It's not a secret to anyone that emigrating, in any shape it takes for you- it's hard. You leave behind what you know, and step into a complete different place that you need to adapt to. Most of us leave behind family and friends, and have to make new connections in this new place we've found ourselves in, or we have chosen. I am not talking about coming to a new country as a refugee, for I've not experienced that, but as an immigrant that did so for purely practical reasons. I can't fathom what it would feel to leave one's country and not being able to go back ever again. I speak of my own experience, because that's all I have to share. I'm no expert on anything but my own feelings, so that's what I'll talk about.
The first few months are equally terrifying and exhilarating, everything is new and beautiful, everything is an adventure. I like to call that "the honeymoon phase", because you see everything with rose colored glasses at first. Everything feels better than your old country on those few weeks. Food tastes better even. You walk around marveling why others can't see how wonderful this new place is, how it suits you so well. But honeymoons have the bad habit of coming to an end.
At some point, after a few months or maybe weeks depending on the person and their circumstances, you start noticing that the veneer of perfection starts peeling at the corners. Maybe those racoons aren't as cute because they ripped your garbage apart and now you have to deal with it. Maybe it's too cold. Maybe there's too many options at the supermarket. Maybe you miss the old you. Whatever it is, the rose colored lens starts to shift from your eyes. Reality starts setting in, and you start realizing that you might not be as ok with moving as you originally thought. You miss your mother's cooking, or you have trouble adapting, or can't find a job. Life has a away of complicating things, but it's making you stronger in the process.
At this point, one has two choices- either you soldier on and try to accept and deal with these new feelings, or you go to the other extreme and let those feelings make you miserable. Some people feel so bad, that they return to their old country at this stage- and if they can't leave, they idolize their country and culture, forgetting the reasons why they emigrated, and only remembering the times they liked. People tend to group together at this stage too, for the familiar feels safer than all the changing chaos around them. Some of us are blessed with people that helps us feel included, that try hard to help us feel at home, some are forced to face all this alone. No one is immune to these feelings. There's a term for it: culture shock.
Culture Shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. It has many stages, and we all go through it. Our attitude can make the difference between successfully adapting to our new situation, or living forever as a stranger in the land, where we alienate ourselves in our comfortable bubbles, and refuse to learn anything from this place, and the people in it. We might feel safer doing so, but we'll never feel at home. To feel at home, you have to step out of your comfort zone. And that is very hard.
No one can make you feel at home. It has to come from inside you. It took me years to feel comfortable here, to walk in this town, look around and feel like I belong. The people here helped a lot with that, that is true- but I had to come to terms with accepting that my differences brought something to them that was valuable, that it's a reciprocal relationship in nature. I have benefited from living here, it has made me resilient and resourceful, and more bold and adventurous. And they have benefited from my nature, and openness, and the culture that it's as much a part of me as my teeth, my hair and the color of my skin.
It's very tempting to set aside one's culture, and adopt the new one without looking back. It seems easier. The problem is, no matter how much I try to fit in, I can only do so to a point. I'll always be Dominican, but I'm also an American in so many ways. Both parts of me are just as important, neither should be suppressed. I've become a new person in this new country, and sometimes that's very difficult to come to terms with. I can't go back to the place I came from, as it has changed in my absence as well. The only road I can take, is the same one so many immigrants before me took- the road of adapting, and working to make a better future for my children and myself. To pursue our happiness in this new place, and make the best of the cards we've been dealt by life.
I've learned in these many years here however, that there's always going to be people that will see me as an outsider, and there's nothing I can do about that. But that shouldn't affect my feelings of belonging. I am a Fargoan, a North Dakotan, an American and a Dominican- all wrapped into one. And I don't care who thinks differently, this is my home as much as it is theirs. Most of us are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants anyway. Colonizers of this wild beautiful land. Let's learn to respect each other's journeys and embrace the notion that diversity of culture, of thought, of experiences- is what has made this country what it is today. I'm just doing my part in making it better for everyone no matter what their culture of origin is, or their language, or their religion, or how long ago their ancestors came here. A place we all can call home, where we all feel like we belong, that our feelings are valid, and that we are valued.
Let's navigate away from the outdated idea that we need to be a melting pot where the flavors get muddled and they lose their intensity, where individual cultures are not allowed to shine, where people need to conform to what the others that came before them want, without sharing the wonders they bring to the table. Let's try to be a fruit salad instead, where all the flavors add something to the others, where the spices and the herbs mix and enhance every fruit without needing to overpower another. Let's bring the best of each of our cultures, and let's make this a place where we all feel at home, no matter where we might have originated from or how we ended up here.
Let's embrace our differences and respect each other, for we have to share this home- and we might as well enjoy it.