Hearing stories of foreign cultures while abundantly exposed to American TV, film, and ultimately web chat boards – full of people communicating freely across borders – an immature but adventurous need arose since early on. In my early 20s, the fear of missing out became unbearable. For my own sanity and development, I felt compelled to leave my cozy and water-confined country, to experience life as an immigrant, first hand.
Migration is still relentlessly driven by economic factors, and dreams of a better life. Other important reasons are persecution, war, or natural disaster. But a few lucky ones are purely drawn by culture. Not tired, not poor, nor huddled – simply possessing a sort of gumption to incorporate a different lifestyle. I’m just privileged enough to be one of the latter.
I was born in Mozambique, after it gained independence from Portugal in the Overseas war. At age 3 I was too young to remember the trip to the metropolitan European country. Still, growing up with horror stories of post-colonial conflict, dictatorship, and political unrest, I knew the need to migrate for basic self preservation was authentic. I was fortunate to never directly suffer from it.
So I tried to evade the comfortable and ordinary, pushing myself to desperately adapt. This shocked most of my peers, family and friends. Not because they didn’t know I was interested in seeing the US, but because few believed I’d actually do it so relatively young, and with such conviction.
Today, that same phenomenon can still surprise Americans just as much. Sure, I was a foreigner, born in a foreign nation and speaking a foreign language, but I was almost fully assimilated as an American before I first set foot in California.
This may sound too audacious, but it’s not that uncommon today. Our own culture, with its ubiquitous and ontological effects, is often ignored by a first person observer. We are so immersed in its ideological bubble, we have to be outside looking in, to truly appreciate its impact.
I arrived a decade ago, first as a tourist visiting a chat room pen pal. One of his friends enjoyed studying merely for the pleasure of learning, and suggested I applied to a community college with him. This was perfect, since I was a freelancer working internationally with time on my hands, and a low level college was the most affordable option for a foreigner like me, even if paying about triple or quadruple the already exorbitant tuition in American schools. Up to that point, excluding some music, my background was engineering, so I didn’t mind refreshing my arts with some music and design.
This turned out to be life-changing in many ways. While assisting in the AV department at Pasadena City College (the only non-remote semi-job I was legally allowed to have with my student visa in US soil), I met my now wife. About a year later, marriage became an undeniable dream for us both, and we started dealing with the long and strangely unromantic process of boiling down our relationship to piles of paperwork and evidence of its legitimacy. Despite stern warnings from immigration attorneys about the high rate of failure for our kind of case, after waiting 6 months back in Portugal, I was given the K1 visa to come to US soil with intention to marry my significant other.
Shortly after, I succumbed to the need for financial stability, halting my freelance work adventures. Consolidated my portfolio, created resumés and online profiles, and began working full time in the private sector – with only occasional experiments in entrepreneurship. My absorption into the corporate system was then complete. This is America, after all!
About 2 years ago, with my wife’s painstaking help dealing with documentation, I finally became a US citizen. What better way to celebrate my full Americanization, which I spent such a huge part of my life working towards, changing me in deeper ways than anyone could have ever anticipated? The chaotic combination of careful planning and reckless disarray. All the experiences that define me still today – yet another eternally imperfect and incomplete human.
Most of my thoughts and actions may have been random and aimless in the grand scheme of it all, but they were allowed by a spark of unexplainable ambition – a big bang of thirst for the unknown. Now, due to worldwide mass media broadcast, America cultural assimilation is achieved much before the first thought of immigration occurs, changing minds remotely and efficiently. That may encourage immigration in some, while discouraging it in others. After all, if enlightenment can be obtained at broadband speeds, what’s the point of traveling a long distance and dealing with massive existential, legal and emotional stress?
Net immigration into the US is now negative, and we need to brace ourselves as Americans now – not with a wall, but with self-awareness of our condition as a country, for the possibility that many of us were wrong – immigration is not the problem, and our economic woes are symptomatic of bigger and more complex internal issues, such as technology and wealth distribution.
Even from a relatively privileged standpoint, my struggle as an immigrant all the way to naturalization has been the toughest, most ruthless, life changing adventure I could ever have imagined. It changed my perceptions, bent my principles and convictions out of shape, and forced me to better communicate and understand people, nations, and the world. A soul shattering, tortuous experiment that painfully underlined the pointlessness of my existence…
And without a doubt, I would repeat it all over again. Highly recommended!