“It’s almost time for us to be eligible for citizenship,” my dad said over the phone the other day. Those words caused a bittersweet feeling in me. Ever since we moved from Peru to Puerto Rico 20 years ago, our lives basically depended on whether we got our visa renovated or not. I always lived with fear of getting too attached to a place that I would have to abandon at any given moment.
That is exactly what happened in 2008 when a simple mistake from our immigration lawyer complicated our visa renovation process and it wasn’t going to get approved on time. So in order to not be illegally in the United States territory, we had to immediately get out of the country and continue the visa process while living in the Dominican Republic –which was the best option we had in order to be closer to Puerto Rico. At 13 years old, I had to pack all my things as soon as I could, in less than two weeks, to move somewhere I knew nothing about. My parents’ worried faces were also overwhelmed with sadness.
Even though my dad was able to apply for his work visa again, we weren’t 100% sure it was going to be approved. Another wave of uncertainty covered every move we made in the maybe temporary or maybe permanent life that we were building starting from zero, while living on the island next door of the one we wanted very badly to make a home. However, I went to school, I joined a soccer team, I made friends, and I learned to adjust. But never settle; I would never dare to settle.
Around a year and a half later, my dad got his visa approved and we moved back to Puerto Rico as soon as we could. I thought I was going to go back to where I left everything but I was changed, I evolved into another version of me that didn’t necessarily fit in. My accent changed a bit, my style was completely different, and I couldn’t deny the feeling that I was at a country that didn’t accept me. I even felt more alienated when my classmates made fun of me because I was just different. They always called me “la peruana,” which for me was a constant reminder that I was an outsider.
Not knowing if we were ever going to get our Green Card was one of the reasons why my parents never bought a house. Instead, we moved from place to place trying to find a rented one that we could live the longest without having to pack our things again and move on to the next. And still, every time we relocated, I knew deep down that that space was temporary and that I could never really call it home.
So what was home for me? I imagined that the day I was able to become a citizen of the United States of America was going to be the exact moment when I felt like I could plant my roots and grow, when I could have that feeling of being in the right place. But, after 20 years of living in this country, with a Green Card in hand and about to be able to get that blue passport, it still feels like I don’t belong. The news tell that to me every day.
After all these years of fearing attachment, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is how it’s going to be for me probably for the rest of my life. Still, the idea of being an American citizen is something that I’m even now processing in my head, and that comes with so many overwhelming feelings. But one thing that I do know is that I’m rootless and that I’m only able to grow when I’m in movement. For me, home is fresh starts, the excitement and the fear of not knowing what’s next, and filling my heart (and suitcases) with warm memories.