Jan 132013

footprintsA common metaphor for an immigrant is that of a plant, uprooted from his country of origin and replanted in another land. Anchored in the place you are born, you become rooted in it. The longer you’re there, the deeper the roots. When you leave your country, you yank yourself out of the land. To begin a new life in a new country, you put the old roots down in the new soil but you must also start new roots to survive. The metaphor finds expression in a synonym for the word immigrant—transplant.

Until I read Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul: Memories and the City” earlier this month, I identified with the uprooted plant metaphor. But Pamuk sowed a seed of a different metaphor in my mind with a description of his fellow Istanbullus: the residents of this bi-continental city have “one foot in each culture” (the cultures in question being that of the West and of the East).

The ideal acculturation strategy, integration, requires positive identification with your original as well as new nation. You cannot tear yourself completely away from your original home. You can never completely leave home; one foot always remains in the old country as you plant the other in the new country. The new life demands you stand on both feet.

Like a transcontinental version of the Colossus of Rhodes, the Central European immigrant spans an ocean, standing with one foot in his old country and the other in the new.


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