Being a White Immigrant

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So, I’m white. I grew up in the US. I speak English. Pretty straight-forward, right?



I’m also a first-generation European immigrant; half-Belgian, half-Portuguese. English is my third language. Most people mispronounce my name; everyone misspells it. I am uncomfortable in white American households because your love of knickknacks confuses me and your food is real fuckin’ weird (chips on casserole??). And I’m frankly appalled by how most of you hold your silverware. But I digress.


A lot of white Americans really don’t “get” me. On the one hand, I’m white, clearly. But on the other, I’m an immigrant… but only when it’s convenient. They’re quick to discount my experiences as an immigrant — I’ve actually tried explaining to a born & raised white American what it’s like to be an immigrant, and she disagreed with me. Okay. I’ve tried explaining to white Americans what it’s like to be around my Belgian grandma when she’s saying racist things about southern Europeans, while me and my Spanish cousin are in the room (it’s shitty). Doesn’t matter though, ‘cause we’re still all white.

But then of course, isn’t it so cool that I’m European?? Oh my god, and that I speak FRENCH? Ha ha ha I’m their “Portuguese” friend!! Not just a regular friend, but a Portuguese one.

And yeah, it is kinda cool. I like my heritage. But you know, I like, barely lived in Europe. I moved here when I was five. Who do I think I am? I’m not European, I’m American, just like middle-class white feminists who grew up in nice suburbs in a 3-bedroom house with a pool and a maid. What does it matter if my family moved here with just $10,000 and two suitcases? And my parents had to seriously hustle to make our American dream come true? That my dad was grossly underpaid at his first job here, because yay cheap foreign labor? That people still make fun of my mom’s accent, which isn’t even that strong?

By the way, the same people who make fun of my mom’s accent are the same kind of white liberal Americans who bend over backwards to “not see color” and who clamor about diversity and immigrant rights. But it’s okay to make fun of my mom, because she’s white, just like they are.


And it goes without saying that all these white liberals really love their French authors, their British TV shows, their 1/16th Italian heritage. How foreign, how enchanting. So different from America!

You know what’s not enchanting? The very real ethnic discrimination amongst Europeans. My mom told me how, growing up, there was a Greek girl at her school. This girl and her family soon moved back to Greece because they faced so much hatred and discrimination. When my Portuguese grandfather lived in France, he could only get a menial job in a grocery store — despite being educated and very smart — precisely because he was Portuguese. Even my own name was influenced by this: my parents gave me a super French first name to help “balance out” my Portuguese last name, which would definitely have caused me problems in Belgium. But you know, we’re all white.


And, to be clear, I’m only addressing white Americans here. I’m addressing the people who all at once include me as “one of them”, exclude me as an ~exotic~ foreigner, and try to erase that ~exoticness~ when it becomes annoying for them. I don’t understand why you can’t understand that my experiences are different from yours, and I still don’t understand why you can’t hold silverware correctly.

tl;dr white ≠ American

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Morgane Santos is a full-stack UX designer in San Francisco who loves hearing people's stories and weaving them into thoughtful designs.

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