The Price Immigrants Pay
In one gut-wrenching moment in the documentary “Cuba with a Cameraman” a four year old Cuban girl in New York gets to go to see her grandmother in Cuba for the first time in her life. The girl’s mother breaks down in tears of joy on reuniting with her mother.
They were Cuban exiles whom Fidel Castro allowed returning to the country for a visit.
I am a free woman.
Unlike a Cuban exile, I can go home whenever I want. But there is a catch. I can’t.
When I see my German friends visit home for Christmas, easter, weekend, and laundry, I shudder a little inside. Maybe enough is far more often than I think.
How often is a visit to your aging parents often enough? Once a year for a week? twice a year for a week? thrice?
When I hear colleagues talk about their six visiting grandchildren, I think about my parents alone at home with most young of the family and extended family overseas. They have no doors open for young Ideas. Doesn’t that make you age faster?
Last night, I explained to my mother how to log in to her Gmail for a half-hour over WhatsApp video. It was exasperating. I don’t want to be the monster who only calls once a day to be rude.
Every time I sit down with evening music, drive through green mountains, curl up with a coffee and a book, I think “My mother would have liked to be here”. No matter how often I make a vacation home, I can’t give her this.
“Who is responsible for this?”
Nobody with reasonable working conditions, human rights, and safety would want to leave home for good.
However, a slight critic against either the ruling or the opposing political party of India would not make me any friends. Indians are very politically sensitive, you see.
I cannot talk about how the same jobs in India would give me laughably less time for private life, about how the pay and human respect need to be negotiated by the government with every International firm that sets up shop for peanuts.
I cannot complain that I don’t feel safe traveling home at 2 AM from work. I cannot even utter “Women don’t get treated the same way back home”. I had to cut off a male friend who thought meeting women at eye level was asking for “too much respect”.
I am tied.
I have friends in the USA who haven’t been home in 5 years, lest a catch in the not-yet-H1B-visa will never allow them to come back. “Just another year,” she said to her half-conscious dad while neighbors and kin rushed him to the emergency for a cardiac arrest.
Germany is different. My parents can visit me for 3 months on a visitor visa.
3 years ago, My parents visited my brother and me. Affordable homes in Germany are big enough for a human and a hamster. A big feat in a small home. We shared a 40 square-meter space with no rooms for a month and a half. But my parents were happy.
The joy was real and costly. My parents didn’t speak German or understandable English. Every time my father lost his way in the big city, my mother got an anxiety attack. They couldn’t remember the names of the streets or numbers on the buses to places they didn’t recognize.
It was not going to be sustainable.
The last I went home was before the pandemic.
I saw my mother. She was in the Intensive Care Unit. I got there in time to post on social media for blood donors.
I remember how her eyes lit up when she recognized my brother. She was heavily sedated, drifting in and out of consciousness. She didn’t know she’d live. We didn’t know she’d live.
Had it unfolded any other way, I would have kicked myself every waking moment.
I took everything from her. My being, my good, my bad, my hobbies and everything else that makes me human. I didn’t give her back a single day. I watched her retire from 40-year employment from the pictures and videos of her speeches on the Whatsapp family group.
I am not a Cuban refugee. I have all my papers, I have my vacation days and I have a good employer. And yet, Immigration is hard.
I am afraid of calling home, I might hear the sadness in my mother’s voice. I cannot bear to video call, her eyes don’t hide anything. I cannot tell a friend back home, I am a selfish person who chose to be away.
Immigration is hard.