When you are a foreigner, everyone wants to know your story. My accent betrays my stereotypical Latina features and tempts anyone around me to ask where I am from. What am I doing here? Why did I move to Colombia?
I gladly tell them – the cab drivers, the soccer team, the coworkers, the blind dates. I tell them all in my slow, timid Spanish that I was a broadcast journalist in the United States. If we are in a car, I point to the radio, as if my voice was going to magically leak through the speakers, like it used to every morning when I was on air back in Florida. I tell them I quit my job, gave away almost all of my belongings, said goodbye to my friends and family and moved to South America alone because I needed a change and wanted to learn more Spanish.
After my spiel, the receiver of this information always asks the following: So how long are you going to be here? When are you going back?
I hesitate to come up with answers to these well-intentioned questions and my thoughts drift to my father and his siblings.
My father is a foreigner, too. Only he lives in the United States now. He was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and came to Florida to learn English in the mid-80s. I say mid-80s because he can’t quite remember if he moved in 1985 or 1986 – his grand life change a fuzzy memory now. If his transition from living in Venezuela to living in the United States was captured in a photograph, the colors would be faded and the edges would be worn. Years of learning English, running his own business, marrying an American (my mother), having kids, getting divorced, accumulating degrees in the Freemasons, becoming an American citizen and simply living his life within the borders of the United States, blurred what was once a momentous period. To be fair, he became a foreigner 30 years ago. The faded immigration experience that took place three decades ago for him is so blindingly vivid for me. My father can’t remember the year he came to the United States, but I remember the year, the month and the day I set foot in Colombia.
The reason it’s so hard for me to specify how long I plan to live in Colombia is because I’ve seen this movie before. It’s a movie starring my father, who only planned on coming to the United States to learn English. The same goes for my aunt and uncle. None of them planned on staying in the United States, none of them thought they would carve out a life in a country that wasn’t their own. As a child of an immigrant living in a foreign country, my movie is a remake. Different cast, different scenes, but the same plot.
Before I left the United States, I stood in the airport and tried to hold back tears as I said goodbye to my parents. My mother – tall, fair and slender. My father – dark, short and after significant weight loss, slender as well. They both wore smiles that looked pasted on and I imagined behind their stretched lips were gritted teeth. Their eldest (and arguably favorite) child was leaving her home country to move to South America alone in search of change and language fluency. They had seen this movie before, the original.
Being well aware that I am following in my father’s footsteps as an immigrant, I can’t help but think of my own future children. Will they grow up in a country and culture vastly different than their mother’s? Will certain customs like cheek kisses as greetings be second-nature to them, while their mother has to remind herself to lean in, brush cheeks and make a kiss sound? Will they unkindly point out my flaws when I speak Spanish like my brother once did to my father? “That’s not even a word, Dad. Learn to speak English,” my brother once cruelly told him. Will my children only know their maternal grandparents through yearly visits to the United States and Skype sessions?
I know I am getting ahead of myself as I’m prone to do. I don’t have a husband or even a boyfriend, and while I know I would make a great mother, I’m not ready to have kids yet. But as a child of an immigrant now living as an immigrant, I can’t help but think of these scenarios. It’s all just so familiar.