Immigrants help shape America

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

This week my sister and my cousins came to visit me while my husband is deployed.

We spoke Italian at home and during our outings, and many people asked where we came from. Sometimes they were surprised when I answered in fluent English, but we usually moved on to talk about how long I have been living here and what my husband does. Often, when they found out that I was born and raised in Italy, they asked me if I wanted to go back “home.”

I know people are well-intentioned – and in a way, the assumption that Italy is a great place is a compliment to my heritage – so I always politely answered, and explained that it would be great if my husband, who is in the military, were assigned to Italy.

But their question or assumption that this isn’t really my home makes me think about how hard it is to “fit in.” What I really want to say is that the United States is my home, and explain that even though I wasn’t born here, this is where I belong.

Adjusting to living in a new country is always challenging, and I have found that being a military wife adds another dimension to the difficulty of transitioning into life as an American.

There is nothing more American than being part of the U.S. military, but the lifestyle can be demanding, and it requires patience and a willingness to fit into a new culture quickly. Being a military family often takes us to places that might be more authentically “American” than one bargained for. The culture shock is significant – and that’s before a spouse disappears on a deployment.

Implicit questions of patriotism and politics make the transition all the more stressful, and one starts to wonder, Where do I fit in? or,

Am I forgetting my mother tongue if my children refuse to speak anything but English?

What about the ability to convey feelings and emotions through a new language?

Immigration is a complex experience. I was fortunate because I was already living in the United States for several years before I met my husband. But I spoke with some spouses who arrived here without speaking the language and had to learn quickly.

Sometimes bonding with other foreign-born Americans, or those in the process of becoming Americans, helps; other times it doesn’t.

There is no rule set in stone, just each one trying to find his or her own way.

Despite these apparent differences, immigrants share a willingness and desire to work hard for this country.

I believe that the United States was made by immigrants, and that throughout the ages we have carried this tradition. I am also convinced that foreign-born military spouses have a special role, supporting that most “American” of American institutions, the military.

It hasn’t always been easy, but I am proud to say I am an Italian woman, an American citizen and a military wife and hope that other immigrants will continue to work hard, understand differences, find common ground and contribute to this great nation.