Migration is the movement of people from one place to another. But moving to other country is more than changing your home, your city or your homeland; it’s a social, cultural, mental change.
I came from El Salvador to the United States on July 21, 2015. That day was one of the hottest days of the year; I came only with two pieces of luggage, that was all: my life in two suitcases. Everything that I was, was reduced to pairs of pants, a few shirts and three pairs of shoes, a couple of books and my laptop. But inside of me, I came with a world of ideas and experiences, knowledge, meanings and hopes.
I remember my last days in El Salvador. I tried to observe all the details of my home, wanting to bring them with me. I remember the last time when I saw the rain, the sound of the cicadas and the appearance of zompopos, a kind of leafcutter ant, in May. I remember the last time when I saw my friends, the last time when I stroked my pet´s back. I remember when my country disappeared from the windows of the plane; I saw the silhouettes of volcanoes fading in the distance. In that moment, I knew my life was going to change.
One night, a week after I came to New York, I had a dream. In my dream, I walked along wide avenues of high buildings with many windows, and I saw windows everywhere, windows of all sizes and details. Then I came to my apartment, I went in my room and opened the windows and I saw a huge and beautiful mango tree. When I looked outside, I saw more trees, it was a tropical forest.
I dream of El Salvador every night, sometimes my dreams are a mix between El Salvador and New York; frequently they are good dreams but sometimes they are nightmares. I dream of being pursued by gangsters who intend to assault me. One night, for the first time in my life; I dreamed in English, which means my mind is trying to incorporate the new language.
Changing your life with a new language is a game of identity. When I talk in English, I feel like another person, another version of myself, someone with my same voice but with other expressions, other exclamations and another accent. The meaning of the words is different, especially when you have built an entire universe in your native language and then from one day to another you need to change. When I came, I had a good English base, it was easy to communicate simple things, but I failed disastrously when I tried to communicate complex ideas, especially my personal point of view. I don’t know about other immigrants; but in my case, I value so much sharing in public my experiences and opinions. Words are powerful, words hide the sense of our culture and learning a new language is learning the meaning of a new culture, learning about its morality and particular vision of life. Acquiring a new language is a complex process, it’s not only grammar or the meaning of words, it’s also how you assemble the sentences, what verbs are better than others or how can you talk in a past tense. It’s impossible to translate literally from your language to another language; it’s silly to do it, no one can understand you. Also you need to pronounce correctly. In English, like in any other language, it’s a big issue. The Spanish speaker has problems with short and long vowels, also with consonants like “th” and “w”. I spent my first months in New York trying to feel confident in my English. I was making new movements with my tongue. Finally, I accepted my English Latino accent: it was like an agreement with myself, I had to accept my particular accent, because it´s my cultural signature.
But my accent not only reveals my origin and my culture. The people of the United States pay a lot of attention to ethnicity, what they call “race”. Sometimes your ethnicity becomes your dominant social status, establishes your social role and your position in society. People expect you to be a certain way just because of your ethnic background. Sometimes that becomes a prejudice. Initially, I was shocked when I filled my first job application, because they asked about my origin and my race. When I grew up in El Salvador, I built a personal image of myself for other reasons and not directly for my ethnicity.
Emigrating is not only moving from one place to another, to get a job and settle in a new city or in a new country, or even learning the grammar of a new language. Emigrating has been redrawing the image of myself; discovering a new world of meanings, belonging and other emotions.
Meanwhile the past gradually fades, like the memories of my dreams when I awake.