The bitter taste of immigration

By Elaheh Farmand

Everything has a taste, a smell, a connection to the body, to the mind.

Immigration- the state of moving from one body to another, but carrying the same soul.

For the first few years, immigration was my mother’s home-cooked, saffron-infused Persian meals, bland due to my father’s non-fat diet. Bland and spice-less, saltless, forgettable and yet unforgiving of forever remaining the bitter taste of immigration.

Immigration was my father’s state of being, my father, whose fragile veins led him to America where doctors repaired him. His survival led way to his permanent residence in the States. My father, whose hatred for the Iranian regime stained the living room, the walls of our home when he cursed the television as the national anthem played.

My immigration embarrassed me, shamed and belittled me, made me feel inadequate, incompetent, insignificant. I had no words to express anger toward losing a country that at the time had done me no wrong. My mother recalls those first years: “you stopped laughing,” she says with guilt, as if my inabilities to smile and laugh were all her doing.

The discomfort of unfamiliarity constantly tore at my heart, like when we went grocery shopping and my parents’ English faltered. I stood watching words slip out of my father’s mouth, slippery and unconvincing. I watched my father struggle, and it was worse than his weak knees when he was ill before the surgeries, when his pace became slower, when he had trouble walking up stairs. This struggle, the one I related to, would remain a barrier for him, for as much he maintained and obsessed over his health, he never once attempted to mend his broken English – maybe because his heart too was broken beyond repair from the years he fathered his children alone, he the husband of an imprisoned wife. My father didn’t try to learn the new ways of American living. Instead he sank deeper and deeper into an unbreakable silence. He gave in to his new acquired power: his unspoken words.

It remained bitter for a few years, the taste of immigration. Immigration was a burden I carried, for I was supposed to, expected to feel free. This was my mother’s American dream but not mine. I resented her for betraying me. Before arriving to the States, she had promised me that if I didn’t like America, we could return home. She said this as she finished her prayer, kneeling before her God in her white, floral chador. Perhaps she had already given up her God. But those were her words. Even now, years later after we mended our relationship, in my dreams, I am upset with my mother. We continue to fight in my dreams, and I am angry at her. She often makes me cry. My heart aches when I wake up.

I don’t know at what moment I came to accept and love my immigrant self. It must not have been one precise moment, but an accumulation of realizations over the years. I used to get bored and tired of being asked where I am from at bars. My name was unusual, my accent was not. My Mediterranean eyes gave me away so I told the story of Iran. I recall the time my college roommate told a boy I was Japanese. I remember the confusion in his eyes. It was amusing and I appreciated her for saving me that night. For once, I didn’t have to tell the same story.

But that story gives me life now. That story is who I am now. That story, the broken English, the confusion, the anger, the sadness, that is how I’ve overcome my bitterness. That’s the story that allows me to bring people together now to talk about their immigrant experience. That story explains my hesitation to accept myself as the person I’ve become because of old fears I carry. I am a stronger woman because of that story.
Immigrant soul is weighted with loss and tainted with chaos.
Immigrant soul has anger, and sorrow and melancholy,
But also beauty and joy and freedom
Immigrant soul is heavy with nostalgia
But when it reaches lightness and contentment and confidence
Immigrant soul is at peace,
No longer at war with itself, its surroundings

Today, my immigrant soul is at peace.