. Indeed, writing is a craft – it requires an eye to see what has not been seen before; to feel to what has not been felt before – it is a drilling task – it evolves - it tells a story. I’m sinking into the craft of writing, and embracing the challenges – of course, there is no blueprint or guarantee to succeed. But success is relative, I already feel good to move out from my comfort zone, to believe that silence is not golden – I’m speaking in front of groups and I post my writings, and I show my work to anyone who offers to help.
I fully understand what it takes to be a writer in the premise that there is no wasted experience in life. I have survived the fear of failing as an immigrant, like you, who speaks and writes with a touch of Eritrean accent which is rhythmic to someone who is open to diversity — my fellow immigrants, brothers and sisters, I want to hear your voice, and let’s not bury our voice alive.
Germai Medhanie July 20, 2007 at 3:42 pm