This is how it feels to be a millennial immigrant in college

‘I get very frustrated that I can’t vote, that’s something that I don’t know if I’ll ever just get used to’

When was the last time you turned on the news and didn’t hear someone discussing immigration? We may get a glimpse as broadcasted on television, shared on Facebook, or told through stories of our own families’ pasts; but very rarely does it affect our everyday lives.

Regardless, America is a country of immigrants, founded upon the ideal that people should be free to live whatever life they yearn to lead. Some of us trace back ancestry here to native civilizations, some to the Mayflower, some to parents who flew in just a few decades ago, and so on. However, others among us know none of that; for they are the traveler, the immigrant, the start of their own history here.

Meet Tanvi Verma, a rising senior at the University of Massachusetts and an immigrant. The Tab spoke with her about her experience as a student attending a college outside her native land. 

What has your journey been like as a young immigrant in America?

Because I immigrated when I was really young, a lot of the nuances of being an immigrant feel very routine to me. My family actually moved around a lot when I was younger and even more before I was born, so it kind of feels a little bit frustrating that we never really put roots down somewhere until far after everyone else my age had been able to. But that’s also something that I just take for granted now, and it doesn’t bother me like it used to.

I mean— I can’t imagine having a real history in a place, if that makes sense. Like, when people tell me, “Oh this house or this… rocking horse or something has been in our family for generations”, I think that’s really weird. I don’t think anything has been in my family for generations, we’ve all had to move and adapt and change too much to really hold onto anything besides some old jewelry and photo albums. I don’t know if that sounds sad, but I think it would really freak me out if I saw like a bunch of notches on my bedroom wall of whatever height I was at the age of two, eight, 14, whatever. That stuff isn’t significant to me at all and I can’t imagine a version of myself where it would be.

Where have you moved from and have there been a lot of changes up until this point in your life?

I moved from Canada to the US when I was around four, but my parents moved to Canada from India. Everyone always assumes that I immigrated from India, too. I don’t know if that’s something that I have a right to find annoying, but I sort of do find it annoying. I mean— I get why people think that, obviously. It’s just a clarification that I realize I’ve had to make time and time again, and I would love for people to just not assume where I’m from based on my name and skin color. But that’s not going to happen. And if that’s the biggest issue I’m encountering, I guess I’m doing fine.

Why did your family decide to move to America?

I wasn’t born at this point but they probably moved because they wanted to be successful and people just associate America with success.

What do you find the most difficult about this experience?

I get very frustrated that I can’t vote, that’s something that I don’t know if I’ll ever just get used to. I feel like immigration issues are talked about so often in politics, and it’s the voices of the immigrants themselves that are totally ignored in the voting process.

Have you ever faced specific obstacles or anti-immigrant attitudes in America that were difficult to overcome? And if so, how did you deal with that?

I am constantly amazed by the anti-immigrant attitudes of people who are literally immigrants themselves, or whose parents are immigrants. Like, casual racism towards your own race and a weird sense of superiority towards your peers who speak English slightly differently than you do is not helping anyone. It’s just so counterproductive. Before we talk about anyone else’s attitudes towards immigrants and their issues, I think the matter of immigrant communities not showing up for other immigrant communities, and immigrants not showing up for members of their own community, needs a little bit of work. I really don’t think we’re going to get anywhere until then, and I don’t know how we can call out non-immigrants on their problematic behaviors until that gets fixed.

Have there been any specific instances of racism or anti-immigrant sentiment that have affected you personally?

Honestly living in suburban Massachusetts has allowed me to live without having to experience anything near the level of racism that people are constantly dealing with in other parts of the country. The racism that I’ve experienced, frustrating as it is, has rarely made me feel as though I had no one on my side or as though I was in danger, and for that I actually feel incredibly privileged. The racism I personally encounter comes to me in the form of snide comments and micro aggressions which I could detail, but I truly think it would distract from communities that need the spotlight at a time like this in America. While I am not trying to minimize the issues facing my own community, and I think the people around me do have quite a ways to go in terms of how they address our community, I really think we need to do what we can to show up for the people who are in dire need of our attention.

How do you think this experience has shaped you as a college student, as well as a person in general?

I mean I don’t qualify for really any financial aid. And I couldn’t legally work for a very long time. So that sucks, and is shaping me into a poorer person.

What advice would you give to young girls in your position or those newly entering college?

Yeah, stop throwing your mom under the bus because she’s protective of you and has questions. She wasn’t raised like your friends’ parents were raised. I’m still learning this too.

Do you have anything to stress to people who may not be familiar with the immigrant experience, that they may otherwise not know?

You just really qualify for a lot less in terms of finances and voting and a lot of other things that people just take for granted. I couldn’t legally drive or work for a really long time.

UMass Amherst