|Credit: M Monica|
Let me say something about female Antillean names--they're usually funky and creative. My own name is invented, dragged into existence from my father's creativity (he was an artist), so this is no criticism. I've heard all sorts of names here: Juleska, Rouselle, Tessely, Julene, Solaika, Zulma. For the sake of this story, I'm going to name my coworker Solaika. Fictional, yadda yadda.
So Solaika was picking at a perfectly good plate of food--this was a five-star all-inclusive hotel, so the food might not have won any awards, but it was still tasty and well-cooked. She'd been doing that for the whole week--she didn't like vegetables, she didn't like pasta, she didn't like fish, she didn't like anything with tomato, she refused anything remotely spicy. "I'm not used to it," she'd say.
Not surprising. Typical Antillean food isn't going to rise to the Top Ten of world cuisine anytime soon. Flavors are bland, everything is greasy, and the delicate art of spices never took root here.
My Mexican boss, a very nice guy who went out of his way to make sure we were okay, was probably reaching the end of his patience and made a remark in the vein of, "Just try it, Solaika. Maybe you'll like it."
That sparked a discussion about experiences with different food. Both he and I have traveled extensively, and we laughed and traded horror stories about unexpected meals. In retrospect it may not have been the best technique to entice Solaika into adventurousness, and, knowing her as I later did, she probably thought we were making fun of her. But back then, at the table in the midst of this friendly reminiscing, her reply silenced us.
"I've never needed to try different things," she said. "Fortunately, in my country, we don't need to immigrate."
I remember feeling so stupid for not having a comeback, one of those smart and sassy retorts. In the course of the afternoon, though, disbelief and rage subsided into frustration, and later into hilarity. I chuckled, as quietly as I could, through the rounds of training we did together for the rest of the week.
In Curacao, I earned at most half what I'd been making back in Mexico. I didn't emigrate because of any gold-sparkly opportunity otherwise unavailable to me. I hadn't even made a conscious decision to emigrate--I'd come to Curacao for six months, to train people here. My stay became a year, then two, simply because I like it--because I love the idea of living somewhere different (and because I fell in love). It became four years, then five (and now nine), because every time I go on a business trip, or back to Mexico for vacation, or anywhere else, on the flight back to Curacao I feel I'm coming home.
|New Year's in Acapulco, Mexico|
And the idea that people only leave their home country because it basically sucks at the opportunity market is not just ridiculous but insulting. There's a huge price to pay--the homelessness, certainly, but also the discrimination. Immigrants get treated like second-class citizens, no matter how legal (or needed) you are.
Why do people leave? Why do we emigrate?
Imagine for a moment here, with John Lennon: imagine there's no countries, [...] nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too. Imagine all the people living life in peace.
In a world with no war, no egomaniacal dictatorships, no economic disparity--and no freakin' drug dealers--would there still be immigration?
I think there would. I think there's a gene somewhere in our DNA code that makes some of us in this varied species called human want to live outside the place where we were born. Opportunities are only the excuse we use to justify it to others, others--like our families--who don't understand that urge, that pioneering spirit that pushes us West, West, West.