Kurt Vonnegut said it all when he said, "the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
Vonnegut, who battled loneliness and mental health issues throughout his life, and whose family struggled with similar problems, understood the impact that loneliness and isolation can have on a person. Loneliness does not discriminate; it has been everyone's friend at some point. It is oftentimes the constant companion for many people, including immigrants and refugees whose friends and families are far away.
Many immigrants arrive in the United States to already-established cultural communities; this often helps soften the blow of adjustment to a new home. But this is not a solution and we should not expect it to be the cure to loneliness.
It should be our goal, as people who also experience sadness and isolation and loneliness, to not only provide mental health services for immigrant and refugees to heal from their trauma and understand their grief, but to also help strengthen the communities behind them to relieve their loneliness. To connect them to mental health providers who understand the importance of cultural competency, to make mental health conversations a norm in our own society instead of stigmatizing those who struggle. To lift up all people, regardless of race or country of origin, and let them know that they are not alone.
Loneliness is not inescapable, but community is integral. Only through community, only through each other, can the terrible disease of loneliness be cured.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please refer to our Partners page to find programs that may work for you.
I owe my life in America to chain migration.
Just like countless others, my ancestors came to the United States as immigrants from Ireland in the mid- to late 19th century. They came in waves and settled in Chicago, the hub of industry and immigrants in the Midwest, so that they could build a better life for themselves, their children, their grandchildren, and, eventually, me. And as it so often happens, they came in chains of siblings across the years until their families were established in their new American community.
This is not an unusual genealogical story; ask anyone walking down the street about where their family comes from and they will probably tell you a similar tale. That is what makes America's history so rich- almost every person comes from somewhere else. The traditions and cultures and celebrations that we love were brought here by families seeking opportunities and building communities.
Today's immigrant families are no different. One person comes to America to find a job and save money. Maybe they come to flee violence and persecution in their home country. They find a job and experience American culture (for good or bad) and tell their sibling, mother, cousin to come as well. They rebuild their family and establish themselves. They contribute to society, have children, honor the traditions of their home country, and yearn for those who could not join them in their new country. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is my family's story. And maybe yours, too.
So many of us owe so much to our ancestors who traveled here in search of something better; oftentimes, that "something better" is not what they had in mind. Immigrating may mean opportunity, but it also means leaving so much behind.
Maybe 100 years from now, our descendants will be sharing their genealogical stories, thanking their ancestors and chain migration for their lives in America.