By J. L. Egremy
I grew up in a place full of colors, smells and sounds from childhood birthday parties to holidays. My aunt was often called upon to make party costumes for my siblings and myself which were always a great hit. We truly enjoyed the attention and felt wonderful to be greeted with ” oh my! That pollito (chicken) (or whatever other costume we wore) is adorable!!” The wonderful smell that wafted from the kitchen provided memories of the drink and snacks our hosts would provide. The smells were as delightful as the decorations. I could smell bread, some food that would be baking in the oven, coffee , cinnamon, cotton candy, all mixing and mingling in the air. The parties were big productions. Food, games, entertainment, treats and costumes were the norm.
Holidays were also big events. Easter was filled with eggs and food…the colors and smells were always there. Preparations for Christmas Eve, which was very special, began early in the day. Sometimes grandmother would buy a turkey from a man that would bring a flock through the streets of the city. She would buy one and then feed it for a few months and when Christmas Day would come the turkey would mysteriously disappear. Mom, aunties and Grandma would spend days cooking and open the house to anyone that was hungry as long as they sang the litany and the “posadas” before we ate.
I remember the house being full of people and I would lie next to the Christmas tree that was trimmed with pretty lights and ornaments. A nativity scene was carefully placed under the tree with fresh moss serving as grass for the small figures. To this day, the smell of moss after it rains brings back memories of lying down next to the tree. Each memory becomes more treasured as the years go by.
However, when I turned 17 I decided to create new memories and become an exchange student. I told my Mom about an organization I read about in the newspaper. She was surprised. and I could see a little sadness in her eyes. Mom valiantly talked to my Dad about it. They made several calls, and eventually I came to live in Virginia with a family that had just sent their two girls off to college.
I will never forget the day I arrived in America and was greeted by my host family. They were as excited to see me as I was to see them and I was ready to start my new school! And then they started talking to me. I had taken English classes for as long as I could remember, but I could not understand half of what they said. These were words I never knew existed!!! It was tough. I had to quickly learn the language and the American culture. It was then that I started to experience what I call the “limbo” state.
My host family was amazing. School and friends were awesome. The culture and the language were so intoxicatingly fresh and delicious. However, I did not feel like I belonged in Virginia. I loved everything about Virginia and the states, but I just could not call it home.
My year as an exchange student was one of the best experiences of my life, but I did not feel like I belonged. I went back to my homeland. I enrolled in a university and started the first week of classes; however, my old friends were not the same people I remembered. Their words were more abrasive than I remembered. I started noticing that people’s attitude on the streets and even those at school that irked me. I felt uneasy. I felt like I did not belong in my own hometown.
I enrolled in a private Catholic university. Tuition was expensive and I knew my parents were making an effort for me to attend that school. I sat down with my Dad and my Mom and told them that I wanted to go back to America for my education. I had researched a college on the Texas border that was one-third the cost of the tuition they were paying at the private school. They reluctantly allowed me to drop out of the university and took me to Laredo where I enrolled in the border town’s community college. I completed my education after many ups and downs, but I still felt like I did not belong in America. However, when I went back to my homeland, I knew I no longer belonged there either. The feeling of “limbo” has been a constant in my life since I was 18.
After all these years I have established myself in America where my life is today. I have become an American citizen, and in all these years I have always wondered if other people feel what I feel — the “limbo” state?!? I know that I belong in this time, in this age, in this planet. I know that good people exist and are in my life regardless of national origin. I know that you and I have much more in common, than either you or I are willing to admit. So, my realization is that I belong. I am one of us and I am glad to be me and glad to belong. Do you belong?
J.L. Egremy received his undergraduate degree, cum laude, in biology from Texas A&M International University and his Master’s Degree in biology from Texas A&M University, Kingsville. He also earned a certificate in French from Alliance Francaise Mexico. He is a compassionate educator with more than seventeen years of teaching experience. His expertise is in Biology, with emphasis on Botany and teaching biology to non-majors students.