When I was 18 years old my mom sent me to study English at UCSB. It was a great experience, one that changed my life. When I went back to Argentina, where I was born and raised, I realized that Argentina had become too small for me. But was it too small?
At the time, with all the bravado that youth brings I definitely thought that it had become too small. But with age comes wisdom and with it perspective. It was not so much that it was small; it was just that it was not a place for me anymore. It had actually not been a place for me for some time, but at 18, it was hard to move on to a different place; especially when I was financially dependent on my parents.
The hard part of this realization is related to feeling up-rooted. And there are two parts to it: one at the time of my moving from Argentina to the US; and the second part, the looking back and looking at how different your life was growing up from your kids.
Moving from Argentina to the US
As I mentioned above, my mom sent me to study English. After winter quarter (summer in Argentina) was over, I went back home. Upon my return I realized that I did not want to be there. All that was familiar to me seemed distant and in the past. And all that I had experienced in the previous 3 months felt … not sure how to describe it … it felt perfect. I think that what attracted me to the US was the diversity not only of people, but also of choices. From skin colour, to country of origin, to original language, to cultural details, all were the basis of diversity and I dug it. I still do.
Argentina was much different. We all looked more less the same, there were very little cultural variations, most people you met even had the same accent, we all shared somewhat the same education, and outside some religious differences, the majority followed the same faith. The homogeneity was staggering. If you were gay, you hid it. If you were Jewish you did not hide it, but there was constant anti-Semitism. There were about less than 1% of blacks. No Japanese to speak of, Chinese were beginning to immigrate to Argentina and for the most part had restaurants and “tintorerias” (dry cleaners).
It is almost funny; Argentina had a similar immigration patterns to the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. But once those waves ended, Argentina experienced an amalgamation of all people into one, creating a society that rejected anything different from itself. In contrast, the US continued incorporating peoples from all over. I am not saying that Argentina is bad and US good. I am just pointing out the differences.
And to be fair, there is more racial tension in the US than anywhere else in the world. And anti-Semitism is unfortunately well and alive in the US as well as in the rest of the world.
Moving from Argentina meant leaving all I knew behind; for better or worse, the roots that my grand-parents had set where going to be up-rooted and the chance they were not going to grow again was very real. All my friends, the people I grew up with, my comfort-zone. Since I grew up in a well to do family and my last name had some weight, I was also about to leave that behind as well. I just could not go somewhere and say: “my father is Leon Schonholz”; and the doors would open. In the US, I was just another immigrant, with an accent, going to school and trying to find a way. It was exciting but scary. There was no cleaning lady to clean my room or the house or do laundry, or to cook.
One day, I packed my suitcases and climbed on a plane. I left my girlfriend behind, my home, my house, my friends, the country club, my mom, my dad, all that was familiar and all of the comforts I grew accustomed. And as I sat on the plane heading to the US I though: “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING?”
As I landed, went through immigration, found a place to live, a roommate and reconnected with the people I had met a year before, it hit me and for a while I felt super isolated. In for a penny, in for a pound. There was no going back.
Looking back and looking at how different your life was growing up from your kids
I settled down and accepted where I was and commited. And you commit because it is not forced and it feels right. I associated with all sorts, from all walks of life. I developed into a man and got married. I also got a job, and developed a career. And finally, I had children. And with out a doubt, I started with the “when I was your age”!! And realized two things: I am just like my father and my kids will not grow up as I did.
Yes, I am just like my father, but not quite!! My father was a great man, so being like him is not a bad thing, but that is not what I am referring to.
Some of what is ingrained in us as we grow up is never shaken off. It does not matter how far you go, you always take part of your home with you. It makes you who you are. You take a few good things and a few bad things and you add sugar and spice collected through the years as you are morphed by experience and your surroundings. The new tongue you adopted out of necessity includes cultural inclinations that you follow, again, out of necessity or because they fit. And your rub elbows with people that also influence your continued re-shaping. But in the end … “when I was your age”. Yes yes yes … not an uncommon statement, but very particular when the tone and mode are so familiar that it feels like an out of body experience. But it is not on your native tong, and it is not in the familiar surroundings of your youth. And that is when you, for just an instante, become homesick. And just as it came, you realize that this is your home. And it is gone again.
Indeed, my kids are not growing up in Argentina, they are not going to a country club on the weekends, and they are definitely not only hanging out with kids like them, and they are not sheltered by their “own kind”. They are also not given 100% what they want, but 100% what they need. My kids last name is not recognized by my influence on the community and they are not singled out because of my economic means. But that is all good!! Anonymity is a grand thing. The draw back is that any advantages we get is advantages we work very hard for.
Instead of a country club on weekends, we go fishing on my boat. Or we go for a hike or a photo safari. I am giving my kids all of the things I wanted as a kid. But who knows, maybe they want what I had.
So, after more than half my life and ALL my adult life in the US I now appreciate what it means to live elsewhere; to live not in the land that saw you come to this world.