The Visible Immigrant

Since my move from France to the United States, I’ve often thought that being an immigrant is a full time job.

Ask Jose Antonio Vargas.  
In many ways, I actually find my life as a legal immigrant more challenging that his as an illegal alien.
Perhaps, the most noticeable difference between his life and mine is that few legal immigrants can afford to live forever in posh liberal pockets of the country.  That would be nice because there is in the California Bay Area and Peninsula as there is in New York City or Washington DC and major large American cities a unique way of thinking that allows anyone with an accent and a sounding foreign name to shine as a star. And also of course to be invisible because nobody there dare ask you where are you from.
Because of jobs relocations, my family has moved twice from the west coast to the east coast.  Because of housing and school, our four children have changed school many times.  For my husband and I it has also meant starting from scratch each time.  
It can be tiring and hard to establish roots. However, I am glad for these various addresses across the country have offered me more than a tourist glimpse on the US.
And even though it sometimes hurts to pass for a foreigner visiting the USA, and it is tiring to be asked about my origins, being an immigrant, for me, is a great way to never take myself seriously and never pity myself. I have worked hard at becoming an American and these moments create unforgettable memories for my husband and me, and will eventually for my kids when these episodes stop embarrassing them.
I have gathered more down to earth encounters with real Americans because of my moving around than anyone who has been staying in privileged American towns or cities. Traveling or interviewing important people is gratifying but nothing matches the learning that cones from life with the locals.  
My family has been working on a 1910 lake cabin in Central Maine for a few weeks every summer for the last fifteen years.  For many, Maine evocates quaint towns, pristine coastal coves, harbors with colorful buoys, ice creams stands along Route 1, LL Bean and lobster rolls.
Central Maine rhymes with unemployment, an important number of men and women in the military, health issues related to a poor life style, home foreclosures, combined to a strong life resilience and a respect for people’s privacy.  
It is the Maine I love, far from posh Bar Harbor and multi-millions Kennebunk properties, from commercial Booth Bay Harbor and exclusive islands for movie stars. 
In places such as Central Maine an immigrant stands out more than a nose in a face.  In such places it is hard to pretend to be someone you aren’t and impossible to be invisible.  In such places, you are remembered and often for unusual reasons.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to the bank in our little town.  
A smiling young woman greeted us. While she took care of my husband’s deposit, she asked us if we were visiting Maine or living here.  We were telling her about our old house sitting on a nearby pond when another young employee arrived from a back office.  She was as friendly as her colleague and asked us if we were still enjoying an occasional ice cream at Webber’s, the local ice cream stand. 
Surprised, we admitted our summer addiction and the young woman announced that she served us ice creams cones one summer while our kids were still little.  Soon, everyone at the bank was sharing information about favorite ice creams places through Maine, outrageous prices along the coast, favorite local flavors and ridiculous ones (lobster!) in crowded tourist towns. 
Then, the young employee asked me if ginger was still my favorite flavor.  Stunned, I could only nod.  She smiled and said that she did remember me ordering kiddie ginger ice cream in a sugar cone.  We all laughed, as it was truly something to be remembered so many years later because of an ice cream choice and probably talking funny English as well. 
Told you, being an invisible immigrant is hard and even impossible if you live the life of an ordinary American in ordinary America. 
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