Am I allowed to relate?

One of the biggest struggles I have had recently surrounding the concept of relatedness is whether I even have the right to relate to something. Is this meant for me? Am I invading a space that was meant for someone other than me?

I feel this way a lot when listening to people’s stories of struggle, especially as pertaining to their immigrant families. As the children of South Asian immigrants, we all come from stories of hardship, feelings of failure, and hopefully eventual success. However, when I think about my family’s transition from India and Bangladesh to a welcoming, quiet community in Canada, I realize that we had so much privilege compared to others. My family did not go through severe mental trauma during the immigration process, even though I know that it was not easy for them. They certainly did not go through physical abuse, and left their homelands because of career prospects rather than being forced to by the government or some other entity.

Therefore, while I feel myself nodding along to the stories of victims of intense immigration trauma, especially those coming from South Asian countries like myself, I can’t help but stop and wonder why I can understand. I didn’t have those experiences and neither did the rest of my family, so are we even allowed to relate? Does our sense of relatedness diminish the trauma experienced by others? Is it a sign of disrespect?

I grapple with this concern by analyzing the feelings rather than the events itself. No matter the situation that led a family to immigrate to America, the same feelings of leaving your familiar land for a foreign on and the tension at raising children in this new land are constant across most immigrant families. In this way, although we cannot relate by events, we are able to relate in the intangible feelings that come with being first generation Americans. Relatability comes from more than just shared experiences; different experiences can yield similar sentiments. In this way, we are able to relate to people who may have led completely different lives, and we are not trampling upon territory that is not ours unless we are pointedly diminishing their own experiences or inserting ourselves into their experience without allowing them to share their own story in the first place.

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