Monday, October 19, 2020

An Immigrant’s America

By Madeleine Kando


In a poem le Rondel de l’adieu’, French poet Edmond Haraucourt writes the famous phrase ‘partir c’est mourir un peu’ (leaving is dying a little). It best describes the true meaning of farewell. Each time we say farewell, it is as if we die a little.

For me, even leaving on vacation feels a bit like dying. My old self is dying to make room for my new, yet undiscovered self. The thought of going shopping for a new self always brings a smile to my face.

Leaving has played a constant role in my life. I got my first taste of leaving when I was 4, when my parents left Hungary, the country where I was born, to settle in Paris.

Back then, I already considered leaving a place as something positive, like a soldier who adds stars to his uniform. The more places you leave, the higher you rise in the ranks. It was exciting and my age safeguarded me from seeing the risks that is always attached to leaving the familiar.

Since I settled in America, my last stop after so many moves, I have been 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 both contains love, hate and also competition. The immigrant in me thinks that I did something significant by becoming one. The Europe I left behind, the mother, is supposed to be unchanging, stationary and dependable.

As an immigrant, I am only one link in a long chain. My American children will continue bearing American children of their own (unless they emigrate of course). I was just the seed bearer of a new immigrant plant. What about the part of me that I left behind in Europe?

The world is a small place for those who do not travel. It is safe. In the story of Flatland, the two-dimensional Flatlanders have nothing frighteningly big and three-dimensional to compare themselves to. Hence they feel important. I was that person when I lived in Holland - comfortably 2 dimensional. Although I probably would have morphed into a 3 dimensional being even without emigrating, by maturing, traveling and growing wiser, I still think that leaving all these places, including emigrating to America, still helped me turn into a 3 dimensional being.

It is important, especially now, to convince myself that my decision to move here was the right one. 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 offered. But it gets harder and harder to stay in love with such a dysfunctional lover.

On the one hand, being an immigrant made me aware of how small and unimportant I am. After all, we all turn to dust, become food for the worms, immigrant or a Flatlander alike. On the other hand, it made me resilient and I am proud that I started out in the new world with just one suitcase and a hundred dollars in my pocket and survived to write about it. And I had the most valuable asset one can have as an immigrant: I was young.

I don’t want to end this brief essay on a note of self-pity, but how many of us immigrants share this feeling of doubt at this point in our immigrant history? I still love my adopted country, but was it really worth all the sacrifice, the energy, devotion and admiration I gave America? The world is big enough for me to find a new home, add another star to my uniform. But of course I will never leave here. I am wed for the short time I have left on earth.

I hope my American children and grandchildren will one day again be proud of this country, like I was a long time ago. leave comment here