It’s funny. My whole life I’ve been taught that the US is the great experiment. My country is where the term ‘Melting Pot’ was first coined. Mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century from the rest of the world – namely from Europe and Central Asia filled the US with new blood, new ideas, new traditions. And the cultures that were landed on our shores are what made us who we are today. Here in Spain, I feel the same way.
I walk down these streets and I see people from all over the world. I hear languages and smell food cooking that is distinctly not Spanish. The people here seem to embrace or certainly tolerate those from other countries. I’m not saying there is not skepticism. Certainly, me being from the US has caused some people to pause. I see them look at me like ‘Why are you moving here?’ and sometimes it requires me to provide additional documents. Some assume it’s because of our current political situation in the US, and they tell me so. But overall, the people I’ve met that are both Spanish, and from other countries, have been welcoming and hospitable. They just want to get to know me. And I find I want to get to know them.
The Schengen agreement in the EU means that there are people in Valencia from all over Europe. The PA I hired is Latvian. She speaks many languages but her Spanish has been invaluable in helping me navigate. I’ve looked at apartments that are owned by Iranians and others who are not from here. All of this is the international soup that makes me feel like we could make this home. We won’t be the odd man out, because so many are from other places around the world.
It is interesting, though. I’ve traveled all over the world. But I was always going to go back to the US – that was home. So even if I was in a country for an extended period of time, I knew that the US is where I would return, eventually. But it will be different now. We will be the ones coming to a new place – to build our lives. Living with people whose language we are terrible at speaking. Trying to navigate a system we don’t really understand.
It makes me stop and think back. Have I always been patient with others who have come to my own country from the outside? Have I had expectations that they ‘Should just know’ how our system and culture works? That they should be able to communicate effectively and jump into the flow at the same pace as the rest of us who were born into it?
Coming here has held up a mirror for me, and given me a different perspective on how we treat outsiders in the US. Maybe we could be more patient. Maybe we could allow those who seek a different life amongst us, to reshape us and make us better, more compassionate people. Maybe the New World isn’t a place, but a state of being. The State of Kindness.