Immigration is a hot topic nowadays, with the refugee crisis in Europe, Trump and his infamous wall in the US… so I’d like to share with you some thoughts from my personal point of view as an immigrant. For the record, I’m from southern Spain and I’ve lived for 7+ years in Finland, plus previously 2+ years in France.
As I’m a big fan of the power of stories, I’m going to tell you a couple of tales and then let’s see if we are able to make a connection at the end.
Let’s start going back in time many thousands of years, specifically to the dawn of humankind. Thanks to our encephalization humans were able to surpass our fellow primates in intelligence. We succeeded because we were able to analyse our environment to predict events, to communicate better with our congeners, and to develop technology. All thanks to our superior brain, which evolved for the sake of our survival. This is the key here, that all we are was made to survive. In other words, if we are still here as a species is because we developed the ability to learn from experiences, transmit that knowledge to others, and create something to solve our problems. Like that we moved forward as a society. That’s why for example the octopus hasn’t conquered the world (yet), because they are smart but due to their short lifespan and the lack of a complex language they don’t have time transfer wisdom to their prole. Some other day I will tell you octopus stories from my time as a volunteer at Sea Life…
Coming back to humans, we learn through observation plus the processing of the information collected. Normally one can make an assumption easily when a fact is repeated several times. For example, during those primal human days, when the bushes move, a lion appears. Next time I see a bush moving, my fight-or-flight response triggers, because I have seen this in the past, and I was lucky to survive. It’s this survival mechanism what made Homo sapiens be here nowadays. But there is something very important to notice: evolution is slow, so even when currently there are no more lions around, our designed-for-survival brain still reacts in that manner, observing and generalising to predict events, for our survival. And then telling the conclusions to others to spread the information, but I’ll analyse that in another occasion.
Now we come back to the present time, and move back this time only a couple of decades to the wonderful 90ies when I started playing the trumpet (among other awesome things). I remember very vividly something from those days, a moral that still nowadays resonates within my head.
I played in an orchestra, one of those with wind-only instruments, and in one occasion we had a concert somehow late in the day, and as we were young and full of energy, with some of the guys we wanted to do something before that. I remember the scene but not the details, sorry, but I guess it was a relatively far place because we wanted to wear already the uniforms to avoid coming back home to change clothes before the concert. So we asked permission to the conductor, and his response was something like this: “Well guys, no problem if you do whatever you want before the concert wearing the uniform, but be aware of one really important thing. When you are around wearing a uniform, in that moment you are not you as an individual, but you represent our orchestra. If you do something stupid, people will blame the orchestra, not yourself. So it’s OK if you go around, but your behavior must be exemplary“. And that concept resonated in my mind forever, until now 20 years later.
And after the storytime, we link concepts. Why that wise advice of our conductor? Because he knew that people use their designed-for-survival brain and tend to generalize quickly. For example, if they see anyone with an orchestra uniform drunk, automatically all the members of the orchestra are drunkards. Do you start to see the point?
Likewise, if you are in a nordic city and you see a dark-skin person stealing in a shop, your brain tells you that all the dark-skinned people are thieves. Not because you are racist, but because your brain has worked like that for one million years for survival.
Please note that I’m not saying it’s right to think like that, all I’m saying is that evolution made us to think like that. Even when the world nowadays has nothing to do with the paleolithic.
So what do I do as an immigrant? I picture myself as wearing an uniform. Because when you are out of your country, you represent your origins. If I yell while speaking in public, it’s the spaniards who cannot talk without yelling. If I’m in a shop and I cut the line, it’s the southern europeans who don’t have education and don’t wait. And so on. That’s why I keep an exemplary behaviour, because I am an immigrant. Here I am the dark-haired southern European, from one of the PIGS countries, so whatever I do may stain the reputation of my fellow citizens from warm places with good food and talkative people.
To end the post, and to be sure that I made myself clear, I summarise the take home message that I want to communicate here:
- For natives: if you see an immigrant behaving as an idiot, that guy is an idiot, but not necessarily all of his/her compatriotes. Evolve and stop thinking as a troglodyte!
- For immigrants: don’t behave as an idiot, or the design-for-survival brains of the natives may conclude that all of your kind are idiots. Starting with you!