The Invisible Brown Immigrant


Contributor: Binita Thapa*

Binita Thapa

This poem has been inspired by my experiences of racism and discrimination in healthcare and nursing education. In the first part of this poem, I portray my experiences of discrimination in healthcare starting from the ambulance’s refusal to take me to the hospital to nurses under recognition of my pain, all due to ongoing appendicitis. I later illustrate an experience of racial discrimination in the form of exclusion as a Masters student in my school. These experiences were pivotal in not only making me realize the racialized world that I was a part of yet I did not acknowledge and recognize for a very long time but was significant in radically changing the trajectory of my thesis from end-of-life care to racism in nursing. These racialized experiences undoubtedly lowered my confidence and belonging, further oppressing me at times but was also a final thread to my unbearable urge to fight for social justice in nursing. I have now healed myself from these racial injuries with the validation, support, and mentorship from many allies and minority nurses. I am also proudly liberated from oppression. However, nursing education and healthcare continue to become a hostile place for racialized nurses and this poetry piece is a starting point of my reflective activism in fighting systemic racial injustices in nursing.

I open my eyes, I see my partner scream at me begging me to wake up
I see myself lying on the kitchen floor
Cannot recall where I was before
His eyes so desperate, his voice shaken, and his soul fragile
Never had I seen him so agile
Ambulance arrives with such an ease
So were the paramedic attendees
He tells me that I cannot be served sounding reserved
My unbearable pain did not matter, not enough to receive attention
I question myself, why am I an exemption?
His disengaged eyes and white skin
Nice racism as it is, nothing less than a brutal sin
Would my pain ever matter?
Will my pain ever be enough?
I could see my shadow and my feet yet I am unnoticeable
I am just a brown immigrant and my superpower is to be invisible

I stand there in front of my nurse in the hospital three feet away
Hoping that he would look at me without delay
He is sharing jokes with his colleagues
As if that is one of his side gigs
I question to myself: why aren’t his jokes funny to me?
Or is it my pain that is more bothersome to me
I bend down to put my hands on my knees
That is all I have to support my unease
I talk to myself inside my head ‘don’t fall’
‘Please can someone give me a medication to relieve this downfall’
I am clearly visible yet unseeable
Proof are these blank stares of disapproval
I could see my shadow and my feet yet I am unnoticeable
I am just a brown immigrant and my superpower is to be invisible

I sit there in a chair in front of my nursing professor
Her evil smirk, I still clearly remember
She proceeds to tell me that I do not belong here in nursing
Her words come out in such ease
As if dehumanizing racialized students was her expertise
All I hear in my soul is how dare that I am ambitious
Making my white professor have this urge to be this malicious
I walk outside her office, trying to make sense of the event that made me so nauseous
I could feel the warmth of my face increasing
As if my body and mind is exploding
The feeling of being unwanted and unwelcomed is suffocating
The proud nurse that I am but this feels humiliating
I could see my shadow and my feet yet I am unnoticeable
I am just a brown immigrant and my superpower is to be invisible

I question to myself ‘why me’?
Why don’t I have the courage to say ‘try me’?
A realization that racism and discrimination will be never-ending
A choice at hand either oppression or liberation
Oppression appears familiar, expected, and feasible
Liberation seems disobedient, challenging, and impossible
I desire love and humanity
I choose liberation and nonconformity
I refuse to be dehumanized by thousand cuts
I refuse to be silenced, asserts my blood and guts
The invisible brown immigrant is now awake
Unwilling to go back to sleep
She fights, persists, and continues to exist
Unaccepting to be dismissed
She now sees her shadow and her feet, and fights to be noticeable
She is now an empowered brown immigrant regardless of white disapproval
And, her superpower is her non-negotiable demand to be visible

About Binita Thapa

My name is Binita Thapa, an immigrant, a daughter of immigrant parents, an internationally educated nurse, and the first university graduate in my family. I completed my Practical Nursing degree from Centennial College followed by BScN from Ryerson University. I am currently a PhD in nursing student at the University of Ottawa. I am deeply passionate about social justice in nursing. As a woman of colour in nursing education and someone who endlessly faces systemic marginalization and racialization in my nursing school, my goal is to continue to have a voice for myself and for other racialized students. My doctoral thesis is focused on developing a post-colonial and anti-racist foundation for graduate nursing curriculum at the University of Ottawa.

5 thoughts on “The Invisible Brown Immigrant

  1. This is very difficult to read and of course almost incomprehensible that people in the healing profession could be so unthinking and cruel. I would very much like to know the specific ways that people behaved–what specifically they said–that made you feel that they were not acknowledging you or your pain..as well as how they came to their assessment that you supposedly were not suited for the nursing profession. All of us need to learn from your place of pain. Thank you.

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  2. Binita’s poem expresses her experience of being harmed by racism. Having to explain what racism is and why it’s important takes an emotional toll on non-white nurses. Taking on the work of educating ourselves and other white nurses is an important step in creating an antiracist nursing world. There are many resources about anti-racism published on the Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing website. I invite you to join “White Nurses – It’s on Us” It’s on us to remove the burden of education from nurses of color about what white nurses do to harm them.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! As a nurse of color, wow I can relate so much to your post (especially in the bedside setting). For me, it’s the feeling of invisibility. When I try to help my fellow nurses in an intense, critical situation, my help is not needed, especially when the “dream team” of nurses are there. When they ask a question related to nursing practice, even if I answer with confidence, my answer is second guessed by them, they will still ask each other the same question, as if my answer was not valid enough. Their solution/answer will be the same as mine, but it must be validated by one of them to be good enough. Do I think they are doing it on purpose? No. On my floor, they come from small, secluded, homogeneous communities growing up. Working on the floor, next to other nurses who do not look like them, or have different interests than them, it’s a shock factor, they are less trusting towards others who look different. But should they work on being more conscientious? Yes.

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