How it Feels to Be a Foreigner in a Strange Land
How have I felt? I am not just divided by my nationality; I am divided by my language. This presents an even greater isolation even though I speak their language.
People look at me.
It doesn’t matter if I’m doing even the most remedial things, there is always someone STARING. It is so uncomfortable; it makes me afraid to leave my house. Like I can’t even go to the tienda to buy a juice without attracting too much attention. I just want to be able to come and go as I please without anyone caring or paying attention. Why do they feel a need to look at a white person with an accent drink a Gatorade? Can I not swallow too? Can I not chew as well? Talk and walk and laugh and brush my hair aside like any other human being on the planet?
I feel like an alien.
The oh-so-discriminatory-word used in US immigration law. But then it completely describes how an immigrant feels; alienated.
And then it is worse, my immigration status is in process. People already think I don’t belong, treat me like I don’t belong, and then smugly stare because they know without my papers, it is true.
I cannot find a job without papers. The only ones available are creepy dance club /bar jobs or teaching English without a title or skill because everyone seems to think that if you speak a language, you must be able to teach it as well.
How do I feel in this strange land? I feel alone. I feel insecure. I feel anxious.
I cannot even speak my own language; one of the very few things that brings me a sense of calm, but I don’t dare speak it in public. People already have their presupposed ideas about me just based on my skin and hair color.
What do they think? They think I am here on vacation. I am a tourist. I have LOTS of money. I am just here to go on trips they could never dream of going on. I know nothing about their culture or language. I don’t need to work. I have servants back home. And I have blue eyes, even if they are staring and can see they are brown. For some reason, all gringos, every last one of them, have green or blue eyes.
What do I miss?
More than anything? I miss doing things that make me who I am. I miss drinking tea and reading books. I miss dancing and listening to endless hours of new music. I miss long conversations about life and the world and injustice.
I cannot do those things here. I feel as though I have lost a part of me.
Even with permanent residence, this will NEVER be my home. I will never fit in. People will never accept me as one of them. I have to come to terms with that.
When I first came, I thought that maybe if I tanned my skin, dyed my hair, and worked on my accent, I could be one of them. But I have since learned the vanity of that goal, and I have also learned that I don’t want to be “one of them”. I want to be me. I want to be honest about who I am, the nation that formed me, what language I express my creativity in. I have come to realize that I am proud of where I come from and I don’t want to lose myself fitting in just so others stop the staring.
But I wish that didn’t mean I had to live with the staring.
I am still afraid to leave the house by myself.
I do not know if that fear or anxiety or whatever mixture of the two will ever end. I am not comfortable here. I know the culture. I know the customs. I know how to speak the language. I even know the history, even more than many here know. But I will never fit in. And this will never be my home.
And then I think of home. How I ache and yearn for the simple things my body and mind have grown accustomed to through years and years of formation. Things as simple as a soup and sandwich for lunch. Peanut butter on toast. Going for a walk outside. Taking a shower in a bathtub. The sound of the coffeepot dripping in the morning. Doing laundry at the laundry mat. Washing dishes at the kitchen sink. Walking on carpeted floors. Drinking tap water.
But I know that even when I go back and swing back into the rhythm of old customs, I will never feel the same. It is my home, but I have changed.
I can no longer look past the gluttony of people. I can no longer take for granted what we are all assigned in a basic apartment: stove, refrigerator, flushable toilet, bathtub, bathroom and kitchen sinks, running water, and heating and cooling. I cannot tolerate the waste or the surface level friendships. I cannot excuse the greed and the egocentrism. I cannot even go back to religion for comfort as I used to.
The world is so big and I have seen so much; I see much more than I could have possibly seen before. I have questions that cannot be answered by any one person; I know that the answer changes depending on the persons’ exposure to the world around them. There are less absolutes in my world now. My world is bendy and slippery now and I cannot stay in one place long enough to gather my thoughts before I am slipping into another area I am not so sure about anymore.
How do I feel?
I feel lost. But I also feel a new strength, joined with a more humble feeling of weakness and powerlessness than I have felt before, but also a new sense of hope and faith that I could not reach when I lived in a small, straight-edged world I couldn’t get beyond. I cannot define exactly what this new strength is; it is an awareness of something, but I am too weak to be able to do anything with it yet. And this new plane of hope and faith still befuddles me because I don’t see where it comes into play. But inside of this new hope and faith is where I am quietly guarding this new strength. I don’t know when or how, but I have faith that it will find itself out of the cracks and merge into something powerful and cognizant when the time comes.
I ache for home, but home is no longer a place. Even in the place that formed me, I will never feel the comfort I once felt. When I left, a void took my place and when I come back, I will not be able to entirely fill it because I am no longer the old self the void knows. I am a new self and the void will not mistake me for who I was. I will fill part of it, the part of me that will always be me, but there will be a fissure that prevents the void from filling and being replaced by the old me again. The fissure of the new me. The part that knows that my home is not my home anymore. That I, the dweller of the home, am not the same dweller. I don’t completely belong in my home anymore. But I belong even less outside of it.
I don’t belong neither here nor there. And they know. The void knows. I know.
I think maybe part of this new strength I am guarding will be cultivated to give me el aguante to endure the ache until at last the fissure is replaced with a bridge that takes me to a new kind of home. One that greets me with a “Welcome home, we have been waiting.”