verb [ T ]
1) uproot verb [T] (plant) to pull a plant including its roots out of the ground
2) uproot verb [T] (person) to remove a person from their home or usual environment
(From the Cambridge Dictionary)
Uprooted, interrupted, removed, displaced.
As a migrant, these words become familiar feelings.
Migration. A flock of birds flying towards a milder winter. Like us, seeking a tempered life in a different place.
When we move from one country to settle in a potentially better one, the reasons behind this decision are many. We decide to follow a partner, or, perhaps, the family made that decision for us. We seek an adventure and we think it’s only temporary but 1 year becomes 6 and then it’s for life.
Whatever the reason though, we cannot expect to move our body from a place to another, from a country to another and uproot our self-identity as well. That stays within. It’s in the luggage we bring with us, our bag full of dreams, hopes, and sorrows.
We hope to leave behind our pains and worries. But they keep chasing us no matter how many times we try to leave them behind or how far we go. They get a free ride via our body adding to the new unanticipated worries.
In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton explains how sometimes our holiday expectations get disappointed by a reality we couldn’t possibly predict. When migrating, this disappointment has a bitter taste. It takes a toll on our minds.
The quest for a better life, for happiness, is at the core of this journey. So, migrating is not just moving blood and flesh from state to state, but it’s above all transcending invisible barriers (linguistics, religious, financial, etc.) for a superior purpose. We all need a place of safety and refuge; we all need asylum.
What to bring into the new world? What to leave behind? A new identity is formed while living in this limbo as we experiment with new forms of being. Maybe we try to shed our accents or get rid of anything that puts a distinctive label on our faces: migrant. We try new cuisines, new habits, make new friends, explore new landscapes. In this selective process, however, we compromise our roots and lose touch with ourselves. We become more insecure, reserved, distrustful. Suddenly, we are confronted with new dilemmas: “What is home?” and “Where do I belong?”.
Now, we have the home we left behind and the new home we are creating on shifting grounds. The land we’re building on is unstable, shaken by our insecurities, threats, losses. Behind us, there’s grief for cultural bereavement for the past, challenged by the ability to get on with our daily lives. The constant fear of failure, that sense of inadequacy, inability to make long-term plans, triggers a fight-flight response.
Post-migration stress includes culture shock, alienation, and conflict that can lead to depression and anxiety, all symptoms seen in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems (1).
Image: AGNSW COLLECTION Desmond Lazaro The Sea of Untold Stories II 2019
In the past immigrants were forced to assimilate, a process that denies and erases any connection with home.
In our times, integration is more desirable, but this creates a sense of belonging to both “here” and “there”, a dual identity. It’s like living both in the past and present at the same time, while yearning for a better future.
As we’re trying to make sense of this new reality, we understand how important are our self-worth and self-esteem. But so are resilience and grit, because giving up it’s not an option. Because what is the alternative?
How to cope with all of the above? Social support networks, community and connection create a buffer against deteriorating mental health due to post-migration trauma. They enforce our sense of belonging, being accepted and seen for who we are, with our new hybrid identity. But they also make us realise that we’re not the only ones going through this roller-coaster. To use Mohsin Hamid’s words, in the 21st century, we are all migrants (2).
Migration is not a final destination; it’s an incomplete journey that once started, there’s no way to know where is going to take you. But whether you travel solo or chaperoned, you’re not alone in this journey.
As Professional Migrant Women we aim to be that buffer you need to feel more grounded, less of a stranger, more connected. So please reach out!
“Homelands do not need to be rooted in one place. They can be portable.“
The PMW Team