Dear immigrant parents of childhood friends,
Hi. How are you? Have I told you lately your English is incredible?
It was really fun growing up with your kid. Maybe I’m still even friends with your kid. Most of my friends from childhood had immigrant parents it seems. It really felt that way, at least.
To the point where I kind of felt like an outsider myself. The all-American. None of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. I’m not complaining. Or bragging. But I just always felt like an outsider in my own community. A big part of that was my family’s religious status, too.
Anyway. I just wanted to say – I watched you as a kid. Not in a creepy way. In a curious way. The way words rolled off your tongue; the words had different edges to mine. The way you’d sometimes mention a story about back home where you grew up. The way occasionally I heard you speak another language, only for you, it wasn’t the second.
The way so many of you had groups of friends with the same background and you’d get together. Everyone there spoke your first language and I didn’t understand, or understood a little because it was my second language. Or how a group of people from different countries could still commiserate over the Old Country, even if the nationalities were unique to each of you.
I always wondered what that was like. To be from somewhere else.
Now I’m here. Somewhere else. And I’ve got kids. Kids with immigrant parents. And I’m so caught up in my own tangled ideas about being an immigrant, labeling ‘whereyoufrom,’ speaking words with different edges, making it, that on some days, I could just cry.
And some days, I do.
They say, you can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends. But when you’re an immigrant, sometimes it’s the opposite. You get thrown in somewhere where people talk like you, and slowly build what becomes your family.
I guess you guys did that, too. I remember there always being someone at a party or event, labeled as ‘my cousins… I mean, not my real cousins, but my cousins.’
I get it now. Even if we’re not totally there yet.
I also get, after eight years, that it’s ok to melt into your own people for a few minutes sometimes. It’s ok to show your kids that there are so many parts to what make them whole.
That they can feel comfortable with different crowds.
I don’t want to hold my kids back. I have a lot of my own crap to work out. I worry about it a lot.
But once in a while, I have this thought:
That for you, parents of my childhood friends, it’s now thirty or so years later…
…and your kids have done just fine.
P.S. – Seriously, your English was always amazing. I appreciate it so much more now. Even if, upon request, I did sometimes explain the slang.