by Madeleine Kando
I am comfortably sitting in my airplane seat on my way back home to the United States. I spent two weeks in Holland and now I have all these thoughts racing through my head, speeded up by the glass of red wine which I just consumed together with the memorable airplane food.Europe... what can I say? With all her shortcomings she still holds my heart, like an old long lost lover. Even in her old age she has managed to rise to the peak of her career. The level of success she now enjoys is astounding. Do I, as an immigrant to the United States,feel a touch of resentment? A feeling that I have it rough and Europe has it easy? And why on earth am I comparing myself to an entire continent?
At 65 years of age, after having raised a family in the US, I am still trying to give my relationship to Europe a proper place, a place of rest and acceptance. I don't know how other immigrants feel, but in my case, I have never lost the feeling that I am trying to bridge the gap between two continents, like a giant standing on two floating icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic. If you ever tried to balance on two wobbling structures, that is how I feel about me living here in the US, but part of me also being in Europe.
I sometimes look at my relationship to Europe as a daughter's relationship to her mother and as we all know, a mother/daughter relationship is very complex. It boils down to the fact that Europe (the people back home) and me, the immigrant, we are both under the illusion that we are the center of the world.
But there is a difference between me and the people I left behind. I realize very clearly that ultimately, I am not all that important, because I am only one link in a long chain. My American children will continue (delete "on") bearing American children of their own (unless they emigrate of course). I was just the seedbearer of a new immigrant plant. Whereas my European friends, Well, would it be presumptuous to compare them to the inhabitants of the two-dimensional beings in the story of Flatland? That, since they have never experienced being immigrants, leaving their homeland, they are totally unaware of a third dimension? An immigrant dimension? They are not aware of what it is like to live anywhere BUT Europe? The world is a small place for those who do not travel. It is a safe place, nothing frighteningly big to compare yourself to. Hence you are more important.
So where does this feeling of resentment stem from? Partly because America is no longer the country I came to a long long time ago. My new found lover has not kept his word, he is no longer taking care of me. America has given me many things, the need to be strong so I could survive, to be creative and inventive so I could fulfill myself. It has always given me the freedom that Europe never did and probably still does not offer. But it gets harder and harder to stay in love with such a dysfunctional lover.
Now I am flying back to my life, my children, my husband, my job. My continent. Being an immigrant makes you resilient. On the one hand it makes you aware of how small and unimportant you are, on the other hand it makes you proud of the fact that you started out in the new world with just one suitcase and a hundred dollars in your pocket. And I had the most valuable asset one can have as an immigrant: I was young. And after all, we all turn to dust, become food for the worms, immigrant or a flatlander alike.
Bye Europe. I do love you though. I guess I will have to accept being part of two worlds until the day I die.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008
by Madeleine Kando