This week marks an anniversary of sorts for me. It has been five years since I packed up everything I owned and moved to the United States.At 29 years old, I unexpectedly found myself to be an immigrant.
Although it has been a reluctant label for me – I just don’t feel like I fit the description. Mostly I blend into suburbia, unless you catch the Canadian lilt in my voice, or see me pause when I try to find the appropriate Minnesota word for what I might call a toque, or cutlery.
But I am a member of the legions of people who live in America by choice. And from time to time I like to remind people of that as the word “immigrant” gains ground as a negative stereotype.So often people think of immigrants as a class of takers, reaping all the benefits and advantages that come with living in the U.S. without giving anything in return. I realize there are challenges with a current generation being born to illegal parents, and cultures who send the majority of their income back to their native country to support large, struggling families who live in conditions we cannot even begin to imagine.
But there are also millions of us who are living in this country legally, working hard at our jobs, contributing by paying our taxes, owning or renting homes, spending our paychecks at local businesses and volunteering time.
What sets me apart from many of these people is that I really had very little to gain by moving to the United States. I had a decent job, great friends and family nearby. Life was good. But there was this guy I wanted to marry. And he happened to live in another country, whose border was only a dozen miles south of where I had spent most of my life. So close, in fact, that four out of my tiny graduating class of 36 students have relocated to the U.S.
I jumped through all the same hoops required whether you’re moving from Somalia or Canada. I filled out all of the forms. I paid thousands in fees. I flew across country to have my paperwork stamped. I was poked and prodded, tested for everything from HIV to tuberculosis. There were tears of frustration when I was given the runaround by federal employees and wasn’t able to leave the country to attend my brother’s wedding. While I griped about the slow and inefficient wheels of bureaucracy, I strongly support the need for screening and rules.
Back in 2006 when my husband, a Twin Cities native, and I were deciding where we would make our life, it seemed like an easy decision. He had good job with 20 years seniority and owned a home. I was ready for a change of scenery and new work challenges.
Fast forward five years and who would have guessed that job and that home would be precious assets that so many Americans struggle to hang on to. I count my blessings I was able to find work before the market went from difficult to impossible.
Above all else, thriving has given way to surviving. And that’s just for those of us lucky enough to still be able to make ends meet. I shake my head when I think about the decent income the two of us bring in that barely pays for our modest lifestyle.
We clip coupons. I buy second-hand baby clothes. We have a home we would like to either sell or upgrade, but it just doesn’t make sound financial sense to invest any more money into that sinking ship.
We just bought a 10-year-old SUV instead of the newer model I really wanted, so that we can foot the bill for day care without losing too much sleep at night.
Like so many others, I’m growing weary of working hard, making concessions while we just can’t seem to get ahead. Where have all the good times gone?
I wish the United States could just live up to the expectations I had back when I made the biggest decision of my life. I had a glimpse of it in that first year I lived in Minnesota, but it has been fading in the rear view mirror ever since.