My latest obsession or habit would generate the same reaction from my father. He would tell me, “Mili, you are an alien to this planet.” He went through countless teenage transitions of mine (from making balloon animals to my aspirations of being a professional dog trainer to writing about my survival of a zombie apocalypse) that I now realize where all his hair went. We were quite different people and communication was not as great as it was with my mother. When I moved to Argentina language barriers were not new to me, since my own father did not speak English himself.
Having parents whose second language is English is nothing new in United States, especially in Miami, Florida- even Delaware, Ohio has a strong Hispanic presence. But my mother raised my siblings and me as English speakers and she also adopted the language quickly. My father, however, never fully grasped the English language in the 12 years we spent in the States. We spoke to him in English and he answered in Spanish; I cannot begin to explain how complicated heated arguments were with him, at the height of anger, the ensuing confusion of asking the other to repeat or translate what they just spat out did not maintain the bickering mood for long.
In Miami, he would ask us to translate almost every time we spoke to other people. He knew just enough to get by and we didn’t have a problem most of the time. As a child, I did not fully register how his struggle with living and working in an English speaking country. It was not until we moved to Argentina that I knew how he felt. I had a great difficulty adapting to this new environment, but as a young teen, I did so faster than an adult would have been able to. Any impatience I felt for the lack of communication between my father and I disappeared, since I spoke more Spanish as time went on and understood what his experience in the United States. My mother is Argentinean, so most of my memories consist of me relating to her as I went through high school in Buenos Aires.
In Argentina, my father and I were both Aliens. The loud and brash personality of the Kurepas (Buenos Aires residents) contrasted our soft and patient attitudes toward life. It wasn’t until we moved to Paraguay that our relationship strengthened. Suddenly, my father became the ‘go to’ guy for any and all cultural information I need to know. Being born and raised in Asunción, he knew the answers to my questions, and I asked him for advice when it came to Paraguayan life. Relying fully on Spanish discussion, we talked a lot more than we had in both Argentina and Miami.
However, during their return to South America my parents did not settle back into their previous lifestyles. It was not at all like sliding into an old pair of jeans, but instead, it was as if someone had sewn the pockets shut, tightened the belt area and we noticed tears we did not know existed. A lot of change comes in a decades’ time and I could see my parent still felt alien-like, even on their home planet. In Paraguay, my fathers’ frustration took on another challenge. Instead of language, there were other issues he faced upon returning to his own country. Our new lives provided problems such as poverty, corruption and family conflicts.
After 5 years abroad, I am back in United States, much less of a time gap than what my parents went through. However, my jeans have gone through minor changes and it has been easier to mend or get accustomed to those modifications. When we separate ourselves and view our lives from a foreign perspective, we are all capable of being aliens to our world. It isn’t necessary to move away physically in order to feel out of place. We have the choice and tendency to settle in the place we feel less alien-like. I know that sensation will never fully disappear but being with others that understand makes the feeling a good one that can be shared and joked about.
My habits have become less varied and more developed as I settle back into the country and language I fit best in. I value my parents’ advice as I enter adulthood- a process that makes everyone feel like an alien now and then. Having recently showed my father my latest hobby, his reaction was different from previous speculations. When he saw the product of my work, he said to my mother “Nuestros hijos son un orgullo.” Our kids are to be proud of.