“The Eternal Stranger”
by Erick Miron
A stranger can be defined as an individual who does not fit the general mold of an environment. Individuals are given this title when the general population is not familiar with the individual in question. In other words, society decides who falls under this label, and who doesn’t. Regardless of whether or not they may feel like they stand out, the label of a “stranger” is determined by the surrounding population.
According to Sara Ahmed and Julia Kristeva, the alienation of a “stranger” comes as a result of the hatred which exists within the majority against those who fall into the minority. Both authors choose to focus on the reality that comes with being an immigrant, specifically in terms of how they transition from being considered a “Foreigner,” to becoming a “Citizen.” Ahmed points out the fact that it is impossible for someone to obtain citizenship without having experienced the marginalization that comes with being a stranger. She states, “We might note here how migrants can become citizens only by being treated first as strangers,” (127). She continues to expand on this idea by taking note of how many immigrants are perceived by the majority of our society, even when they have obtained citizenship and fall under the so-called “majority.” Ahmed focuses on individuals who choose to maintain an attachment to their native culture, explaining that people who hold this attachment are deemed “willful,” especially given the fact that they are expected to “give up” this attachment to their culture. She then elaborates and states, “Anti-immigration discourse thus exercises the figure of the unwilling migrant, or more specifically the migrant who is ‘unwilling to integrate’” (128). Ahmed notes that this is an inconsistency, as it feels that the white majority is never satisfied with the way these people choose to live their lives. In Ahmed’s eyes, these individuals are never able to escape the label of being the stranger.
Julia Kristeva also focuses on the struggle many immigrants face in trying to adjust into a new environment like the U.S. In Strangers to Ourselves, foreigners become so accustomed to the hatred from others to the point where it is the only sentiment they are familiar with when dealing with others. As a result, they tend to internalize this hate and allow it to determine the way they perceive and treat those around them. She states, “He knocks himself in order to assert, to others and to himself, that he is here” (13). In most cases, many of these people leave loved ones behind, and enter a world in which they are alone with little to no support. Kristeva and Ahmed both point out that society chooses to overlook the experience of the immigrant, all the while alienating them and criticizing the way they choose to adapt into their new environment.
Kristeva, Julia. Strangers To Ourselves. Columbia University Press, 1999
Ahmed, Sara. Willful Subjects. Duke University Press, 2014.