An expat- which is just a nicer word for an immigrant who still retains the passport of her birth country.
‘An expatriate (often shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing, as an immigrant, in a country other than that of their citizenship. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).’
The land of my mother and father.
Where I was born.
There are times, living here in America with a green card, as an immigrant, that I don’t feel that I belong here. I just want to go home. Such a child-like response to a fright.
Many immigrants feel this way. We all carry a sadness within us, almost a feeling of failure that we could not thrive in our own countries, we had to leave to grow.
We are in America trying to fit in, with our green cards clutched in our hot little hands and trying to keep our mouths shut. To look grateful and unthreatening.
To get a green card is a long, arduous and expensive process. It takes years, just the background checks, police checks, etc., took a solid eighteen months for me just to be cleared, then on to the next step. And I come from a country that is not at war so the records are easy to find and they are in English. And don’t forget that the person applying for the permanent residency pays good money every step of the way. This is not a poor mans lark.
I talked to a lady yesterday who was shocked that is was hard to get. Oh, she said, I thought that when you married an American you were automatically an American citizen. She did not mean to be rude she was just interested in whether I was a citizen or not. But no. Not at all. Where on earth did you get that idea from? I asked. Who told you it was easy? You have to apply and beg to be admitted and every expensive step underscores that no-one wants you here at all! Marrying helps though.
Ten years ago, I married John, an American citizen who I have known since I was seventeen, but marrying him did not guarantee residency, not at all, I was put through a series of harrowing interviews and a war of paper and applications and lawyers visits. Two years later I had my green card.
But I still hold a New Zealand passport.
It is the law that I must carry my green card on me at all times as proof that I am allowed to be out on the street in America.
Once approved, the green card only lasts for ten years.
It was easier for me though. I am an English speaking woman from a peaceful country and I have a long accessible paper trail of education and work history and I am married to an American. And we had the money to pay for me to apply for permanent residency. I am not the daughter of an undocumented Mexican woman or a Syrian doctor or a small Muslim girl in school or a young Algerian man with nothing but dreams or an Argentinian rugby player. How much harder is life for these people. The good honest ones – not the ones with bad intent – the ordinary immigrants like me.
So many people are being threatened with deportation now from the place they were born in or desperately want to work in, yet I am only here by chance. It seems all wrong to me. What is the word I am struggling for – guilt? I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I am a happy go lucky immigrant. I am not in America by choice – it is just where my husband lives. I don’t bring important knowledge or skills to this country, I seldom even leave the farm. I feel terrible sadness for the uncertain futures of those people who are not as lucky as I. Yet I feel a tide turning.
These last few days I am struggling with a feeling that I cannot quite put my finger on. I feel … see that? I pause again … if this were a real conversation and you were in the room with me, I have gone quiet and am looking out the window trying to form English words for how I feel. Groping for them. This text has taken almost two hours to write already. My coffee has gone quite cold. I must get back to the fencing but I am not sure how I feel. I need to find the words. Afraid? Sad? I feel out of step, isolated, foreign. I don’t understand anymore. I am confused. I don’t belong.
Every time I go out – EVERYTIME – someone will say “Oh, I love your accent. Where do you come from?.” Everytime it is kindly pointed out that I do not belong here – I come from elsewhere. From a tourist destination no less. My country is a postcard. Why are you here – is the next question. These are very personal questions yet not one person blushes as they ask them or says – do you mind my asking. I am a little pointy triangle sitting in a restaurant booth made for nice round americans.
The moment I speak several heads swivel towards me to listen. A foreigner is in their midst. Where? There. Is she safe? Where does she come from? Why is she here? They tuck their purses closer to their bodies and lower their voices again. And I am blonde and blue eyed.
But now the questions go a step further. It just got worse for us. For the immigrants. That is how I feel anyway.
On Wednesday two people I know reasonably well, asked me if I had voted – no, I cannot vote – I am not an American. “You’re not? Why not? You can’t vote? Aren’t you a citizen? Don’t you want to be an American citizen?”. Looking closer. “Oh, so you have a green card? How long does that last? We are not going to have to send you home are we – ha ha ha. Just joking”
Paraphrased but the same conversation – twice.
No-one has asked me if I was a citizen before, if I was documented.
I am sure they did not mean to be unkind but they have a duty now – to check, you see.
In two years my green card is up for renewal. My next logical step is to apply for citizenship. (Which is not a rubber stamp, this also needs lots of money, and exams and more checks, proof that I still live with John, that I am embedded, no threat, not out of the country too often, etc). But America confuses me now, I am a little afraid.
The atmosphere is changing.
Becoming a citizen is not the right step for me.
But I have a farm and a husband and his family here in the midwest and the farm harbours a number of souls in my care. I have a home here too. And no money to start again elsewhere even if I wanted to.
And all yesterday and all last night and all this morning I was thinking about this. Trying to think my way past these words into how I was feeling about them. And when I went to write my blog this morning before sunrise like I usually do, these words would not get out of my way.
So I waited a while and now I give them to you.