My Immigrant Story

When people meet me for the first time they are surprised to learn that English is my second language. Si es verdad. The fact is, because of the choices my parents made I started high school with the English reading comprehension of a second grader. I still have some resentment and I sometimes struggle to transform it into gratitude. I am aware that the resentment comes from “what if“ thinking. Let’s face it, "what if" thinking rarely helps anyone. 

 What if my parents didn’t move us nine times by the time I was eighteen years old? What if we didn’t go back and forth from the US to Uruguay numerous times growing up? What if I didn’t do third to seventh grade in Uruguay but instead would have stayed in the US throughout my schooling? What if I didn’t go to four different elementary schools in two different countries with two different languages? I suppose I would have had a more stable childhood and adolescence. Perhaps I would’ve felt that I wasn’t always trying to catch up to the level of my peers. 

 I’ve been working on changing my mindset. I must convince myself that the choices my parents made, when I was a child and teen, put me on a path I was meant to walk. I must believe that being bilingual is a blessing. I must believe that the constant relocating, the constant loss of my environment, those things, places, and people I was familiar with, that constant loss had a purpose. I must believe that it prepared me for how transient life is and how sometimes other people determine your life circumstances. 

 The last time my parents brought me to the US was in 1993. I was thirteen years old. My father was already a US citizen and by law he could have made me a US citizen as well. He had until I turned eighteen to make it happen, but he didn’t. So, the responsibility of applying for citizenship fell into my own hands. My brother and sister didn’t have to go through that process since they were both born in the US. 

 Due to my unusual circumstances in my childhood and teen years I've felt that I had to work twice as hard to get half as far. In January 2015 I officially became a US citizen. How fitting that I became a US citizen while living here in New York City. New York City, an experiment to see if all the peoples of the world can coexist in one place. Some folks in southern states might argue that New York City is not the "Real America." I beg to differ. New York City is a city built by Immigrants. America is a nation built by Immigrants. I fully admit that I have harbored feelings of resentment towards the changes my parents put us through but then I think how can Native Americans not resent what the Immigrants did to their way of life? 

 And so, that in a nutshell is not just my immigrant story but all immigrant stories. To be an immigrant means to live with the constant battle between resentment and gratitude. To be resentful for what we've lost or grateful for what we've gained. To put up walls to shut people out, or to build ports to welcome those who bring aspiration, dreams, and the pursuit of happiness. To feel as an outsider while longing to belong, to build a home, a better future. To have the understanding and awareness that we are only Immigrants so long as we maintain borders. Immigrants are not only what we become but due to the current system it is what we create. 

 The immigrant story is one of exploration, of learning new ways and new customs. Of transforming our way of life and reinventing ourselves often at our most vulnerable. It's to face the unknown with determination and faith. The hope that we will summon the generosity in those who have already settled roots. A personal journey made by an individual that comprises us all. At the end of the day, I can't help but feel grateful that such a journey is one I've been made a part of.


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