I am a first generation immigrant to the U.S. I moved here from India when I was closing in on my 30th birthday. Immigration, even the cushy kind that I was lucky enough to experience, is hard. More than once in those early days I was overwhelmed with homesickness. I heard the siren song of my homeland, of all that was familiar, of the friends I had left behind, and it was all I could do to not pack up my bags and end the adventure. What got me through that initial period of feeling like an alien? The folks here who befriended me and made we welcome, and made me feel that maybe, just maybe, I could belong, and this place with the crazy driving on the wrong side and the light switches that go the wrong way could one day be home.
So, in today’s post, I am going to make the case for befriending an immigrant. And since this is a blog about all things financial, I will appeal to your wallet as well as, I hope, to your heart.
The Power of the Immigrant Network
Some years ago some smart people decided to try connecting our computing devices together, and in a few short years – bam, we had the wondrous and terrifying beast called the Internet. We have unleashed the fearsome and awesome power of networking. But long before we figured out that networks of computers were powerful, we had already discovered that networks of human beings could greatly empower the individuals that belong to those networks.
Where there are immigrants, there will be a network of said immigrants.
Back home he would have been your worst enemy because his Great Grand Uncle said that unforgivable thing about your Great Grand Aunt’s Brother but here, on foreign soil, a bonding occurs.
If Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches had been forced to immigrate, they would have discovered that whether or not they had stars on their bellies or not mattered very little in a strange land. Stronger than the age old insults traded between long lost cousins eight times removed, is the bond forged by the common experience of being alien in a foreign land. Stronger than the divides of caste, creed, language or religion, is the bond of the overwhelming longing that occasionally fills your heart for the sounds, smells and sheer familiarity of home.
This bond manifests itself as a network of support, of services, of advice, and of help. My local network here has helped me find an amazing realtor, the lawyer who has drafted my living trust, a trusted babysitter, my cleaning service, the woman who cuts my hair and also occasionally offers to drop us off to the airport…the list goes on and on. If I need help with something it is virtually guaranteed that my network will yield an excellent, trustworthy recommendation that will provide good value for money. Befriend an immigrant, and you may gain access to a network that will enrich your life.
Indian grocery stores in the Bay Area tend to be cheaper than most supermarket chains, and in my limited experience this is also true of the Chinese and Mexican stores. Befriend an immigrant and let them give you the skinny on the stores that they frequent. Not only will the effect on your grocery bill likely be most beneficial, you will probably also discover all sorts of delicious things that you never even knew existed, or that you previously thought you could only acquire by paying the exorbitant costs charged by restaurants.
A case in point. Mr. BITA loves samosas. He was thrilled when I introduced him to a teensy Indian grocery store that always had cheap samosas for sale at the counter. The samosas were made every day by the store owner’s mother. He brought them to work and sold them for a pittance.
New Forms of Free or Cheap Entertainment
Most immigrant communities will celebrate the holidays and festivals of their homeland. Befriend an immigrant and discover new cheap ways to spend your time and learn about other cultures. For example, I now look forward to fireworks on the Fourth, and dressing up for Halloween, and I’ve brought my American friends to Holi (the festival of colour) celebrations and Diwali (the festival of lights) potlucks, and they have had a ball.
Help with International Travel
Open your heart and home to an immigrant and lower your costs of international travel when they reciprocate. My parents have hosted my friends in Botswana. My sister’s Dutch friends have stayed at our house in India. Even if your new friend does not volunteer a place to stay, they will likely be a font of useful knowledge and help if you ever choose to visit their home country. They can give you insider information and tips, and they can ask their friends or relatives back home to act as a guide for you.
Permission to be Different
Keeping up with the Joneses is a surefire way to ruin all your financial independence plans. While it is easy enough to say “Well, duh! Don’t!”, peer pressure is a real thing. It is not easy to be different, to stand out from the crowd. While some of us are brave enough to stick out like a sore thumb, for a lot of us deviating from the norm is easier said than done.
First generation immigrants tend to be “different” in one way or the other because they are transplanted from a completely different social and cultural environment. One way or another they don’t quite fit in at their new home. So, befriend an immigrant, and let them rub off on you. While you help them blend in, they can help you be different, and give you the courage to stand out a bit from your normal.
I’m Home Now
It has nearly been nine years now, and this feels like home to me. I’m married to an American man, have an American child, and am on the threshold of citizenship myself. Living here has been fantastic in so many ways, and has certainly given my financials a big boost. I vividly remember the early days though, and I cannot emphasize enough how much I was helped by ‘locals’ who took the trouble to make me feel welcome. I hope I’ve inspired some of you today to extend a hand to the immigrants you know. Your wallet will thank you, and your heart will grow three sizes that day.