One Afternoon I Left (Una Tarde Me Fui)
My immigration story is not full of suffering or tragedy. My immigration story does not involve Visa problems because as a Puerto Rican I am an American citizen. My immigration story, however, involves the sadness, and the political and cultural clashes one would expect when leaving your country knowing that there are very few chances of ever going back.
I’m well versed on the topic of a real immigrant family. My parents are political refugees from Cuba. I can’t recall a dinner where we didn’t have heated political debates around the table. Christmas parties with angry relatives discussing the atrocities of a nostalgic time in Cuba. The stories of Cuban doctors and lawyers working in factories or fixing roofs under the hot Florida sun in order to put food on the table and their kids through school.
My own parents, leaving their country as kids. My mom was sent to an orphanage at the age of 11 with her younger brothers at the risk of getting adopted and losing contact with my grandparents. My dad as the older brother feeling the burden of having to work at an early age to help his entire family. Those are battle scars that still dig deep on my family’s mindset.
My mom and dad met later in Puerto Rico where I was born. They provided the best life they could, always wanting me to have a better childhood than the one they had. However, my country’s social, political and economical conflicts started to worsen, and as an adult I had to make the choice to leave everything behind and move to the USA by myself to start from scratch, while becoming a student again.
Having met people from all over the world struggling for a visa or legal residence in order to live in the USA, has made me very appreciative of my American citizenship. Believe me, I don’t take it for granted! That being said, the relationship between USA and Puerto Rico, as a Commonwealth, is a complicated one. On the one hand we are glad to have this partnership, while on the other, we struggle with our colonial status and the repercussions this has on our culture, our economy, our government…our national pride.
For me, my immigration story has to do with all the emotions one feels when you have to live in a different culture, and in my case, in the country that overlooks mine. There is a cultural clash and a difficulty to assimilate a new way of thinking, a feeling of not belonging anywhere. There is a nostalgia that, no matter how much time passes, never goes away. I miss the beaches, the warm humid air, walking to the corner’s fruit vendor, hearing my neighbor’s salsa music, the loud Puerto Rican laughter, the celebrations, the hangouts, my language, friends, family, the food…oh the food! You start to compare every little thing, negating your current reality, wanting this new life to be like the one you left behind.
A person might say, “Well if your country is so great, why did you leave?”. It’s not an easy argument to make, part of you romanticizes your home and wants to go back, while the other rationalizes the situation and knows that you made the right choice by leaving. You feel sadness for the suffering in your country, guilt for the good opportunities you get, and happiness for the bright future ahead.
At the end of the day there is a type of surrendering you have to do to accept this new culture. You either conform or live in an unrealistic past surrounded by the fantasy of nostalgia. For me, as a Puerto Rican there is also a matter of a political clash that causes a certain feeling of existential transgression when conforming. Am I giving up my culture? Am I subjugating to the colonial status of my country? Am I accepting that my country is better off being dependent of the USA? What is my political standpoint as a Puerto Rican who now benefits from a life in the USA?
Whatever the answer is, you slowly learn to keep going. You learn that as an individual you have to fight for your own life. You feel sad for your people, but you learn to appreciate the opportunities that come your way. You learn that no culture is perfect, not even yours. You meet good people and bad people. You overcome cultural barriers. You learn to be a stranger in any country and to tell yourself that it’ll be Okay. You grow tougher skin; you appreciate the good things that happen; you learn to pat yourself on the back for the small accomplishments (like translating a sentence to English on the spot). Slowly you build a new life even though the nostalgia and the conflicting turmoil will always be tucked away in your heart.
My dad always told me he was not afraid of losing anything, because he had already left everything behind once back in Cuba. If he needed to do it again, he could. I never knew how a person could do that; until my turn came to leave it all behind. Whenever I feel sad, I think of my parents’ struggle and remind myself I come from tough people; if they made it, I can make it too.
Beatriz Espinosa, Georgia
En mi Viejo San Juan
by Noel Estrada (song written in 1942)
Una tarde me fuí
hacia extraña nación,
pues lo quizo el destino,
pero mi corazón
se quedó frente al mar
en mi Viejo San Juan.
One afternoon I left
towards a foreign nation,
as fate would have it,
but my heart
remained facing the sea
in my old San Jua