In the last few years, among all of the celebrations of family birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, and even national holidays, this particular date has descended into relative obscurity. I might have completely forgotten it by now if my Mom did not bring it up during the Thanksgiving dinner the other day.
Twenty years ago today our family landed in New York’s Kennedy Airport to start our new life in the United States.
How do you commemorate the start of your new life? Is it even worth mentioning anymore after so many years? After all, what was left behind in my old life was only childhood and the first few years of adulthood – hardly anything that constitutes a body of life worth a memoir…
My parents – that’s a different matter. Their old life was not rich on things to regret about, but nonetheless, starting anew in middle age in a different country, handicapped by language and culture, with just a few hundred dollars practically smuggled on our bodies to separate us from being entirely destitute – that’s an incredibly brave step. They knew what they were doing it for, and I am eternally grateful to them for going through with that. And immensely proud of them for building themselves pretty amazing lives in these intervening years.
Me, I occasionally joke that I wish they brought me to the States many years earlier – and, maybe, I would be a baseball Hall of Famer by now. Or a top golfer. Or a movie star. As it were, I was already a bit too old to pursue those vocations when I arrived in the States, so I picked a more obvious trade for a bright and scientifically-inclined new immigrant, and did reasonably well for myself as a technology professional. If I wasn’t this lazy, I probably could have done even better.
No matter how you slice it, America quickly became my home. I could never get rid of cultural oddities – or accent – that mark me as a non-native and to this day make it challenging for me to sustain close friendships with people who do not share my background. But I have long become assimilated. I have long become, in the best sense of the word, an American patriot, truly appreciative of the liberties and opportunities my adopted country offered me that the country of my birth would never want or be able to offer me had I stayed.
This is probably the best summary of the effect of that event twenty years ago: I cannot imagine what my life would be if it did not get a new start on a Thanksgiving week twenty years ago. And for that, America deserves my most heartfelt thanks.