It is my third day living with my host family. Today, I woke up at 9am. I showered with what seems like only 5 cups of hot water, and placed my laundry in the washing machine. I boiled some milk for coffee, set the table, and heated up some corn and cheese tamales. I invited my mother to eat. Similar to how the past few meals have been, we only heard the subtle chewing of our mouths and the clanking of our utensils. I’m not the best at small talk. I hate it. It has it’s own risks and benefits, but I broke the silence and asked, “Te escuché hablar en la telefeno a noche. Fue tu esposo?” (I heard you on the phone last night. Was that your husband?) She said yes, and I asked where he was. She said “El esta en Estados Unidos.” (He is in the United States).
I politely asked more questions about what he does, why he’s there, and if they miss him. She said he has been there for 11 years. He moved there while their son was a year old and their daughter still in the womb. She said, with her eyes slowly tearing up, that he hasn’t came home because he was undocumented.
I told her that I am also an immigrant in the United States and was apart from my mother who moved for similar reasons with her husband. This is not to diminish all the hard work my mother put in to processing our papers, being apart from her kids, and all the risks she had to take, but we are luckier. We were only apart for two years and our path to becoming Americans did not require losing our agency to travel and never meeting a parent. Immigrating for economic reasons and acquiring citizenship in the United States is a process that is difficult, painful, different for everyone, and also something so inevitable to empathize with, regardless of how easy or hard it is for someone.
We continued to talk about the United States’s immigration process, the difficulties of acquiring visas, and the sad side effect of immigrants being separated from families.
Today was was also one of those days my disdain for small talk came to my benefit. I feel so much closer to my mother after our lunch talk. There are also a few things I have grown to value – the preciousness of hot showers, of the United States’s rigorous plumbing system, of flat and paved sidewalks of Los Angeles, of the convenience of Ubers and busses, and my American citizenship. I can go on about the things we forget to be mindful about when we’re so comfortable and safe with the spaces we live in. This is not one of those stories where I realize all the things good in my life that my host family doesn’t have. It is one of those moving experiences, where I realize that while being in a new country, there is so much more to discover about our similarities and shared experiences than our differences.