A few nights ago, as I lay in bed staring at my dark ceiling, I thought of the movie “Brooklyn.” The film tells the story of a young, Irish woman named Ellis who immigrates to New York. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.) I first watched this film with my mother, who was deeply touched by this story.
My mother was born in Slovenia. She lives in the United States. She is a citizen of both countries, and all of her family lives overseas. Although Mama is from a foreign country and has lived in America for over 30 years, I’ve never really thought of her as an immigrant.
Perhaps this is because she came to the U.S. without any intention of staying. Her plan was to go to college, graduate, and return home. Only after meeting my father did she choose to stay. Even after they were married, my parents made plans to move to Slovenia and become missionaries. The plans, however, did not come to fruition, and I was raised in Dallas, Texas with my three other siblings.
Mama once told me, about six months to a year ago, that she doesn’t think she ever truly processed the weight of leaving her family behind. After she got married, she had the expectation that her and my dad would move to Slovenia. When the plans fell through, she never took the time to grieve the loss.
When I think about this — about all Mama has given up, about all she’s gone through, about how my knowledge doesn’t even scratch the surface — I get emotional. I don’t cry much or very easily, but pondering this sacrifice is one of the few things that can get me teary-eyed.
Pondering all this has also made me realize that even though I don’t think of my mom as an immigrant, she still is one.
There are many immigrant stories out there, but when I think of immigrants, I often think of folks who are Hispanic or Asian. Folks who came to the U.S. without a penny to their name, little-to-no knowledge of English, and yet hoping to fulfill their American dream. I don’t think of my mom — a woman who came to the U.S. in search of an education, who speaks English like a native, and who planned to move back to Slovenia after graduation.
I also don’t think of myself or my family as a part of an immigrant story, but we are. As American of a family as we often feel or seem to be, we are not a typical American family. My siblings and I are half Slovenian.
Through some light research, I discovered that my mom is a first-generation American. On her side of the family, I am a second-generation American. With both of my parents’ families considered, I am a part of what is known as the “2.5 Generation” because my dad was born in the U.S. and my mom was not.
Being a part of the 2.5 Generation is strange. I feel very at home here in the U.S., but a large part of me is tied to Slovenia. Half my extended family lives there. I used to live there. I grew up visiting and am familiar with the language and the dialect spoken by my family — but I also don’t speak Slovenian fluently (or even proficiently).
I grew up, and continue to live, in a unique tension. I know I’ll likely live the rest of my life here in the U.S., but a part of me wants to move to Slovenia again and stay — learn to speak Slovenian fluently (or at least proficiently) and embrace the culture. But I know this is unrealistic. I know my parents will likely be here forever and I don’t want to be far from them. Even if my mother got her dream of living in Slovenia again, I would likely reside here, and she and Pop would be far away.
I would say I’m content with the thought of living in America for the rest of my life, but at the same time, I also hate the thought of marrying an American man and settling down in an American suburb and raising all-American children. I want them to know and love Slovenia as much as I do. I detest the thought of Slovenia not being a part of my life.
I guess what I’m saying is that I fear the older I get, the harder it will be to keep Slovenia at the forefront of my life. And simply put, that prospect makes me sad. Incredibly sad.
Slovenia is such an important aspect of myself and my life. A large piece of my heart resides there. I have always felt a deep connection to the country, and I don’t want that connection to fade because I don’t live there or speak fluent Slovenian, because my adult life doesn’t allow time to visit as often as I’d like or because I marry someone American.
Seeing that I, at times, feel torn between family/practicality and Slovenia, I can’t even begin to imagine how my mom has felt all these years. She built her adult life here in the U.S., but half her heart lies across the Atlantic. And as her child, there’s nothing I can do to improve her situation or give back what she has lost — which sucks. It’s’ hard to see your mom suffer.
In all honesty, I don’t have much of a point to this blog post other than sharing with you some of my recent thoughts and feelings on the topic of immigration and my unique experience of growing up with a mother from a foreign country. I am blessed in many ways, but I wish there was more I could do.
Thank you for reading. Have a blessed Easter.
Thank you, Jesus.