Rabia Cheema and Gregory Wilkinson, Religion Department
After moving to the United States and especially in a culture like BYU, I wanted to share my experiences as an immigrant. Through this paper, I wanted to open up about the struggles that I believe that almost every immigrant in the United States goes through. To add on to those struggles, being in a place like Utah which is Mormon dominated, it becomes extremely hard to retain your own identity. I have seen myself losing my identity just to fit in the culture of BYU. Just to feel accepted here, I changed myself a whole lot which now I have realized was not a right thing to do. I have divided this paper into three parts. First of all I will talk about my religious journey, then cultural and then political journey. My goal was to help people be more empathetic towards immigrants.
The data gathered for this scholarly activity was to contribute to an autobiographical piece and to collect oral histories of individuals who contributed their stories that were similar to my own story. The purpose of the study was to tell a story unique to each person’s experience without the intent to generalize those experiences. My project offers a small set of oral histories that I have conducted with immigrants from India. I selected individuals who have been in at BYU for over 5 years. I interviewed students and professors. It was important to me, however, that the chosen individuals were able to tell their own story rather than be guided by the category they belonged to. Therefore, the interview was conducted mostly with open-ended statements (Tell me about….) rather than direct questions.
The individuals who were interviewed did share the same stories and experiences. The alienation and assimilation was felt by every immigrant who was interviewed. Beginning with their memories of coming to BYU as a freshmen and getting a culture shock was the first thing they all told me about. Coming from a country which is very diverse, where no one asks you about your religion and everyone resides like a family regardless of one’s religion and then having people trying to convert them after coming to BYU was a common statement. They all said that they felt alienated when it came to their neighbors. No one invites an immigrant to their gatherings. On the other hand, in their culture, they all go to each other’s weddings, festivals regardless of which religious identity. An individual was recalling going to a Muslim wedding in Canada. He said that there were Hindus and Sikhs at the wedding. They never asked about anyone’s religion and they all enjoyed the wedding together because at the end of the day we all are humans. Religion does not matter.
These experiences reveal certain things that we all tend to ignore. Especially in a culture like BYU, we all need to be more welcoming and open to other faiths. There is truth in every religion. We cannot entirely deny that truth. When it comes to people who have never seen anyone being alienated in their own country on the basis of their religious identity, and then the same individuals experiencing alienation after coming to a country which is considered the biggest power of the world, it is very shocking. By being more accepting, we can all help in getting rid of this alienation that each immigrant faces.
We found that there is a religious journey that every immigrant in Utah goes through. They come from a region which is very diverse and they get a culture shock after moving to an environment like BYU which is not very diverse. The cultures of India and especially Utah are very different. The immigration laws are very different as well and the immigrants face a lot of trials. We all need to be more accepting and welcome immigrants to Utah. We all are children or creation of one God at the end of the day.