For many immigrants who come to the United States, their first stop is living in a community of people from their home country. Some of the neighborhoods of Chicago still reflect the immigrant roots of the areas: Ukrainian Village, Pilsen, or Hermosa. There are many more neighborhoods built around immigrant communities and they are the natural port of entry for someone when they come to the U.S. It helps with culture shock and it provides a feeling of home, even when a new arrival may feel homesick.
But for some immigrant groups, there is no one to greet them; there is no grocery that sells foods from home or bookstore where one can buy books and videos in their native language. For many immigrants they are one of a few, or sometimes the only one, of their particular ethnic group living in the city, and this can be lonely.
Nigar Turkel is a Uyghur living in Chicago, and she belongs to the few immigrants without a community. The Uyghurs are a Turkic, predominantly Muslim community of around 11 million worldwide. Almost 10 million of them live in China, while the remaining one million are dispersed throughout the world. According to the Joshua Project, a group that tracks smaller ethnic communities, there are only about 1,000 Uyghurs living in the United States.
Turkel is the only Uyghur she knows currently living in Chicago. Although she speaks fluent Chinese and is a Chinese citizen, she does not relate at all to the Chinese community here, that is almost entirely Han Chinese. Furthermore, Turkel does not entirely fit in among other Muslims, with whom she does not share a common language. Ultimately, Turkel is alone in Chicago, the closest Uyghurs she knows of are in St. Louis and Michigan.
However, the lack of a Uyghur community to cushion her transition into American life may have been a positive thing. Turkel integrated into life in the United States fairly quickly, not by choice but because there was no alternative.
She recalled, â€œI want to have someone to share my home food with and talk about some things back home. In the beginning it was really hard, but I had to adapt, I didnâ€™t have a community to lean on; as time goes by you get used to it.â€
Turkel made many friends while attending the University of Illinois â€“ Chicago, where she initially planned to study medicine but ultimately got a masterâ€™s degree in biology. She wants to do work in pharmacology.
But before moving to Chicago in 2008, Turkel lived in Sweden but did not feel comfortable there.
â€œEveryone is the same in Sweden, at least in America, everyone is from somewhere else,â€ Turkel explained.
She feels she has adapted to life in Chicago very quickly. Because of the mixing of cultures, new immigrants do not always need the safety net of an ethnic neighborhood. Although Turkel came to Chicago alone, she is now a part of the city and can help the next Uyghur who decides to move to Chicago.