Marcela from Buenos Aires wrote:
For as long as I can remember I have always carried with me the certainty, as if impregnated and before any experience, of not fitting in. I carry it like a second skin; a way to take on how I am that always marks my experiences without me even knowing how much. I always know that I do not know what the rules of the game are -at least I have that certainty. In every circumstance I have to learn them from scratch. When I go to a party where I do not know anybody, when I meet someone new, when I talk to my colleagues or every day, in a public place, I always feel that there is a rule, unknown only to me, that I must decipher in order to be able to relate “appropriately” with that person, place or situation. It is something that is there, before I think it, an assumption. Every step I take is like starting from scratch and absolutely everything becomes a challenge, at least regarding relationships.
Depending on my mood, the world can seem at times hostile, unknown, challenging, a huge mountain to climb or an obstacle to overcome. Always. It is never simple. I never enter a place or meet a person and feel that I spontaneously belong, that I am completely comfortable in my skin, that there is not a hidden challenge that I must decipher. The feeling of feeling at home is unknown to me but paradoxically I cannot stop searching for it in every encounter and sensation. I almost always feel in an everlasting limbo. The exception is, sometimes, when I am alone. Only when being alone, on certain occasions, can I feel totally centered and in touch with my feelings and my deepest thoughts, completely comfortable, happy, and satisfied with who I am and with what I have.
Maybe all this is an unpleasant consequence of having had to discover the new rules every time we moved to a new country, more or less every three years, when I was little. From the time I was two, when we moved to Los Angeles, and well into my teen years, when we returned to my native country, and after that, when I was older, making my own decisions, and for the rest of my life, I have always had to face the challenge of finding a place where I felt I belonged in totally new spaces. Even in my own country, where home is supposed to be, and due to this even more painful, I have always experienced the deep, natural, spontaneous feeling of not fitting in. The painful, and at the same time exciting, thing about my experience in my hometown, the place where I was born, is precisely that this deep feeling of not belonging, of not knowing the rules (that remains in spite of my attempt to stay several years and to go to college), of always being a bit different but not knowing why or in what, always goes hand in hand with a totally opposite, but just as deep, feeling: the feeling that in an abstract and inexplicable way something deep and dramatic ties me to this place. In spite of this strong and undeniable connection that has always existed, the spell that keeps me suspended and knowing that I am a bit out of the game, precisely in that place, has not been broken.
Maybe it is the experience of always having had to change schools, countries, neighborhoods, cultures; always having to say goodbye and to having to find my new home. But I sometimes ask myself if this is it and if this has the power to mark me for life. I have been living in Los Angeles for 8 years now, more than I have lived in any other country, and not only do I continue to feel every day that I do not fit in, but I have recently discovered that I will always feel like this -even if I stay for 50 years and have a family here.
This may be an intrinsic part of the immigrant’s experience, but it is something more, because something tells me that I could have “adapted” more, especially considering that I lived here as a child and that all my life I went to American schools and related with people from here, something that puts me in a “privileged” place or gives me an “advantage” with regards to other immigrants that did not have this experience throughout their lives and for whom coming to this country is genuinely a new experience. Nevertheless sometimes I feel more like an immigrant and on the outside than an immigrant that does not speak English and for whom this culture is completely foreign but that nevertheless come so willing to blend in and learn that they achieve it, sometimes incredibly quickly.