Culture, Experiences and Opportunities

April 20, 2021

Human beings differ because of our culture, experiences and opportunities.

I have a “life doppelganger.”  Although my friend (we’ll call him “Nicolas”) and I don’t look alike, our early-life circumstances were virtually identical, particularly up to the age of three.

We were both born in Argentina. We were both born into loving families, with two parents who were highly involved and invested.  We each have a brother.  We each had one set of grandparents at birth.  Both families came from similar economic circumstances with similar education levels.

When we were both three years old, Nicolas was brought to the US by his parents.  After living in NYC for a couple of years, his parents moved out to Long Island, buying the only modest home they could afford, in a modest corner of a very affluent and highly-rated school district.  As with many immigrant families, education was highly valued.  So, from a very early age, Nicolas knew he would not only be going to college, but also to graduate school. Like with any child growing up anywhere in the world, there were challenges and struggles to overcome, but, on the whole, Nicolas did well in school and in life. He went on to graduate school and earned a PhD in psychology at age 25.  He went on to have a successful career, working, paying his taxes, and contributing to society.  Nicolas’ is one of many an immigrant stories of success.

But the story isn’t actually his…it’s mine.

Although we started in a very similar place, the real Nicolas’ life diverged from mine at three years old. Nicolas and his family remained in Argentina during a period of time when the country was run by a military junta. During that time, a dissenting voice could make you a “desaparecido” – a political dissident who literally “disappeared” – some of whom were jailed, taken up into planes and thrown out into the ocean without a parachute, or simply and summarily assassinated. When Nicolas went to college, the educational system was so catawampus that by the time he was 25, when he had already been waiting 3 years to take the one, final class he needed as part of his core curriculum to complete his degree, the university decided not to offer that class anymore.  Now, at 50, he is still struggling to make ends meet, because of his experiences and his opportunities, both then and now.

Two people, born into nearly identical circumstances, ending up in such different places because of experience and opportunities?

Yes, but my story doesn’t start with me or my parents; it starts with my great uncle (my paternal grandmother’s brother).  He came to the US in 1960 with nothing and worked as a waiter. He later encouraged my uncle (my father’s brother) to come to the US.  He came in 1965.  My uncle later encouraged my parents to come to the US.  They came in 1970.  My brother and I followed in 1971.  I am the result of what many refer to as “chain immigration,” when one member of an immigrant family establishes him or herself and then brings others into the US. If you or anyone you know is concerned about “only allowing people into the country who *love* this country,” I can’t imagine a greater love of country than for the country that has allowed you and subsequent family members from your country of origin to improve the trajectory your lives.

So it was my great uncle, in 1960, an immigrant from Argentina, coming to the US with nothing, who started a cascade of experiences and opportunities that would alter the course of two generations of immigrants that followed – and allow us all to contribute to the country we now call home.

I was born with a life doppelganger. It was our experiences and opportunities that created the trajectory of our lives…for both of us.

Human beings differ because of our culture, experiences and opportunities.  Still don’t believe me?   Look around you; we are all one human tribe.  We are all life doppelgangers for each other.  We are all born into the world the same way:  vulnerable, yet ready to learn from the world we are born into.  From that moment forward, what we learn and who we become stem from our culture, experiences and opportunities.

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