Jun 292015
Welcome Home, Newcomers

Last July, when I returned from 13 months of traveling to Portland, Oregon, I found my adopted home town a different place than I had left. The place was overrun with newcomers clogging surface roads with traffic and filling vacancies in condominium buildings that had sprouted like mushrooms in desirable areas. The neighborhood bar, aptly called The Standard, I enjoyed for its divey, black-clad vibe now also saw pastel polo shirts and bachelorette parties crowding the tables. The list goes on. Change, of course, is a natural facet of […] Continue reading >

Dec 172014

Every migrant knows in his heart of hearts that it is impossible to return. Even if he is physically able to return, he does not truly return, because he himself has been so deeply changed by his emigration. It is equally impossible to return to that historical state in which every village was the center of the world. The one hope of recreating a center now is to make it the entire earth. —John Berger in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

Dec 072014

Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but also, undoing the very meaning of the world and–at its most extreme–abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd. [T]o emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments. —John Berger in And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

Nov 112014

A case could be made that they would have been better off melting into the landscape as no doubt many now forgotten did, adopting native tongues, stories, places to love, ceasing to be exiles by ceasing to remember the country they were exiled from so that they could wholly embrace the country they were in. Only by losing that past would they lose the condition of exile, for the place they were exiled from no longer existed, and they were no longer the people who had left it. —Rebecca […] Continue reading >

Oct 292014

In the United States citizenship and nationality are one and the same thing. You are automatically American if you are born on the U.S. territory or if you are born to American parents anywhere. You can also become American by reciting the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony. As an immigrant, you can be born to parents of any nationality, anywhere in the world, and speak any language, but if you meet the formal requirements of citizenship, including publicly declaring the subscription to a set of ideas, enshrined […] Continue reading >

Oct 132014
Writing About Immigration Experience: "A Demolition"

Earlier this year I submitted a personal essay to Oregon Quarterly magazine’s 2014 / 15th Annual Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest. The look back at my immigration experience shortly after coming to the U.S. won first prize. You can read the original in the Summer 2014 print issue of Oregon Quarterly or online here. I reprint the essay here with permission of the magazine’s editor, Ann Wiens, and at the end I include two reader responses. A Demolition 7:41 a.m. I park Sam’s old Ford pickup on the near side […] Continue reading >

Oct 092014

Memory is potent…for almost any immigrant. As you scramble to piece together your future in an unknown environment, you only have the past and its customs to guide you. But the past and its customs are increasingly murky and useless. Faced with an unknown future, we retreat to the past for its safety. An inability to assimilate to their new homes—to abandon memories, language, traditions is the charge most often lobbed at immigrant communities. For immigrants, solitude and the trap of memory are central conditions. If our memories are […] Continue reading >

Oct 032014

The newcomers make themselves at home; they adapt themselves easily and gladly to the material environment, and make a moral environment of their own on that solid basis, ignoring or positively condemning the religion and culture of the elder Americans. Perhaps the elder Americans are assimilated in spirit to the new ones more readily that the new Americans to the old. I do not mean that any positively German, Italian, Jewish, or Irish ingredients are incorporated into American traditions: on the contrary, the more recent immigrants are quick—much quicker […] Continue reading >

Sep 232014

Yet migration like birth is heroic: the soul is signing away her safety for a blank cheque. A social animal like man cannot change his habitat without changing his friends, nor his friends without changing his manners and his ideas. An immediate token of all this, when he goes into a foreign country, is the foreign language which he hears there, and which he probably will never be able to speak with ease or with true propriety. The exile, to be happy, bust be born again: he must change […] Continue reading >

Aug 212014

Recall Lukács’s phrase ‘transcendental homelessness’. What I have been describing, both in my own life and in the lives of others, is more like secular homelessness. It cannot claim the theological prestige of the transcendent. Perhaps it is not even homelessness; homelooseness (with an admixture of loss) might be the necessary (hideous) neologism: in which the ties that might bind one to Home have been loosened, perhaps happily, perhaps unhappily, perhaps permanently, perhaps only temporarily. Clearly, this secular homelessness overlaps, at times, with the more established categories of emigration, […] Continue reading >

Aug 052014

The world trip adventure is over (if you followed along on the travel blog Where Is Your Toothbrush?, thank you, and if not, please visit). I am back in Portland, Oregon, and with me, American Robotnik. You may have seen a reading list and a quote I posted last month, shortly after my return. That’s all just a warm-up. I am very excited about embarking on this next iteration of American Robotnik. As of August 2014, I will continue exploring the grand immigration experience, researching the issue and reporting […] Continue reading >

Jul 252014

I bump into plenty of people in America who tell me that they miss their native countries – Britain, Germany, Russia, Holland, South Africa – and who in the next breath say they cannot imagine returning. It is possible, I suppose, to miss home terribly, not know what home really is anymore, and refuse to go home, all at once. Such a tangle of feelings might then be a definition of luxurious freedom… Logically, a refusal to go home should validate, negatively, the very idea of home, rather in […] Continue reading >