Monday, September 21, 2009

Strange Things Have Happened

When does the place you live become "home"? It certainly isn't something that happens overnight, regardless of whether you're relocating halfway round the world or just moving into a new house. Instead, it is a change that takes place incrementally. Over time, you become more comfortable with your new surroundings, novel experiences become everyday, the foreign becomes familiar.

And so it has been with me and San Francisco; over the past two years or so, I have been undergoing the steady transformation from outsider to resident. Sure, my accent and immigration status are just two things to remind me that I'm still officially a foreigner in the United States. But that doesn't change the fact that this city now feels a lot like home.

Two events stand out as important markers along the way. The first was election night last November. The announcement that Obama had triumphed would have been a cause for celebration no matter where I was living. But that night as I danced in the streets with friends, it felt like a win for the home side, for my team. Over the course of the election campaign, my stake in the result had increased mentally and even financially (as a resident I may not have been allowed to actually vote, but I was able make campaign contributions). And now, at the end, surrounded by jubilant locals, it wasn't just their guy who had won, but mine too.

The second was more recently on the Fourth of July. My wife and I spent the day with friends in the East Bay so that I could experience a typically American Independence Day parade, and Piedmont's festivities didn't disappoint. At times it seemed as if the whole town was marching past us (even though the whole town was also lining the street). There were jazz bands, bagpipes, cheerleaders, Irish dancers, mop-wielding sailors, people dressed up as Snow White and Uncle Sam, basketball and rugby teams tossing balls around, a samba troupe, half a jet fighter mounted on a trailer, ballet performers, and enough vintage cars to bankrupt the government's cash for clunkers scheme in one fell swoop.

Watching this strange cross-section of cultural contradictions stream past was a reminder that the United States is a country with no single cultural orthodoxy, no shared roots, not even an official language (despite the best efforts of a vocal minority). A place that may not welcome immigrants as readily as it once did, but one where the new arrivals who do make it through the red tape are assimilated faster than almost anywhere else on earth.

Which is why this is my final post here. There are still plenty of things I find remarkable and fascinating about living in America, like finding a "British" section in the ethnic food aisle of supermarkets, or the strange debate that's currently raging over whether or not to provide everyone in the US with affordable health care. And there are some things I may never fully understand, such as baseball. But I'm beginning to see all of these peculiarities as quirks of the place I live, as my weirdness, rather than something to be gazed upon with the safe, insulating distance of an outsider.

And what's the point of writing as an emigrant if I feel like a local?

You can follow my continuing adventures at my website and on my new blog Ludovician.


ingridkeir said...

Hi Keith, I love your last post. Local yokels unite!!
xo Ingrid

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