Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z: Immigration

Credit: M Monica
A couple of years after I moved to Curacao, I had my first experience with immigrant discrimination. My boss (Mexican), a coworker (Antillean, i.e. from Curacao) and I (also Mexican) were training employees of a new resort in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), and this coworker didn't like the food.

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."

It took my boss and I a while to understand the barb: Solaika meant that he and I, as Mexicans, had been forced to travel, live outside Mexico (and thus get used to different food), because our home country couldn't offer the same opportunities we found elsewhere. In her country, namely.

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
Don't get me wrong--I love Mexico, and there's a lot I miss about it. The food, certainly, and the people--the friendliness, the politeness, the amabilidad. And one day I might go back and live there--why not?  Curacao is home to me for now, but the assertion that it's chock-full of opportunities I'd never find anywhere else is--well, laughable.

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.


  1. Excellent post. I completely agree with you, and just because you don't want to live where you were born, it doesn't mean that you don't still love your original "home."

  2. brilliant as always. I am loving your posts Guilie.

  3. What a beautiful post, Guilie. It says a lot about your character that you were able to laugh over the insult.

  4. Great post. Immigration in the U.S. is a sticky and controversial topic at the moment, and it really saddens me to see natives treat immigrants more poorly than others. It doesn't just happen to those who come over illegally, either. Even if it did, it shouldn't, as we're all human.

    That said, I'm chuckling a little bit, just because I've never thought of Curacao as one of those "lands of opportunity". More of a vacation spot, definitely, but not somewhere everyone is clamoring to go for jobs. And even if it were, so what? And even if you had a great job and lots of opportunity in Mexico, so what? Maybe you just like the different atmosphere.

    Good for you for being able to laugh about it.

  5. Interesting how some cities welcome you in, while with others, you remain an outsider. Your posting here makes me want to hit the road -- again! And I agree with Kristin that in being able to laugh at Salaika, you gained.

  6. Great post and I know how you feel! Now I can't decide which country is truly 'home' for me, I love them both. And the funny thing is I have encountered people who made me feel unwelcome in both countries, as if I didn't belong anywhere. There definitely would still be immigration even if the world would have been as John Lennon described it, maybe even more because people would be more tolerant and loving. This is the basic idea that I have in a novel I have started, a conflict between people who had John Lennon like ideals and the people who are against it.

  7. I would love to read a novel centered around a conflict over such ideals!

    In my judgmental mind, I assume I know what country your picky eater hails from (I look out the window...) I'm glad you were able to laugh over such stuck in the muddiness; sometimes, listening to such prejudices, I wish I could change my name to Tessely and go live in a cave deep in some misty forest.

  8. And that's why they say "Home is where the heart is". Great story!!
    I'm visiting on the a to Z Challenge. Nice to meet you. I'm a new follower.

    Kathy at Oak Lawn Images


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