Wednesday, October 08, 2014
[Memphis Reads 2014] Fresh Reads Top Ten Winner Jeanne StaAna
Fresh Reads Essay Contest Winner Jeanne StaAna
Sepha Stephanos, like many immigrants, came to America for refuge. Many of them seek opportunity, and a new life full of possibilities. However, Sepha and his friends came to realize the reality of homesickness was all too real. To migrate from a land that is not your own, and to make peace with the faces that are not like yours can be a difficult battle to win. Regardless of the hell Sepha had seen of the war in Africa, he could still not accept that the land he knew was no longer there, and that he was no longer a part of it. Every day he lived his life with the future in mind, blindly waiting for tomorrow to come, never realizing what had become of the present. Somewhere along the road, he began to drag his feet, and the weight felt a little heavier.
In his mind, somewhere things were supposed to change. In the land of opportunity, he was supposed to become someone. At one point, he decided to go to college, not because he really wanted an education, but because he wanted the title. He wanted an identity, and in a place where he had nothing of his own, it was his best effort at trying to find a way to assimilate. It was supposed to be his beginning, an accomplishment that would establish his roots, and give meaning to his being there. Yet, nothing came of it. Nothing became of Sepha’s life at all. He’d become so afraid of losing everything that he settled for having nothing.
However, when Judith and Naomi came into his life, he finally saw something that he wanted, desperately. The problem was that in his eyes they were worlds away. He finally saw the harsh reality of America. There were limits; here he would never be given the time of day. Not only by Judith, but also by anyone, because he came from a war-torn country, an impoverished country, a bloody country that was not America. His people were pitied and looked down on, or they were feared. Never was he to be seen as respected unless he proved himself. This was America, the land of the free. A country where you work for what you want, but Sepha could never find his place. Not in his neighborhood, not with Judith, and not in Africa. His problem was he never knew where he truly would land his step. He longed for one life, and let his own life just pass by.
As an immigrant, I do understand Sepha’s struggle to move on. While we are all aware what kind of opportunities America has to offer, it’s hard not to look back on what you left. Often it feels like when you migrate to America, you expect a grand life and are blind to the reality that you are not the only one racing towards this goal. My mother often tells me that I have everything I could want here. While I agree, there are moments where I wonder what could life had been like if I had stayed in the Phillippines. There are still times I wonder what will be waiting for me if or when I go back.
Another unfortunate fact is that while I may love going home, memories can make things better than they are. Nostalgia can trick your mind into obsessing over a place that no longer exists. Also, another problem with being an immigrant is never being able to fully assimilate into other cultures without losing parts of your own. The values that are highly upheld in one country may not be a respectable or admirable value in another. The blurred lines between generations of immigrants become difficult to distinguish, and problems arise as to what culture should be more dominantly practiced.
So which country is really home? What I’ve learned is that while I wish to call both countries my home. I can only say that the Philippines was where I was born. My home is in America, in the places I’ve grown up. While my family has found a good balance with assimilating parts of my Filipino culture and American, I still identify more with the latter. When I am in the Philippines, this is where I feel more foreign. Their social norms and mores are completely different from where I was raised, but at least it is still relatable. I have been exposed to enough of my culture, told enough stories, and reminded of fond memories enough that in my heart, the troubles of my people are not disregarded. I am fortunate to have come here, and, yes, I do look back. However, when I see myself moving forward, the only home I see is here in America.
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