Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

I Choose to Identify as This Even Though I’m Not It

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Life | 0 comments

Paperwork to convince myself of my ambivalence (23/40)

I, for one, love that people can identify themselves with whoever they feel inside. It gives me the shelter I need to call myself something I am not.

So here it goes.

I am not an immigrant.

There, I said it.

But even though I am not an immigrant, I like to call myself one.

My dad was in Miami working as an architect on a work visa when I was born. My mom, pregnant with my sister, got homesick and convinced my dad to move back to Cartagena before my sister was born.

I lived in Colombia since I was three, which contributed to the fact that I feel Colombian, and when outside of Colombia, I feel like an immigrant.

It is unfair to call myself an immigrant. After all, I can’t say that I have shared the common ground with the hardest part of the immigrant experience. Primarily looking for work when I can’t legally work, dealing with green cards or the naturalization process. I just show up to apply, add my SSN or passport numbers, and I’m good to go.

I’m also not afraid of ICE. If you are wondering why you would be scared of ice, then you are probably thinking of the small cubes you add to your red Mountain Dew and make you go, “Ahhh,” and not of the mean Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as “La Migra.”

I’m not afraid of them because all my paperwork is in order.

There was a set of cultural and societal ideas I was exposed to in my upbringing that I would’ve never experienced here, even if raised by immigrant parents.

I live my life in this nationality and cultural limbo, kinda like not belonging anywhere, neither here nor there. Maybe I would be seen as Colombian in Colombia because of my shared common experiences, even without the proper paperwork. And maybe here, I would always be seen as an immigrant because even though I have the appropriate paperwork, I also have an accent, grammar mistakes, a set of cultural ideas that are foreign to “Americans,” and a beautifully tanned skin.

Around nine years old, I started telling my friends that I was indeed ‘estadounidense.’ They would try to call me a ‘gringo’, but I didn’t think that was okay. After all, my grandfather had taught me that ‘gringo’ came from Vietnamese locals telling the military, “Green, Go Home.”.

I also didn’t like “Americano” because, like every South American, I also believed there was something wrong with that. We are all ‘Americanos,’ so to speak.

No one believed me when I said I was indeed ‘estadounidense.’

The image they had already been fed about what Americans look like resembles a human version of the Barbie Ken doll. And believe it or not, I was already brown. It is not like I was born blonde and then, over the years, toasted under the equatorial sun. Or that I was trying to pull a Rachel Dolezal by tanning more than usual.

Even at that young age, I knew there was something cool about being American. We were already bombarded with images from advertisements, movies, and TV shows of what life looked like in the country to the north.

So I started telling people that I was indeed ‘estadounidense.’

My claims were met with skepticism.

“Really? Then how come you are not blonde? Show us your birth certificate!” How does a nine-year-old know about birth certificates? Maybe I just don’t know many nine-year-olds or remember how they act.

I would tell my mom, “My honor is in question. I need my birth certificate to prove to all the nine-year-olds that I am, indeed, ‘estadounidense.’”

My mom’s response was always a variation of, “Yeah, right. I’m going to entrust you with this important document to convince kids who don’t know their elbow from their other elbow.”

And because she wouldn’t let go of my birth certificate, then no one believed that I, a brown kid, was indeed ‘estadounidense.’

There was another kid in my class who was born in the States. But he was blonde. Or at least blondish. I will never know because Rafa had really, really early onset male baldness patterns. But his skin was white, so I’m inclined to say that people did believe he was American, although I can’t say for sure.

I grew older, and no one cared whether or not I was American. My parents are Colombian, so I could’ve become a Colombian citizen. But somewhere along the line, a plan hatched in my mom’s brain that if I was only American, then I wouldn’t have to serve the military’s mandatory draft. So, I remained only American.

That also meant that my overly paranoid single mom in ’90s Colombia would use my citizenship as a means to limit my mobility around the country.

When I was growing up, the guerrillas practiced what came to be known as “pescas milagrosas” or “miraculous fishing.”

The guerrillas would install barricades on the side of the road and stop every car going from one city to the next. They would park an 18-wheeler with a container on it and load everyone coming on that road until the container was full. They would drive the truck to a secret location, and there they would tap into the country’s national registry to find out the value of who they had kidnapped.

If you were an average citizen, you would be extorted for something like 500,000 pesos, which is somewhere between USD 250–500, depending on the rate exchange and the year, and then they would let you go.

If you were rich, a politician, or an American, then your stay would be longer. Two of my neighbors, an assemblyman and his son, were coming back from a camping trip and were captured by one of these fishing excursions. They remain in captivity for five years, and for five years, we witnessed their families negotiating their release and their kids growing up without parents. When they came back, they weren’t the same.

Americans were also kidnapped during these times, and Americans were an amazing bargaining chip. If you had a blue passport, you could be traded for a “political” prisoner — typically a notorious violent asshole who could go back to their guerrilla factions to keep inspiring fear and terror. And, of course, we also knew that kidnapping negotiations could go wrong, where the guerrillas would get everything they wanted and still kill the prisoners.

So my mom would not let me travel.

Colombia is said to be one of the most beautiful countries in the world because of its biodiversity. It has all the thermic floors, jungle, desert, mountains, and pink dolphins. I wouldn’t know. I saw almost none of it.

All of that has changed. People can safely travel through the country and see their unimaginable beauty.

Before I left the country, President Uribe was elected, and he fought the guerrillas to make the roads safe again.

I have met many Americans who traveled through Colombia once the roads were safe to do so, and they know my country more than I ever will.

I met the girl who hiked up and down the jungle for two years, the guy who drove motorcycles around Bogota and nearby cities, and the guy who spent two years in Manizales empowering micro-businesses. There was also the filmmaker, who was Colombian but also brought his non-Colombian friends and tons of production equipment, and he loaded that up in buses and hit four or five cities between Bogota and Santa Marta.

I might never know Colombia like that.

Even though I have traveled through the US more than I have traveled through Colombia, and even though I continue to meet people who know Colombia better than I do, I still call myself Colombian, and once a Colombian is out of Colombia, he is an immigrant to that country even though if he is indeed an ‘estadounidense.’


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