Immigrants

These are immigrant children.

My brother, his favorite (and one and only) fluffy bear, and my four-year-old self, posing for a photograph in a Belgian studio.

What was certainly a luxury was seen as an important way to document our existence, to make a necessary statement: we were here. In the family archives, there are few such records.

Later, with the war receding into memory, my father will own a Brownie camera; there will be snapshots. But for now, the only way to capture our likenesses is to present ourselves, dressed and combed, at the photo studio.

Where is the line between refugee and immigrant? Legal status, yes. Receiving asylum, protection from deportation, permanent residency. Right to work, attend school, receive medical care. The promise of citizenship, not now, but sometime in the future, perhaps. Choosing where to live, once the flight from home is behind you.

There are other, less obvious but no less crucial signs. Asking a gendarme for directions without cringing in fear. Trying out your new language by talking to a neighbor over – why not? – a cup of coffee. Resisting the urge to hoard food, though cleaning your plate is a habit you will never lose as long as you live.

2 thoughts on “Immigrants”

  1. Beautiful and so relevant. I too came to the U.S. as a refugee, welcomed with open arms because we left a Communist country, the red menace 90 miles to our south, that posed the gravest danger our country had faced to that date. As a child I was not subjected to much questioning although looking back I do recall being asked questions whose intent I did not understand and for which I had no answer. The word refugee itself triggers many feelings. It’s a temporary status that can be taken away. Receiving my green card at t he age of 17 made me feel like a person. A person who still had to mind her public comments at the height of the Vietnam War. Becoming a citizen released me from the ever present fears that the country I had grown to love could still cast me away. Refugees have been welcome to this country for decades, a humanitarian act to which we as a country are pledged. I know the vast majority of us former refugees have become exemplary citizens of this country to which we have seriously pledged our allegiance.

    1. So true, Rosa. As long as there are wars and environmental disasters, there will be refugees somewhere in the world.

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