It's quite strange to say it...but I am an immigrant. When the word comes to mind, I think most Americans either think of 1) our great-great grandparents sailing over from Europe to America or 2) of the immigration wave that is happening in the country now. I know, that saying the word, I think of these two things, definitley not that it is a word that defines me, but alas it is. I am an immigrant - but just one who happened to immigrate from the USA to Spain.
Today I read in El Diaro Vasco (The Daily Basque - the newspaper here) that the latest numbers show that the foreign population in Guipuzcoa (my county) has risen by about 5% since 2001. So now, in Guipuzcoa, there are about 43,000 immigrants, and I guess reading the paper today, made me realize that I am one of that number. Coming here 3 years ago, I planned to stay one year - a year of adventure, learning a new language, seeing new places, experiencing a different culture - but as we have all seen, I am so happy, that I am just going to stay! So, instead of thinking of myself as a temporary visitor, I now think of myself as a Donostia resident for the long-haul.
Living here though, I have been able to take a step out of the 'American bubble' and see how everyone else sees Americans. Here, I don't have one American friend, so I am constantly confronted with different points of view that sometimes don't match up with mine or opposite ideals or other ways of thinking. And it's great! On the day I left the States, September 10th 2008, my mom told me my horoscope for the day had been: Stray from your familiar clan to have a conversation with someone of a completely different world view. You still won't agree, you'll have to stretch your mind just to understand - and that's the whole point! I am not much one for horoscopes, but this one is spot on. The best is that thinking differently doesn't have to be an entire ideals change, it can just be a simple something. For example, I have a Japanese friend here who just recently had a baby. She is a friend from my Spanish class last year, and our little group that still gets together for coffees from time to time include me, this Japanese girl, a German 40-year old woman, and a Polish girl my age. So, a lot of different ideas over a 4 coffees! Us three non-pregnant girls decided we wanted to throw a baby shower for our friend. Being American, I have been raised to give a baby shower before the baby is born. But, my Polish and German friends told me that they had been raised to give the baby shower after the baby has been healthily born. Something so small, but something I would have never thought twice about.
I do bring little drops of American culture across the Atlantic from time to time. I try to find a happy medium of the things I am accustomed to and the new culture I have settled into. A few examples include: decorating Easter eggs with my students last year, celebrating Thanksgiving dinner and making cookies from scratch. The thing about living in another country is that all that you have grown up with, doesn't fit perfectly into your new country. The Easter eggs were fun, but since they only sell brown eggs here, didn't work out as well as our bright-white-before-dyed eggs. Celebrating 'Acción de Gracias' here is a bit difficult seeing as they don't sell whole turkeys. And making cookies from scratch requires me to send a grocery list to Grammy for special ingredients - like molasses! Although a bit more complicated, you better believe I still manage to keep some of my Americanisms alive!
Trying to maintain who I am while being surrounded by such different ways of life has really given me a new appreciation for all the immigrants in the States. I have to admit, living at home, I have gotten annoyed by an immigrant who couldn't speak perfect English; or didn't realize how many newspapers, posters, etc are only in English; or never tried to empathize with children who go to school in a language different that the one they speak at home. Being an immigrant, I think I have experienced the negativity that I had before myself and it has completely changed my thinking. When someone is rude to me for not speaking perfect Spanish, I feel offended - I am doing my best here, and it's obvious I am trying. Or when I got my tests results from the doctor and couldn't undestand the abbreviations all over the paper, I was frustrated that it was only in Spanish (well, Basque too but come on, that's not gonna happen for me for quiteeeee some time). And when I am in my Euskera class, learning a 3rd language in my 2nd language, I sometimes just wish ughhh can't I learn in English! In no way is my life bad - I am so crazily happy to be exactly where I am, but have been noting more and more quirks about living abroad forever.
My boss, who is Swedish, has lived here about 10 years and said something the other day I found quite interesting. She said living in a different country is a never-ending job, and if you stop to think about, she's right. No matter how great my Spanish gets, it's never going to be MY language. No matter how well I understand it, I am never going to be able to sit on a bus and eavesdrop on every conversation, while listening to the radio and reading a book and get 100% of ALL of it. When something scary happens, I still exclaim in English. And if something horrible ever happens (knock on wood), I will immediatley want to call 911, but here the emergency number is 112.
Even if it is a full-time job, I am happy to be 'employed' by this immigration duty. I still, 3 years later, still try to see things with open eyes. I normally tote my camera in my bag, just in case something catches my eye. And, as you read my culture shock blog, you can see I have gotten used to some differences between the two countries, but still know that there are some that will always strike me as different. Overall, I think that being an immigrant is a challenge but an incredibly rewarding one, where you are able to get to know yourself better than you ever imagined.
I found a quote from Jack Paar that says 'Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery', so I guess I will have to admit I love it here. I love the cobble-stone streets I walk on every day, I savour the café con leche I drink each morning, I die for mouth-watering pintxos, I can't imagine dinners without good wine, I welcome the sea breeze when I step out of my apartment, I can't get over the mix of old castles and cathedrals in each town and although sometimes confusing, I thoroughly enjoy mixing 3 languages in my head. I may be an immigrant - away from maple bar breakfasts, English TV channels, self-check-out grocery stores and measurements in inches, feet, gallons, pounds and Fº - which don't get me wrong, I all miss dearly, but I am dang it, I am one happy immigrant!
Kisses, Besos & Muxuak