Who is an Immigrant?

Some people feel a compelling push to leave their country, they move out and find home elsewhere. Some others move and realize they left home behind; they get pulled right back in. And then there’s a third category, like myself, caught in a strong force of push-pull.What then do we call home as immigrants – our first home, the birth place we left behind? Or the one we’ve adopted to live, work, and raise a family?

My Immigrant Story

Sixteen years ago, I moved to the U.S from India. In the beginning, it was fascinating to experience everything that was new and different. There was a sense of optimism and a road ahead to make the place home. Then I entered a phase of analyzing and comparing everything with what I already knew. Most times I never concluded if one thing or one way was superior than the other. It was simply a habit of drawing purposeless parallels between the two cultures as I missed my past and often got nostalgic.  After a few years, this too tapered off. But it left in me a void.

I knew I wasn’t fully home, even when my newer roots were growing deeper.


Quite naturally, my excitement to go back and visit ‘home’ every summer was boundless. Well, I thought I was going home, until I realized the home I knew was moving away from me. I was truly distanced. Every year, I noticed the things I had loved, big and small, change. Many things looked different, and felt different – streets, people, transport systems, buildings, the corner store including. I clamored to recreate slices of my past life but often failed. It was as far as can be from the place I had called home.

A Muddled Immigrant Me

At the end of it all, I had developed a well-balanced love-hate for both countries, which neither my parents who only lived in India nor my children who only grew up in America could empathize with. I think about them and those who have never moved across cultures (or have moved and found a clear favorite), and have no second reference point for comparison. They are married to their only home, for better or for worse – the heart is in one, and only one place. I believe this could give them a sense of contentment and feeling rooted, something that eludes a muddled immigrant. And so I discovered that when I stepped out and embraced a new place, without ever losing the pull for where I came from, I had self-inflicted the pain of never being fully home. And of an eternal soul searching for where I truly belong.

While most times I believe immigrant experiences only enrich and offer the advantage of benefiting from the best in both cultures, it is more than a fleeting moment when I wish I have the luxury of devoutly calling one place home. As the years in my adopted home stack up, I realize there’s no deliverance.  I’ll always miss home, when I am home.

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