Tuesday, 29 March 2016

After years of hard work and sacrifice, on March 29th, 1997, I arrived in Salt Lake City all  by myself to attend Brigham Young University. I was nineteen, wide-eyed with hope and victory. I was nineteen, so young.

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of this arrival, this new chapter in my life. I always thought that once I hit this mark, I could say that that I was half Argentine and half American. I spent the first half of my life in the same city, my beautiful Rosario. Half of my life in this country, most of it in Utah, but also in North Carolina and even Puerto Rico. But today I’m surprised to say I don’t feel like half of anything. The parts that make me who I am aren’t parts at all. They’re wholes too. A soul can’t be cut up into pieces (with the exception of Voldemort, and we all know how he ended up).

As a child, I always knew what I wanted: to go to college and be someone important. I loved stories and books. I wrote my first story when I was eight, a couple of years after my grandfather died. His death hit me so hard I still cry when I think of him. He always wanted to fly in an airplane, and he spoke of his Palestinian father like he had been a prince, exiled to Argentina because of war and poverty. I wrote my first story trying to deal with his departure.

I didn’t consider myself a writer though.

I wanted to be an astronaut all the way into my late teen years. I’ve always loved science and the stars. I still do. How I miss my Southern Cross and the Tres Marias! To become an astronaut I knew I had to study in the US because NASA is here. My parents supported this dream, and I spent most of my youth teaching myself English and studying for the US college admission tests (SAT and TOEFL). I arrived carrying two small suitcases that contained all I could afford to bring. I had only two pairs of pants and a few shirts. Two dresses for church. A Rosario Central jersey. A hand knitted sweater that my mom made for me and that I still keep. Her hands made it and I can’t part with it, even after all these years. A green woolen jacket that was just warm enough to keep me warm in the late Utah winter.

I didn’t experience culture shock when I arrived, and I credit the army of friends that became my family and helped me ease into this culture. The US was all that I expected it to be. It was just like in the movies. The internet was just started to be a “thing” and home wasn’t so far when I could look up my home in Yahoo. As time passed I would learn more about this beautiful place. Its wonderful opportunities that allowed a person like me to arrive with nothing more than a desire to progress and a tremendous will to learn and learn. I also found out about struggles that I hadn’t expected, like how the color of my skin and my accent could be fascinating to some people, unacceptable to others. I learned about the physical pain of homesickness. No one had told me that this homesickness for Argentina, for Rosario, for my family would never completely go away, but that in fact would become stronger as I got older. Even when years later my whole family joined me in Utah or when I visited Argentina, I never stopped missing my life in my barrio. The experiences we have in our childhood and youths mark as forever. I haven’t been a Catholic for years and years, but the songs from the mass, memories of my first Communion flash in my mind in April, when the world is blooming into Spring. Except that for me, April feels like early October. Although I’ve spent half of my life in the Northern Hemisphere, my body’s internal clock is in sync with the South. In the Spring and Fall I never know what day it is if I don’t look at a calendar. In December, I’m ready for a long, rejuvenating break. I love white Christmases, but I love even more the smell of Christmas Eve in the Summer, that combination of jasmine flowers and fireworks. The sounds of the crickets and frogs serenading all night, the distant ever-playing music somewhere in el barrio. I miss the daily bread and the smell of La Virginia’s coffee perfuming Avenida Alberdi on my way to school. I miss my friends and laughing with them. I miss the river Paraná and Summer storms. Sometimes when I go back to Roasrio, I think I see my mom walking back from work, my sister talking with her friends in la plaza, or my brothers playing fútbol in the empty lot.

But when I go back I don’t feel completely at home either. My mom isn’t there anymore. There’s a new apartment complex where the boys played fútbol. Even my bus line has changed. It’s not the 108 anymore. After a few days in Rosario, I miss the organization of my Utah home, the cleanliness, and order. Sleeping without worrying about anyone entering my house in the middle of the night. Some things are the same. I still get nervous when I see a uniformed police officer. Some reactions are coded in our DNA, and I was born at the cusp of the dictatorship in the seventies.

My life is a life of dilemmas: My brother still lives in Rosario with his family, and when it’s time to say goodbye, my heart stays with them. After a few days in Rosario, I’m always ready to come back to my house in Utah, and in my heart I love to hear the words “Welcome Home” from the immigration officer at the airport because this is my home now. But so is Rosario. So I’m not half and half of anything. I’m fully Argentine–I know in the American citizenship oath it says everyone renounces to their original country. But really. How could I renounce to who I am? And at the same time I love being an American citizen. But I’m still that girl from Rosario. I love my city even more after all these years, after so many thousands kilometers that I’ve traveled away from it. And although I haven’t lived in Rosario for so long, I visit it every day, when I write my stories. I walk its streets, chant in the stadium, or sit in the balcony to watch the boys playing fútbol. I’m forever in between my home then and my home now, and I’ve made my peace with this, with my heart fully in two places.

Not the best picture, but it’s the last picture we took before I left for the airport

7 responses to “Half and half? What I am now”

  1. Valerie says:

    How beautiful to read about such personal memories and feelings. I cannot imagine leaving my country without my family and starting a new life somewhere else. You have such ambition and drive.

  2. Yamile says:

    Thank you for stopping by and for your comment, Valerie. I guess my ambition and drive make me a true Slytherin 🙂

  3. Amy Wilson says:

    This is beautiful, Yamile. Thanks for giving me something to think about and savor today.

  4. Yamile says:

    Thank you, dear Amy! It means so much coming from you!

  5. Keith says:

    Poignant story. Tears smiles & strong memories. You are whole. The sum of all your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Keith says:

    Poignant story. Tears smiles & strong memories. You are whole. The sum of all your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Paul Smith says:

    very good story! I'm happy for you, and paper editing services help you write better!

Yamile Saied Mendez

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American, Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult author.

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