On a personal note

Picnic in Vienna, Austria with Shalom Alaikum - Jewish Aid for Refugees, in July 2016.

I am back in México.

After 12 weeks in Europe (about 7 of them waiting for my work permit to be processed) and I feel slightly out of place — a status I don’t seem to leave behind easily.

1. My Spanish is rusty: All the little errors I had finally overcome are back on the tip of my tongue, the fluidness of my words has faded, and the vocabulary I slowly developed during long hours of reading, talking and listening didn’t stay with me over this extended summer break.

2. The rituals slowly introduced as part of my new — Mexican — lifestyle are also gone with the wind: No more regular yoga and swimming at the gym down the road. No more biweekly volunteering at the National Institute for Adult Education or the cultural center Casa del Lago. No more bike rides across my neighborhood. No more night strolls with my dog. No more intellectual or recreational classes to improve my Spanish skills outside of school. No more slowly evolving relationships with the few people I would like to call friends at some point in the future.


I actually planned a third point but I simply don’t know what else could be that important l?!

At the end of the day what defines humans when living abroad — in migration — are just two things:

1) being able to communicate ourselves in order to express emotions or needs, and

2) the habits we continuously repeat to make ourselves feel at ease — if not at home.


This reminds me on something I recently read in the Guardian. It was an interesting question, asking why the host-society defines the language skills an immigrant should provide rather than the newcomer him/herself — as they would obviously know their particular needs much better.

Makes sense, no?

On the contrary, as an European foreigner in the developing world (that’s me) no one expects any language skills from my side, nor the slightest cultural interest, historic knowledge or political sensitivity regarding the host country I live in — neither Mexicans nor my fellow “expat” community.

Shouldn’t I have to integrate myself like other immigrants? Aren’t we expecting migrants and refugees to do so when entering our territory?

I haven’t read a single piece on Europe’s situation with their newly arrived refugees that does not point toward the failed or rather missing integration of the incoming population.

Whose fault is it? Can we blame those traumatized people? Maybe we are just not welcoming enough?


This false distinction of the begging refugee or immigrant vs. the idealized expat caught my attention all summer long.

When I visited Austria (where I am from) I spent a good amount of time with some new friends of my mother: three refugee families from Syria, 3 siblings from Iran, and a family of 8 from Afghanistan.

If you count the hours we (my mom and I) have been talking about their pending situation it easily triples the time I spent worrying about my visa. Although I was constantly nervous and occupied regarding my own status, I was feeling even more anxious about theirs. And now that I am back, writing this on the floor of my beautiful Mexico City apartment, they are still unsure about their chances for a better future in Austria.

I am a so called expat — a welcomed economic immigrant — to the global workforce, while others, particularly those who involuntarily became migrants or refugees, are seen as an unpleasant responsibility and burden to global society.

But let me be clear: Migration and the movement of people intrinsically defines the origin of any pluralistic and multicultural existence — the one we claim to celebrate as diversity loving global citizens. But we’d rather not have to deal with actual migration…

While we talk a lot about the structural problems of accommodating refugees in Europe we tend to ignore the fact that many more displaced people are waiting for a chance to start over in that “perfect world” we made them believe in — “where anyone can be free”. Thousands have been pushed into camps with no exit strategy or future, but those are no potential threat for our liberal society. They can’t show up in Burkinis at our beaches or overburden our clerks by demanding more language courses or employment opportunities — so we will deal with their destiny at another point in time.


The refugees — or my mothers friends — and I were somehow in a similar situation — we were waiting. But while I was about to pursue my dream of living in Mexico and returning to my beloved ones, they were fearing for the immigration police to show up at their doorstep. As they were still hoping to finally leave behind war and destruction suffered in their home country, not to mention the ongoing trauma (extended by bureaucracy) and lack of empathy, they kept their bags packed and prepared for another worst case scenario. It was difficult enough to get here, now they need to prove their status as persecuted persons to be tolerated within our lines, but marching over steps and stones with their young daughter wasn’t signal enough.

I wish our friends the best of luck (yes I still believe in this type of fortune), health and mental strength in order to survive this painful extension of their fight for a life in peace and harmony.

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