When Did You Start Feeling "American"?
This article originally appeared in Vocero Latino News.
The question was asked recently in an interactive conversation on twitter hosted by Michelle Martin, host of NPR show “Tell Me More”, on a special called “Becoming American”: When did you start feeling American?
For me there is no special date or anniversary to celebrate of “the day when I felt American”. It’s a process, like being born. You don’t remember the exact day you started to belong to this world.
When I first moved to the U.S. I was 25 years old and had the future ahead of me. With a suitcase filled with just a few changes of clothes, lots of hope and illusions to find my place in the world, I landed in Cleveland, Ohio, 12 years ago.
Of course it was not easy at the beginning adapting to a new language, new culture, different rules, and especially, a totally different kind of weather!
In my opinion, the most difficult time in life to emigrate is as a young adult. As a child, you bring little memories of your homeland and very easily adapt to your new life. As a middle aged or senior person, things are, in general, a little better because most of the time older people emigrate because their kids or family are already here. Although the cultural and language shock is big, older adults don’t feel the pressure to belong and to compete in a new world as young people do.
As young adults, we didn’t have family or friends to rely on, and we had to build our way out blindly with little or no guidance, adapting and developing social acceptance skills.
When my husband and I emigrated in 2002, we brought with us our already formed adult life. Our customs, our morals and ethics were already designed according to the way of life in our motherland. We learned how to adjust in this new society, mixing the best of both worlds. I honestly feel very lucky to be able to pass onto my kids not just the traditions from my country and the language, but also a different perspective of the world, politics, art, music, etc..
It is a very rich experience immigrants are fortunate to live. The problem comes when you allow yourself to be let down with negative comments or uncomfortable stares by those who wrongly mistake a broken accent with lack of intelligence. But that’s just people’s fear of the unknown. However, I am happy to say I have only met a very small number of born Americans that feel threaten by a smart bilingual person. And that’s something you learn how to deal with and move on.
I started feeling American when I thought of Cleveland as home. My life is here, my kids are U.S. Citizens. It would be very hard to adapt to my old life again. I grew up as an adult here. I’m not sure when this happened exactly, but I feel my home is here now.