I really wanted to post this yesterday but alas I couldn't sneak out of my toddler's drooly grip late into the night as I had originally planned.
August 5th 1982 marks the day I set foot (permanently) in America. So that means that as of yesterday, I've been an American for 22 years. Pretty powerful stuff huh? Yep. I was born in Puerto Rico and at 7 years old, my parents decided to make a huge move I know they must have thought about making a million times. Puerto Rico is not that far from the U.S. Having been born there; I was automatically an U.S. citizen. But still, with the language and culture barrier, in many ways it might as well have been CHINA.
My parents made the brave decision to move for many reasons. If memory serves, I believe it was 3 such compelling reasons that made them act when they did:
#1 To provide us kids, all 7 of us, with the proverbial "better life" America promises
(Goal: Better life. Most definitely!)
#2 To provide my deaf brother a better education at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind -- I don't believe there was anything like that in P.R. In fact, he was mainstreamed a lot there and I know he struggled in his studies for a long while even though he is brilliant.
(Goal: Better education. Mission accomplished!)
#3 To get my other then-hooligan brother (you know I love you) off the path of self-destruction.
(Goal: Idiot teen emendation. It worked or so it appears [kidding]!)
I won't bore you with the details of how well we all turned out. Although I'm happy to report there's not even one criminal in our midst. (I was acquitted of all charges - ha ha -- kidding again)
Instead I'd like to briefly share my memories of that very special day:
- I remember exactly what I was wearing: a white button down blouse and blue jeans with little flowers on the back pocket.
- I remember exactly what my Mother was wearing: a blue and white striped "sailor" capri outfit with strappy heels. It was the 80's people. She looked BEAUTIFUL. I also remember her dieting prior to the momentous reunion with my father who was already here with 3 of the kids. Tee-hee
- I remember my arms being painfully sore after Nurse Cruel stabbed them full of vaccines.
- I remember the plane ride. Not my first but the first I remember.
- I remember arriving at this airport and being overwhelmed by new sounds, new smells (I swear) and the "noise" that was a language I did not speak.
- I remember "Los Americanos" (The Americans) so distinctly different than us in their shapeless skirts and dowdy blouses with the leather elbow patches and thick orthopedic looking sandals. Tacky hats worn oddly to the back of the head with the mall bangs hanging out in front as opposed to properly affixed. Still a pet peeve of mine today. (ha ha) It was the 80's people but as a whole, in my 7-year old mind, I found "Los Americanos" terribly unstylish. Yet, I later secretly wanted to emulate them. My Mom would not let me. It was mostly proper leather shoes, tights, skirts and blouses for me. And don't forget the hair bows. You can still see the style difference between Latin American children and American children. It's slighter now than 20+ years ago but because of my experience and origin of culture, I always notice it.
I have to say that I'm so thankful for the foresight of my parents and the sacrifices they made to bring us to this country. I LOVE who I am. I'm an American with a past. Mainly, a past language that I so enjoy employing and a past culture that I so love integrating into my adult life as well as the lives of my children and spouse.
I came equipped with values, morals and ways of thinking that I could apply and reference. I'm such a firm believer in "reference" vs. "acquired knowledge." There is a difference. I think life experience is what makes you emotionally intelligent. I think the more expansive your frame of reference the better you can process new information. And I KNOW that speaking two languages proficiently helped in my studies. Still does! Not to mention how much it helped me learn other languages since many of the same rules apply.
I don't think I'm smarter than anyone is or better than anyone for my resources. I just think I'm BETTER period. For myself. And now, for my children. Hence the term "better for it."
I'm better for having been born in a beautiful, tiny little magical country fraught with a distinct, almost tribal culture. A culture that is a wonderful mixture of incredibly rich language, cuisine, music, dance...the list goes on and on. And I'm better for having been raised in another beautiful, driven, "Land of Opportunity" that is so revered, unique and special. The fact that the U.S. has embraced people such as myself and was basically built on the acceptance of diversity (cultural, religious, political, lingual) is not lost on me. This actuality and all that it implies is the very essence of who I am.
August 5, 1982.
One of the most, if not, the most formative and propitious day of my life.