What Are Your Superpowers?

Being an immigrant, even one as pampered as I was, isn’t easy.

I did not flee persecution. I did not run in the dead of the night, leaving behind my material possessions. I did not fear for my life. I did not have to board an overcrowded boat, and pray that I would survive the night. I already knew the language. I already had a job lined up. The internet was already a thing when I moved here, and I could instantaneously exchange emails with folks back home and not have to drop mucho dinero on international calls just to hear a familiar, much loved voice. Despite all these advantages, it was, and sometimes still is, not easy being an immigrant. You feel like an alien in a foreign land and, aside from the practical aspects of adjusting to a new country and lifestyle, there is the continuous ache of everything being unfamiliar and different that takes a very long time to fade away.

It is all too easy to focus on all the disadvantages of your situation as compared to your non-immigrant pals.

 

You have work permits and visa renewals to worry about and spend money on. You are subject to arbitrary visa lottery rules. If you get unlucky, you might be shipped home. You start contributing to your 401k much later than your peers (I was 30 when I got started). It is hard to imagine a future when you aren’t even sure which country will eventually end up being your home. You can’t merrily hop from job to job getting large raises every time you jump; switching jobs while on a work permit is much tougher. You can’t change your mind about what you want to work on, not unless you want to go directly home without passing Go or collecting $200; you were granted your skilled visa for a specific job and it is just too bad if in the decade or so that you are waiting in line for your permanent residence permit your interests happen to change. All your close relatives live half a world away and you have to spend large amounts of vacation time and money to visit family, with not much of either left over to explore the world. You worry constantly about aging parents ten thousand miles away from you. You may have to deal with tax situations spanning two countries, and figure out how to transfer money across international borders. The list goes on and on and on.

 

Stop.

 

Instead of wallowing like a little piggy in your pool of self pity, focus instead on the incredible advantages of being an immigrant.

Growing up in a third world country as I did bestowed upon me a metric ass tonne of advantages. I am who I am because of it, not despite it. And who am I? For the most part, I am an ordinary, average person. But I have secret powers. My background is like a radioactive spider that bit me in the ass and bestowed upon me certain superpowers.

 

I Can Kindly Adjust

 

It is an Indian Thing. We are pros at Kindly Adjusting. When you live cheek by jowl with millions of other people, and resources are scarce, you learn to Kindly Adjust to grease the wheels of daily life.

Don’t have a reserved seat on a train, but you really need to get somewhere? Get on anyway, sit at the end of someone else’s reserved berth and ask them to Kindly Adjust.

Elevator full? No, not really. Everyone will Kindly Adjust so that their curves are fitting into each other like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle and we will get you and and your giant bag into the elevator too, no problem.

The government thinks that there is space enough here for two cars to park? Well, the lines they draw are clearly just meant to be guidelines. If you Kindly Adjust your car just so, we can park three motorbikes comfortably along with the two cars.

Years of making such kind adjustments, of rubbing up constantly against the life, dreams and aspirations of your fellow citizens breeds an ability to be flexible about life. Making the small adjustments and compromises that make life easier become second nature. You learn to bend like a motherfucking weed when the wind of life blows too strong. Others may break, but you will bend, spring right back up and keep on going, stronger than ever.

immigrant superpowers

 

My Immune System is a Badass Motherfucker

My immune system spent years fighting off a barrage of mean third world germs. Those germs meant business and fought dirty. They were not above brass knuckles and ball kicking. In this relatively sterilized first world environment, when my immune system is faced with a meek, polite first world germ, it laughs maniacally and promptly stomps it dead. When flu season rolls around and knocks Mr. BITA (despite his flu shots) right on his ass, I breeze through my days stubbornly healthy. When our toddler brings back little bags of germs from the cesspool that is toddler daycare, again it is Mr. BITA who succumbs, while I remain annoyingly in the pink of health.

 

My Worst is Worse Than Your Worst

When I lived in Bangalore, India, I resided about 4 miles from my place of work. More often than not my commute took about an hour. Each way. And this is with folks honking almost constantly, motorbikes and autorickshaws cutting me off all the time, pedestrians leaping into the path of traffic willy-nilly. I now reside in the Bay Area, known for its terrible traffic. Well, I’ll tell you this – the Bay Area has nothing on Bangalore. I now reside about 15 miles from work and my commute takes about 45 minutes, all the while moving along slowly in orderly traffic with nobody honking. Compared to what I was used to, this is a dream commute.

Here is another example.

When I moved to San Francisco I used the Caltrain to commute to my place of work in the Bay Area. I asked a coworker who lived in the city already how crowded the train got during rush hour. “Oh very crowded”, he said, “It can get quite hard”. So on the day of my first journey I woke up extra early so that I could get to the station and find a good position for myself, elbows akimbo, stomach muscles tight and ready, adrenaline flowing, ready to jostle and wrestle my way on to the train. Imagine my shock when I discovered that a crowded train meant that after the first two stops every seat was taken and there were maybe five people standing in the aisle. In India, this is what a crowded train looks like:

Photo credit: globalgallivanting.com

More often than not the worst case scenarios of my upbringing are far worse than the worst case scenarios of my adopted home. And so I am able to deal with the worst case here with aplomb and grace, and thus appear to be much more badass than I actually am.

 

My Expectations are Low

When we first started house shopping here, Mr. BITA and I would enter a prospective house and have the following reactions:

Mr. BITA: “Eh, this is kind of cramped.” or “The backyard is really small”.
Me: “This is humongous. Are we royalty? Why are we looking at this palace? What are we ever going to do with so much space?”

And then we would both proceed to look at the other like they were crazy.

My background of less is a big advantage. I perceive things that are considered ordinary or even sub-par here as luxurious. My first car purchase after I moved here was a Honda Civic. I remember proudly sending a picture of the car to my father who had long lusted after that car but not been able to afford it; 10-15 years ago in India a Honda Civic was a luxury vehicle that only the rich could afford.

Where I come from gives me the superpower of acquiring a thing most ordinary and feeling like I’ve won the goddamn lottery.

Give Past You Mad Respect

Turn around for a moment and face Past You. Focus on all the experiences Past You has endured and survived that make Now You a badass motherfucker, a force to contend with. The next time you feel yourself about to bemoan your humble origins and lack of advantages, stop and take stock of your superpowers instead. And give Past You the mad respect you deserve.

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23 thoughts on “What Are Your Superpowers?”

  1. Haha, “the cesspool that is toddler daycare”. 🙂 We’ve had friends that seem to contract everything you could think of tfrom their kids and while we’ve had a round or two with some bugs brought home from daycare, usually, they’re just a little upsetting background noise in our systems rather than a knockdown all out sickness.

    It’s all relative, and I like the perspective of “past you is a badass”. Yes, while past me made some poor choices and generally made life harder on myself, I wouldn’t trade a lot of those experiences for anything. Some I’d be glad to have never gone through, but they still made me who I am today.

    Great post!

    1. Ironically in the days between when I wrote the post and Mr. BITA reviewed it for publication, I caught a *mild* case of a sore throat from Toddler BITA. Mr. BITA made a lot of fun of me.

      Yep – while past me has often been a dumbass, she has also made me me, so I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I wouldn’t mine going back in a time machine though and giving her a quick smack upside the head a few times.

  2. OMG I choked on my coffee at the dandelion meme. 🙂 I love your immigrant superpowers! There’s a real advantage to growing up in a different environment and applying it in a new place.

    1. Getting my readers to choke and shoot liquids out of their nose is always immensely satisfying : )

  3. Technically, the radioactive spider never bite Peter Parker in the ass. 🙂 I love your immigrant superpowers! I think we need a big screen version of it.

    1. Who said anything about Peter Parker : )?

      I wonder who I’d have play me. And I hope they don’t make me wear my underwear outside. Or a pointy bra. Both of those would really make me a Sad Panda.

  4. Girl that train is out of control!! I love how you can take your perspective and make it shine. You would think after all my years on a plane I would have a bad add immune system but for some reason my ph balance is always off! 😉 We talked about super powers this weekend and I decided mine was to smile while holding back the urge to curse and shake people to death. Not a marketable power but it has served me nonetheless!

    1. Enclosed cabins on long haul flights certainly give daycares a run for their germy money.

      That is a valuable superpower you have there. It would be nice if I could borrow it sometime.

  5. I read somewhere that “immigrants are the ultimate risk takers.” I don’t disagree.

    I was born here, but my parents were uneducated immigrants who worked in factories. They never really assimilated, so I’ve always been kinda stuck in between two cultures.

    I can relate to the low expectations and the ability to adjust. When I went to college, I remember this girl in my dorm saying how unhappy she was at our school, and how she wanted to transfer. This struck me as super ungrateful! It never occurred to me that you could transfer schools just because you didn’t like it. I thought the school you picked was the one you completed. I always felt like I could have gone to any college and adjust my way to ending up alright. I also was never too much of a snob to stay in the shittiest apartments, because I never felt entitled to living in a luxury apartment by myself.

    Going back to the risk taking, I find that I’m not really scared of trying new things. Like moving to a place where I don’t know anyone. Or travelling alone. Or at work, just pressing a bunch of buttons and seeing what happens. When you don’t come from much, it feels like you’ve got nothing to lose. In this way, I feel kind of sorry for people who’ve had it pretty lush growing up. It’s hard when you get out of school and expect the same lifestyle of vacations, activities and fancy meals your parents provided. For me, there was none of that, so spending money to maintain a lifestyle wasn’t really a thing.

    1. Immigrants like your parents (or Revanche’s) are the true badasses. They immigrated under extremely tough conditions – not like me, who came here with a job squared away that was going to pay me 6 figures. What you say about the option of transferring not occurring to you sounds so familiar to me. When you grow up with options and choices being rarer than Loch Ness monster sightings, then when faced with a difficult situation your first reaction to not to ask for another option, but to try and adjust till the current option fits better.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  6. I promise to reconsider my view of a crowded train…
    That being said, I have a few times per year (when there is a strike, serious accident) that I need to let go a train or 2. We simply do not consider moving on top… Maybe an idea for a new super power.

  7. I am second generation, born here, but imbibed the stories of Home with my mother’s milk so I know how amazing it is to turn a tap and having cold OR hot water coming out of it, to have an actual toilet to sit on AND flush. I have the ability to expect the best out of modern amenities (hello, not having lead in the water) and also be utterly amazed by the sheer awesomeness of not living in 3rd world poverty.

    Or to be able to get dressed in the privacy of my own home where I don’t share the bedroom with my entire family and every other bedroom houses another family? Or to get in my own car that I own, myself, and not have to share a car with four other families with only one person who knows how to drive? That’s the life that my parents lived when they first arrived here, and though I don’t remember it as a personal experience, I can appreciate what a huge contrast it is between our lives when I was born and what it is now. Plus visiting a third world country as a youngun helped cement the impression that I appreciate beyond words the choices that we have here.

    Also I’m pretty amazing at organizing money whether I am flush or not. Though I much much prefer flush, I don’t lose my head when we’re not.

    1. You get it! Your parents had the “true” immigrant experience. I feel a bit of a fake – I really had it cushy compared to the hard core immigrants of a generation ago. I understand that feeling of wonder though. I didn’t have it quite as tough back home as your parents did, and I definitely had a softer landing here, and yet, nearly 9 years on, I am still filled with wonder at so many things most folks here just take for granted. I hope I never lose that feeling, it does wonders for my day-to-day levels of gratitude.

  8. I always love your posts on perspective. That story of the Civic… whoa that is a good one. May have brought a tear or two… I’m like your hubby, a soft American rose myself, but I’m so grateful I got to live in Santiago for three years so I could get a small taste of real overcrowded trains (although they got nothing on India. That is seriously crazy!).

    1. While I certainly derive much amusement from having Mr. BITA being referred to as a soft American rose, that isn’t really a fair characterization of him, and neither is it of you, I’m sure. We all (ok, not all, but most of us) have superpowers, we just derive them from different sources. Mine happen to come from being an immigrant – I bet there is something in your background that gives you superpowers that I would be envious of. How nice that you got to experience Santiago for three whole years – am I remembering right that you folks are planning to head back there once your Stash reaches your magic number?

  9. Awesome post!!! This reminds me of something that Tupac said “Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”

    Seems like a lot more of us should bend and adjust to our circumstances than bemoaning everything that comes our way. Thanks for sharing!!!

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