J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1735-1813) wrote of people coming to North America, "Ubi panis ibi patria," or "Where there is bread, there is one's fatherland."
My wife and I are both children of immigrants. Her parents hail from Bangalore, India and mine from Seoul, Korea. Both of our parents came in the late 60s, early 70s in order to pursue economic and educational opportunities. In many respects, it was their one fighting chance to carve out a living for themselves. But did they know what it was going to cost them?
A few weeks ago, my wife and I sat around the kitchen table and mused, would our parents have come if they would've known that the "Land of Opportunity" meant that their children would not be like themselves, that we would not be fluent in the mother tongue, that our notions of independence and privacy would be different, and for my wife– that she would leave the faith of her parents. Perhaps, with further insight, would they have seen that their children would not marry people like themselves, and that their grandchildren would not look like them. that their progeny would never be able to say more than a few words from that land so far away that they once called home? how could they have known?
My wife said, with some confidence, "if someone had told them that before they boarded the plane, i don't think they would have come."
I believe her. I know my in-laws and my own parents have a shrine to the motherland in their hearts. Even today in my parents' conversations about Korea, there is so much pride of their accomplishments, about the success and prosperity of Koreans, their ingenuity, their skills, and how they are the focus of so many jealous eyes around the world. The funny thing is, conversations about India at my in-laws are much the same. The nobility of India, its technological prowess, the global force that India is becoming, and the range of talented Indians making their mark in every industry is unending fodder for dinner conversations at their home.
Yet they are not like their compatriots. Our parents left their homes to seek out this new place. The attraction of opportunity was so strong that this land drew them here. Despite racial snubs, bland American food, and whatever other discomforts they might have faced, they remained and raised families and as yet, have not returned.
Perhaps they could still feasibly return. But the India and Korea they left is not the same India and Korea that they would return to. And as for us, I'm not sure that we could go back…while we might be able to fool the natives, the facade would only last until we uttered our first words, or perhaps not even as long with our tasteless American dress. Besides what would an Indian woman be doing with a Korean man anyway? Or vice versa? We would stick out like very sore thumbs.
I suppose that whether our parents had considered the possibilities much, opportunity was too much to pass up. They had to take that chance – and we, alas, are much the better for it. In fact, I can't imagine too many places where such a marriage could take place without much ado. Yet, I must venture to think what the lives of my children would be like. Perhaps it will be even trickier for them to navigate the streams of cultures both Indian and Korean as their grandparents will both compete to have some indoctrination. But they will unique and wouldn't be able to call either of those countries home.
For leaving for the land of opportunity means calling that place, home.