[30 July, 2011]

on being an immigrant

Being a white immigrant (someone who appears white, is generally not questioned in public, and checks the Caucasian box on Census forms, but someone whose features definitely don't look all-American (whatever that means, but I'm sure you pictured something in your head); someone who (sadly? conveniently? awesomely?) speaks English "without an accent! How did you learn to speak so well!", but someone whose name people pause to pronounce; someone who has lived in the American educated middle-class coming here in adolescence, but who ran from poverty and a collapsing political and social regime in her home country, and someone who generally feels usually like an outcast wherever she goes) is weird.

The memories of this weirdness came back to me when the other month I got together with a friend from high school who is moving out of San Francisco. We went to high school in the Midwest, where I moved from Russia (well, with a stop in Germany for two years for my mom's job) without speaking any English. Identity development in adolescence is tough, and identity development in a foreign country in a foreign language with foreign social rules and few friends is pretty outrageously difficult. I realize now how xenophobic even the liberal pockets of the Midwest are and it was apparent even in our conversations with this friend. Some aspects of our conversation felt awkward, probably only to me, because it brought me back to those formative adolescent years of still being an outsider.

But city life over here is also quite politically loaded. I read articles like this on race and gentrification and think about what it would mean for me, who looks white and reaps social benefits because of it, to try and live in a community of foreigners in hopes that they might accept me for my feelings of otherness. It's complicated.

So my status here in the United States of America, how I feel about myself, my position, where I fit, how I am perceived, is still pending. Maybe eventually I will become ok with the ambiguity of being a stranger.

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