“We’re close to being eligible for citizenship,” my dad said over the phone the other day. His words were bittersweet to me. Ever since we moved from Perú to Puerto Rico 20 years ago, our lives have depended on our visas. 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 derailed our visa renovation process and we couldn’t meet the approval deadline. So we were forced to pack our bags and move to the Dominican Republic until we figured out our visa status. It was our best option to stay close to Puerto Rico. At 13, I had to pack my belongings in less than two weeks to move to a country I knew nothing about. My parents’ worried faces were also overwhelmed with sadness.
Uncertainty overshadowed every move we made in the maybe temporary or maybe permanent life that we were building in the island next door. 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 had 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 in a country that didn’t accept me. I felt even more alienated when my classmates made fun of me because I was different, calling me “la peruana.” For me, it was a constant reminder that I was an outsider.
Not knowing if we were ever going to get our Green Card, 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 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.
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 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.