A reader asked me to write more about my impending “emigration” from Ohio. I had likened my journey to my grandparents’ trip to America more than 100 years ago and noted some similarities – being a stranger there, having to build a new life.
I found it hard to point out more than the obvious challenges: where to live, how to find work, familiar foods, friends, medical care, the loneliness and isolation, and perhaps shame of not fitting in. What else could I say? Their trip held way more challenges than mine. But I did have some thoughts.
“Don’t mess with Texas”
Texas really is a world apart for us Northerners and Midwesterners (I’m both). Being called different from the rest of the U.S. is not an insult to Texans, they thrive on it. It’s no secret Texas wants to become its own country. The most recent request for secession was in December.
First signs of in-your-face pride – road signs, bumper stickers: Don’t mess with Texas, Texas Proud, I’m from Texas, and Native Texan. For comparison, I Googled popular bumper stickers for Ohio, “Ohio State” (university) came up. For New York, it was NY “Yankees,” for California – another state we think has lots of pride – the minimalistic “Californian.” Even ads on TV are Texas specific – it’s Fords for Texans, for example.
And there’s the bling. On my first stop in Texas, the roadhouse had a boutique full of “Texas Bling” – purses, hats, jackets, belts, boots encrusted with rhinestones. A sign urged us to get Texan to fit in. And there are the boots – cowboy and all others in 70-degree weather – the most startling are sequined Uggs, especially for teens. (While young Northerners and Midwesterners think it’s cool to wear shorts and flipflops in the winter, here it’s cool to be hot in your boots. Yes, the young rebel everywhere.)
OK – the culture is different. And it has some elements of foreignness. But the local Kroger recognizes me as a customer and I can read the road signs.
Feeling I went too far
So I was feeling guilty characterizing my sojourn here as similar to being an immigrant, mostly because there are so many real immigrants here. (The most obvious are Mexicans – and you see them mowing lawns endlessly). And I thought – how dare I make light of the real immigrant experience. I cannot begin to feel at a loss for language and culture, even in Texas.
Of course, when traveling abroad, you get a taste of being isolated – but when we Americans travel to another country, we go there with a sense of privilege. After all, we could afford the airfare! And we expect someone around us to speak a bit of English, and they usually do. So we speak our native tongue. Not at all the same for foreign tourists to the U.S. who, when speaking their language, are met with blank stares and looks of disdain.
I cannot properly address the profound sense of strangeness that true immigrants from or to another country must feel. (Please share your thoughts on this below in the Comments section.)
Yes, driving back from yoga with the windows open to the warm breeze I was feeling a bit heartless likening my condition to an immigrant’s. (Maybe I’m a 25% immigrant? 10%, 5%?). I switched to I-Phone music mode and Bob Seeger’s “Miami” pulsated joyously in the car. Serendipity! Perfect song. It’s not new, but it’s great. I highly recommend it. It reminds you there’s excitement in the new, excitement in seeing the lights of Miami, your new home (sings Seeger). There’s hope for a better life. That’s what immigration is all about. Seeking a better life.
The question is: Do you have to move on to a new place for a better life? Now I think not. No matter where you live, and whether you’re moving on or not – whether you’re seeing the bright lights of a new city or you’re doing a good deed for someone in your own community, or even reducing your use of plastic – you can make a better life each day.
Being an immigrant forces you to not take anything for granted. You need to pay attention to every little thing. (Where do you put the trash? Are you supposed to give your seat to older people? Do you stop at a yellow light or gun through it? Do you line up or push your way into the front? Do you smile at strangers?) You need constant awareness. It’s tiring, but valuable.
When you’re an immigrant, every single thing matters. I believe when you’re seeking a better life, everything you do matters also. And that is good for us as individuals and for our communities.
So that’s my conclusion on this – you can seek a big change and go to a new place for a better life, or you can create your better life where you are – one small act at a time.
Essay and photos (except of Bob Seeger) by Bojinka Bishop. January 24, 2013.
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