You’re here. In America. The land of the free and where justice prevails. You’ve boarded a twenty-three-hour long flight to this country that is soon to be your home; with three varying sized suitcases carrying not only your clothes but parts of your identity not known by anyone in this country– your dreams, hopes, and worries lie ahead, yet remain nameless. You’re told that you must take off your shoes before boarding the plane. You wonder if your shoes will cause a security scare, but your excitement surpasses the absurdity of this situation. Worry. You carry the kind of worry that keeps you up at night because you’re jet-lagged and heart lagged. The kind of lagging that has your heart split into two uneven parts. One in the land of your birth. Where the smell of burnt corn reminds you that you belong. The other piece is here, in America. The place that is foreign yet not so foreign at the same time. It’s the sense of not belonging that remains too familiar. The bigotry that hangs in the air in this place reminds you of home: the racial tension that remains prevalent and often policed by white tears. You ask yourself: why is this place called the land of the free whereas the only kind belongs to the white, cisgender and wealthy; just like home, South Africa
But you try to fit in. You soon realize that your desperate quest to fit in suffocates you. The kind of suffocation that feels like your throat is being cut and blood is gushing out, yet no one can fathom the pain nor see the blood. Most nights, you cry yourself to sleep because you haven’t been able to call home for days and weeks…almost a month. You’re here and the distance removes memories of the sound of your father’s voice in your head. You want to remember it. He is your father after all. You miss the calmness in his voice. The sense of security it provided.
Here, you don’t belong. Amongst the Whites, you are Black. Amongst the blacks you are African. Amongst the African, you are South African. But there’s a sense of community that exists but you can’t truly feel African because you love differently from them. So you continue to suffocate– to be a square cube in a round hole. You think twice before you raise your hand in class because your voice lacks clarity– you don’t roll your Rs like everyone else and your Ts don’t sound like Ds. So you don’t belong because you don’t speak right. You don’t speak because whatever you say might be misunderstood and taken as a stereotype or you might be fulfilling a stereotype.
You finally call home. Your mother’s voice sounds like fear, pain, love and worry wrapped in one’s melody. She tells you that everything is alright. You know she is lying because she avoids telling you “tragic” news when you’re not around. “It might break your heart.” Just like how she never told you she got hospitalized two years ago, while you were in boarding school. You know she is struggling to make ends meet back home: to take your younger siblings to school, to support you while you’re here and to stay healthy.
You are here, in the land of the free. You are away from home and everything that was familiar. Here, you count the number of times you were surrounded by people who look like you. Black people. The same ones who will also remind you that you don’t belong. Here, your blackness stands out in the crowd because you’re often the only one, and then it suddenly becomes invisible when it should matter. Here, you’re treated like a burden– a social burden, as if you don’t matter. You are treated like a particle and they treat this space like a vacuum where the only world that exists is theirs.
You connect with friends back home when you find time. Your inability to stay in constant communication is regarded as snobbery because you’re in America. There’s suddenly an expectation that you will speak in a certain way that will wash out your native language from your tongue. There are expectations and perceptions that you’re different. But they don’t know that you spend some nights battling with sleep wondering if all of this was worth it. They don’t know that at night, you walk around scared to wear your hoodie or cap on because you might seem like you don’t belong.
Here, you’re treated like you have been done a favor to breathe the same air that they breathe. But you remain hopeful.