Tag Archives: immigration

Notes from a Broad: a ticket to Paradise. March 2016

I inadvertently do things which seem normal to me but which immediately mark me out as being different. Today I walk to the supermarket. In a culture where the car is King, this in itself is sufficient to cause people to stare. The only other pedestrian is Safeway’s resident beggar. Every supermarket in town has them. Usually a disabled veteran with no Federal benefits, or a young, haggard Hispanic woman, old before her time. More often than not a small child or a dehydrated dog features in the tableau. It occurs to me, rather ironically, that they are more a part of this society than I am; my visa is expired and I have no legal status in this country until the Department of Homeland Security decides to grant me residency. I am not allowed to leave the country until this process is complete; I am a stateless immigrant.

I am gradually getting used to the differences between American supermarkets and those in England. American stores are more reminiscent of the English grocery shops I remember from my early childhood, in the days when self-service was still a novelty. Food is more expensive, and the concept of the ‘value’ brand and fifty varieties of baked bean has not yet arrived. The jars of ‘Pigs’ Feet’ and piles of fresh cactus hold no fear for me. Potatoes are carefully arranged individually on display, as if they are rare fruits, which I suppose is what they are here. They are expensive, and of poor quality. The desert is not good arable country, and anything requiring a large amount of water to grow is a luxury item.

As I pay for my goods, Angie on the checkout offers me a third carrier bag which I refuse, explaining that I have to carry the shopping as I’m on foot. She looks at me as though she doesn’t quite grasp the concept. ‘You want a ticket to paradise?’ she asks. For a moment I wonder if Angie is going to turn out to be some kind of checkout evangelist, but it turns out she is just handing me my lottery ticket.

Being English and coming from a very rainy part of the country I am used to hurrying everywhere, coat buttoned to the chin and head down against the elements. The image of America I used to have in my mind was one where everyone is in a rush. That may be true in the cities, but here in the high desert, no-one hurries. It’s too hot, for a start. Today, in early March, shortly before lunchtime, it is just shy of 70 degrees, and that means a slow walk home. Arizona even has its own time zone. Imagine that in Somerset.

When I arrive home, hot and sweaty in the underwired department, I discover a note left wedged in the doorjamb, left by the Jehovah ’s Witnesses. Last time they came to the door I patiently explained that I was a Quaker and very happy with that, thank you very much. Again this prompted a look of bafflement. ‘Well, we get folks claimin’ to be all sorts of weird religions’ one of them said…the words pot and kettle sprang to mind, but I was too polite to say so. I unfold the leaflet, to find an invitation to a ‘free public event: You Will Be With Me In Paradise’. Superfluous capital letters aside, I spend a moment pondering on being with Jesus in Paradise, Paradise being apparently located at the Adult Center of Prescott on a Wednesday evening. If I attended, I was assured that I would hear ‘an explanation of how his death can benefit you and your family’. Trust the Americans to turn crucifixion into a development opportunity.

I feel brighter today, deciding to revert to good old British cooking making the most of the limited local resources. I improvise Cornish pasties with ready-made pastry cases and frozen veg. I’m not homesick exactly; there are not enough wild horses in England capable of dragging me back to the Somerset Levels, but I miss something of the familiarity of the land of my birth. So, I set about making familiar comforts: jelly with fresh Californian strawberries suspended in glorious, artificial ruby red nectar. I shall produce them from the fridge at teatime, as if by magic, and transport the two of us back to childhood Somerset. This will break all the food rules of the house, of course, this orgy of disodium phosphate and Red 40, and as I whisk it up I am almost drunk with the powdery candyfloss aroma of crystallised gelatin. I breath it in, and decide this is what Paradise smells like. It smells of red, and jelly and ice-cream, and candyfloss.

 

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Notes From a Broad, November 2016: Trump’s Brave New World, Day 3.

I was greatly encouraged by the overwhelmingly supportive reaction to my previous essay ‘The New 9/11’. Having begun this series as a light-hearted look at life in the USA from the point of view of a newly-arrived immigrant, I fear that the theme may now take a darker turn, at least in the short term. I spent the past two days (has it really been only two days?) in a state of shock, as have most of my friends. By Wednesday morning I felt like I had aged twenty years overnight. My body ached; I couldn’t get warm. I felt like we were all survivors of a massive tragedy, hugging each other as though clinging to an upturned life raft after hitting the iceberg. That evening, I met my friend J.P. outside the theatre, ‘Welcome to America’, he said.

The irony is that, having spent so many months and so many thousands of dollars and pounds trying to get into the USA, I am now planning my escape. My timing, as far as emigration is concerned, was seriously awry. Despite the reassurances of my friends that as a legal permanent resident I probably won’t be on the list of deportees, I am of the firm opinion that

1) you can’t trust the word of a man whose policies right now are changing from day to day (I will scrap Obamacare, I will keep some bits of Obamacare) and

2) I cannot in good conscience remain in a country whose president-elect encourages hatred against, well, almost anyone who is not a heterosexual, white, able-bodied male.

My observation, for what it’s worth, is that between now and next January when Trump takes office, there will be a process of ‘normalization’. The public have such short memories and the shocking actions and rhetoric will be forgotten; the pageantry and razzamatazz will blind the populace so that the lawsuits, threats and mockery become acceptable, become the norm. And that is the point at which it all becomes much more dangerous.

I am very careful not to take everything I read at face value. I choose which news sources I read, I don’t have television. I don’t watch Fox News. Snopes is a pretty good fact-checker. I am not clever enough to argue and debate politics, and really don’t know how to respond to those who say ‘He might do something really good!’ or ‘It works both ways – if we support Trump then we are accused of being racists!’. Well, yes. If you really think Trump is actually quite a good chap then I’m sorry, but you are supporting his bigotry and his intolerance.

Right now the USA is the laughing stock of the western world. We thought Great Britain was bad enough with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but this takes, as we say, the biscuit. Prior to moving to America, I truly thought the grass was greener over here. We looked up to the USA as a world leader, progressive, inspirational. Now, looking back over the past twelve months since I arrived with one suitcase and a heart filled with hope for a new beginning, I realize that the USA is a third world nation. Its lack of affordable healthcare, the poor education of much of its population, treatment of minorities and gun culture mean that life is cheap. The general air of civility barely masks the undercurrent that a big fight will break out at any moment, like watching rival drunks in a late-night bar. Strangers strike up conversations with me, bragging about the bravado they display when they shout at Latinos to ‘go home’. I want to shout back at them ‘I’m an immigrant too!’ but I am too much a coward. I almost resent the fact that I am considered ‘acceptable’ because my skin happens to be white and my accent middle-class. I feel like the banished writer of Brecht’s poem, dismayed when the Nazis don’t burn his books along with the rest of the ‘forbidden literature’. ‘Burn me!’ I want to yell. ‘Burn me!’.

Notes From a Broad, November 2016: The new 9/11

Over the past few weeks Americans have cast their votes, but today will go down in history as the new 9/11. 9th November, the day America self-destructed. In my head I’d been mentally preparing for this by thinking of it as ‘Brexit all over again’, but in fact it is far, far worse than that. This morning we find ourselves living in Donald Trump’s dream world, and for some of us it is not a restful sleep.

I awoke this morning to discover I now live in Clusterfuck, Arizona. A small, self-important Republican town, which, with delusions of grandeur, calls itself a city. The Walmart has an aisle of preppers supplies for ‘keeping your family safe in troubled times’. Government buildings sport polite signs asking patrons not to take their firearms inside. There is an air of resolute expectancy, as if the zombie apocalypse could happen at any moment. And, in a way, it has happened today.

Last night when I arrived home my husband and a friend, both university professors, were watching the results come in. They had both been crying. We watched with mounting horror, hugging each other and steadily hitting the gin bottle in the hope that it might soften the blow when it came. But it didn’t. Our friend is married to a beautiful South American woman who was having to cope with the news down in Phoenix, alone, with her two small children. He was torn between wanting to call her to find out if she was OK, and not wanting to call for fear of waking her with the bad news if she was already asleep. We discussed exit strategies, noting that the Canadian immigration website had already crashed earlier in the evening. Trump’s ‘no foreigners’ policy is already beginning to take effect, before he is even in office. Our friends will probably escape to South America. As a recent immigrant I’m on a temporary Green Card until I can apply for citizenship in two years’ time. Now I don’t know if that will happen, or if Trump intends to deport all non-Americans, regardless of family ties. He’s not been exactly clear on this issue. Possibly in my favor is the fact that I’m white, although being a slightly overweight, left-handed LGBT female will probably count against me. Who knows what criteria the Witchfinder General will apply once he gets the chance. Above all, the most frightening thing is what he will do with the nuclear codes when he sees that big, shiny red button. Like all spoilt little boys, Trump will want to push it first. We cry ourselves to sleep.

This morning my Facebook page fills with sympathetic comments from friends back in the UK, but none of them can be feeling the desperation that we feel here in America. Being an immigrant in a small-minded, insular mountain town is not easy. I stand out, I talk funny, my UK qualifications don’t count for anything here; I can’t get work. Trump’s strategy has worked; the fear is contagious. I don’t know how people will react to me today when I leave the house. Our tenuous bubbles of safety have burst, and xenophobic America is seeping in.

I hear a snapping sound from the garden. Something has shorted the electric fence. That’s how I feel about America this morning. The thin wires which yesterday kept our garden safe from predators have broken down. We have been wrong about everything, and now we don’t know how to keep ourselves safe. Driving into town, a deer leaps into the road from the creek, as if sacrificing itself as roadkill is the preferred option to waiting for the zombie apocalypse of Trump’s Brave New World.