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Transcendent Kingdom: Immigration and Hospitality

According to the Pew Research Center, there are currently more than 40 million immigrants in the United States, which is about one-fifth of the population of the country. One-fifth of the country has difficulty with finding occupations and lack documentation. Many suffer from mental illness as a result of the impact of immigration. In Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Ghasi, a PhD student named Gifty comes from two immigrant parents. Her father, known as the Chin Chin Man, leaves Gifty and her family to go back to Ghana due to the effects of being an immigrant in the United States. After Gifty’s dad leaves and her brother Nana dies of a heroin overdose, she is left with her mother, who suffers from severe depression. All of these hardships tie into the lack of hospitality the United States has towards immigrants. Not the kind of hospitality that simply invites people over for dinner, but the kind of hospitality displayed in the Bible.


Biblical hospitality involves seeking the needs of others and fulfilling them for God’s glory. In the United States, this kind of hospitality is lacking but essential in order for positive change to happen. Some may say that the United States lacks a sense of hospitality towards immigrants. I agree, and especially after reading Transcendent Kingdom, I can see that more than just a lack of hospitality is negatively impacting U.S. immigrants.

Transcendent Kingdom incorporates the idea of the unwelcoming nature of the United States through the character of the Chin Chin Man. The Chin Chin Man and his wife, Gifty’s parents, leave their homeland of Ghana in order to find a better place to raise their children and find better opportunities in the United States. When talking with his family, the Chin Chin Man states, “America is a difficult place, but look at what we’ve been able to build here” (Gyasi 71). But once they arrive to America and settle in, the Chin Chin Man has a very difficult time finding a job. Gifty’s mother is able to become a home health aide, but finding a job for the Chin Chin Man is a much more difficult task.

According to the novel, “The Chin Chin Man had a harder time finding a job. The home health service had hired him, but too many people complained once they saw him walk in the door” (Gyasi 28). The Chin Chin Man is left without a job and struggled to feed his family. Though Gifty’s mother receives the job of being a home health aide, she has to work for rude and ignorant people. One day while Gifty’s mother is taking care of one of her patients named Mr. Thomas, he yells, “DO. YOU. SPEAK. ENGLISH?” after Gifty’s mother hands him the healthy meal his children paid for. (Gyasi 28). In an article titled “Immigrant Wage Differentials, Ethnicity andOccupational Segregation,” Robert J.R. Elliot investigates earning differences between immigrants and U.S. citizens through comparing the data and statistics of earnings. In his conclusion to his findings he states, “Discrimination by employers based on ethnicity can occur out of prejudice or ignorance about ethnic background but also as a consequence of employers adversely making generalizations on unknown productivity levels at the recruitment stage for culturally heterogeneous groups.”

“Both of these ideas can lead to lower pay for non-whites and job market segregation” (Elliot 645). The direct correlation between immigrants and lower income displays the discrimination held in the United States. Through discrimination we see an absence of any kind of hospitality. In the Book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine D. Pohl expresses her thoughts on what it means to be a Christian with hospitality. In her book she mentions, “In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship” (Pohl 13). In American society, we only accept those who look and act a certain way depending on their skin color, popularity, and other non-essential characteristics. We shut out those who are different, even though hospitality is all about letting everyone have a seat at the table, fulfilling the needs of everyone around us, and accepting others no matter who they are, what they have done, or where they come from. America does a terrible job at displaying hospitality towards immigrants or anyone we deem as being different than us.

Not only is hospitality absent in the economic world, but even within the Church, Gifty and her family are impacted negatively because of their title of being “immigrants.” Gifty and her family grow up in the church, but there are many instances where Gifty and her brother Nana are hurt by the church. On one occasion, Gifty and Nana’s youth leader, named P.T., responds to a hypothetical question saying, that if a tiny village in Africa had never heard the name of Jesus, then they would go to hell. After that Gifty says, “And the part that bothered me most was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that the people P.T. believed deserved Hell were people who looked like Nana and me” (Gyasi 102).

Not only does the youth pastor negatively impact Gifty and Nana, but other people in the congregation are disrespectful and rude to them. Gifty overhears some ladies from the church gossiping about Nana and making terrible accusations and assumptions about Nana behind Gifty and Nana’s back. Gifty overhears those comments, which shows more hurt done by the church. This kind of gossip should not be happening in the place we call the house of the Lord. Having a Church that feels welcoming and accepting is very important to the Christian faith. Since Gifty was not offered acts of hospitality through the Church, she turns to science instead.

Since Gifty’s experience with the Church is so negative, she tries to find unsolved answers through science. Gifty studies neuroscience at Stanford University where she performs different tests on mice to understand what the brain looks like and goes through during addiction and depression. Through these mice labs, Gifty sees for herself how depression and addiction affects the brain. Gifty consumes her life with her lab work. Gifty states, “The reliability, the stability of the work, the impulse to keep plugging, keep trying until I figured a way through, that was the skin of it for me” (Gyasi 272). She is rarely at home because her work is her escape. At home she has to deal with her mom who is suffering from depression, so she decides to put all of her energy into working with the mice.

Since she isn’t welcomed at church and she is always working, she is never able to build any kind of community around her. At work she has another student named Han, and she has a friend named Katherine, but other than that, she does not really reach out to anyone, nor does anyone reach out to her. Even though Han and Katherine are in her life and want to help Gifty, she does not open up about her life and even lies about her family.

In the article “Immigrant Generation, Assimilation, and Adolescent Psychology,” Kathryn Harker examines the correlation between immigration generation adaptation and the psychological well-being of immigrant adolescents. In her studies of immigrant generations, she expresses the process that happens to first- generation immigrants and then the psychological effects of second-generation immigrants. In her article, Harker states, “This model of intergenerational progress has been used since the 1940s to explain changes in the ethnic identification, behavior, and social outcomes of immigrants.”

“According to this model, first-generation immigrants, who are foreign-born and socialized in another country, should rarely be expected to achieve social and economic parity with the native-born population because they must often overcome barriers such as discrimination, a new culture, and a new language. However, the second generation, U.S. born children of immigrants, and the often overlooked 1.5 generation, foreign-born immigrants who migrated to the U.S. while very young, are socialized in American schools and neighborhoods and have been expected to narrow the gap between themselves and the native population in terms of social outcomes” (Harker 970-971). Because of some of the negative outcomes that come with being a parent who is an immigrant, it can cause conflict between parents and their children.

Harker also points out some of the psychological outcomes of children of immigrants. She expresses, “Parent-adolescent conflict has been linked to problem behavior, poor school performance, low self-esteem, and depression among adolescents” (Harker 974). Different conflicts can ensue from parents who want their children to keep their native culture alive. But it can be difficult for children of immigrants to keep a culture they have not lived in.

After an argument between the Chin Chin Man and Gifty’s mother, Gifty expresses her thoughts saying, “It was hard for Nana and me to see America the way our father saw it” (Gyasi 22). The Chin Chin Man was able to experience his homeland of Ghana before coming to America, so he has a completely different perspective of America compared to Gifty, whose childhood occurred in the United States. Though Gifty is suffering the difficulties of being the child of an immigrant, her mother is also taking the toll of being an immigrant.

When Gifty’s mother and the Chin Chin Man decided that the best decision was to leave Ghana, she had to leave everything to move to America. She and the Chin Chin Man are able to build a family and she works, but when things become difficult, Gifty’s mother spirals downhill. When the Chin Chin Man leaves the family to go back to Ghana and her son, Nana, dies from an overdose, Gifty’s mother becomes severely depressed. She moved in with Gifty and was bedridden. Gifty cares for her and tries to get her help but she barely eats or even says a word.

Harker’s article states, “The process of immigration has been viewed as a trauma that negatively affects an individual’s self-esteem, happiness, views regarding the host society, and overall sense of identity” (Harker 971). This idea of losing sense of identity ties in with what Gifty’s mother is facing. Gifty has a moment where she believes that “the woman whom [she] thought of in [her] head as fearsome shrank down to someone I could hardly recognize” (Gyasi 136). Throughout Gifty’s flashbacks about her mother, she explains how she has lost her. Her mother’s identity after suffering from depression is gone. She has lost her identity, and similar to Gifty, she has almost no one to help her and love on her. Gifty is the only person in her mother’s life that cares for her.

Though Gifty and her family do not receive much hospitality while in the United States, there were a few people along the way that help and support them. One example of hospitality shown towards Gifty and her family is Pastor John’s acts of hospitality. Throughout the different hardships that Gifty and her family experience, Pastor John is there to help out. One example of this is after Nana’s death, Gifty goes to church and Pastor John brings Gifty to the altar to get prayed over. The book states, “I knelt down before my pastor as he placed a hand on my forehead, and I felt the pressure of his hand like a beam of light from God himself” (Gyasi 156). Pastor John’s hospitality continually plays out throughout Gifty’s life. When Gifty’s mother goes to rehab to help her with her severe depression, Gifty is able to stay with Pastor John and his family.

Transcendent Kingdom states, “My mother was at UAB for two weeks, so for two weeks I stayed at Pastor John’s house, avoiding him and his wife as best I could” (Gyasi 217). Since Gifty grows up without having a sense of community, she blocks herself from experiencing what community can look like. Another example of this is with Gifty’s friend Katherine. Katherine wants to genuinely get to know Gifty and be on her side, but Gifty is ashamed and does not know how to handle hospitality being given to her. She says, “I knew that my reluctancy to tell them went deeper than my natural inclination toward reticence, deeper than the typical embarrassment of introducing family members to friends. It was that I worked in a lab full of people who would see my mother, see her illness, and understand things about her that the general public never could” (Gyasi 238).

Gifty does not want Han and Katherine to know that her mother is struggling and because they are doing the same experiments as Gifty, they know more about her condition than the average person would. If Han and Katherine knew what all Gifty was going through, they would be able to help, but instead, Gifty stays suffering with a lack of friendship or community to stand beside her.

Though Gifty does not make an effort to befriend Katherine, Katherine displays hospitality towards Gifty even when she does not receive anything in return. She visits Gifty in her office and brings her baked goods. Gifty states that in one instance, “When Katherine came back, I would say, ‘I think my mom really liked the lemon pound cake,’ and the next day, there would be a fresh lemon pound cake in my mailbox, wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons, and so professional looking that I started calling them ‘Kathy’s Cakes’ in my head, capital letters and everything, like she was a one-women bakery. I don’t know how she found the time” (Gyasi 207). Katherine is the perfect example of how we should display hospitality towards others.

Whether they have friends or not, or whether they return the favor or not, it is important to meet the needs of the people around you, no matter who they are. In “The Welcome Year of the Lord” by Dorothy Jean Weaver, Weaver states, “Jesus’ radical and scandalous solidarity with sinners lies at the heart of his ministry” (6). When Jesus was displaying hospitality and the idea of welcome to the people around him, he did not sit with those sitting on the thrones; he sat with those sitting in shackles. He befriended the tax collectors, not the charitable. Katherine could have spent her time and cakes on other people who would be much more grateful, but instead she took the time to check up on Gifty no matter the outcome. As Americans we need to be able to showcase that hospitality to those like Gifty’s family. Especially for immigrants, it is difficult coming to a new place with a new language and a new environment. Moving to a new country that lacks hospitality causes many of the factors that Gifty’s family faces, such as mental illnesses like depression, family conflict that causes the Chin Chin Man to move back to Ghana, and other social dilemmas that cause Nana’s death.

Through the reading of Transcendent Kingdom, it is discovered that there is minimal hospitality towards immigrants in the United States and because of this near absence of hospitality, major negative effects are placed upon immigrants. In the story of Transcendent Kingdom, Gifty’s family goes through major suffering and we only see it from one perspective: Gifty’s. Her father leaving the country, her brother’s death, and her mother’s depression all stem from their experience as an immigrant family in the United States.

As Americans, we need to welcome others with open hands instead of turning our backs. Many other countries are not ideal to live in and millions of immigrants come to America in hopes of finding a better life. But instead, they are unwelcome by those who judge and degrade them just because they were not born in the United States or have different colored skin. Whether we encounter immigrants on a daily basis or not, I believe that it is important to be aware of and welcoming to those who are a part of immigration. Expressing hospitality towards immigrants will lead to a better community and a better way of life.

 

Works Cited

Elliott, Robert J. R., and Joanne K. Lindley. “Immigrant Wage Differentials, Ethnicity and Occupational Segregation.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society), vol. 171, no. 3, [Wiley, Royal Statistical Society], 2008, pp. 645–71.

Harker, Kathryn. “Immigrant Generation, Assimilation, and Adolescent Psychological Well-Being.” Social Forces, vol. 79, no. 3, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 969–1004.

Nancy Foner, et al. “Introduction: Immigration and Changing Identities.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, vol. 4, no. 5, Russell Sage Foundation, 2018, pp. 1–25.

Weaver, Dorothy Jean. “The welcome year of the Lord.” Vol. 3 No. 1 (2002): Hospitality | Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology.

Pohl, Christine D. Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition. W.B. Eerdman’s, 1999.


 

"Transcendent Kingdom: Immigration and Hospitality," written by Maya Engbrecht, was proffesor-nominated as an outstanding FYE piece published in the Spring 2022 edition of The Crossings "Author's on the Rise."

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