I nervously approached a customs officer at Honolulu International Airport. The arrival area in US airports has always made me very nervous and this was not an exception. I handed my yellow envelope that said “DO NOT OPEN” to the officer and waited. With all the talk about immigration reform, travel bans, and several other awful comments about refugees and immigrants from the White House itself, this process has been mentally hard to go through. The government doesn’t want me here, and what am I doing here?
But whatever was going on in Washington D.C., my final step to becoming an immigrant was painless. It was very much about the paperwork. I gave him my new address in Anchorage and phone number, and he explained that the stamp and my visa will work as a legal form of identification until the actual green card arrives in the mail. “Congratulations,” he said. I officially became an immigrant.
Is that it? I thought. After all the months of paperwork and more paperwork, this final step was very quick and easy. I mean, I don’t think they had anything left to ask me.
This is the first time I have a legal permit to live and work indefinitely in a foreign country. And in the US, no less! I entered the state of Hawaii as a legal resident of America. I don’t have to count my 90 days, I can make a legit bank account, and I can legally work and get a job if I want. It’s a strange feeling.
A while ago, one of my friends posed an interesting question: Why are westerners ‘expats’ and other races of people are ‘immigrants’? Who are expats, who are immigrants, and why the words have different connotation? By the dictionary definition, expatriate means someone who is living outside of their native country. An immigrant is someone who is ‘permanently’ living in a foreign country. But the world doesn’t work that way these days, am I right? Who knows what’s permanent when we have the whole world to explore and I have half of my family living in another country? So, am I an expat or immigrant?
One flight later, we landed in the city where we would call home for a semi-permanent (I guess this would be the most appropriate term for now) period, Anchorage, Alaska. It’s the day my dream came true. All the animals in the exhibit at the airport– moose, musk ox, and the world’s biggest halibut greeted us– “Welcome home!”. I’ve been infatuated with this place for so long, everything around me feels so familiar. You know, when you care deeply about something, you remember every detail about the subject? That feeling. This airport, I dare say the best airport in the US, was a great place to start our new journey. We got a taxi and the friendly driver took us to our new home in downtown Anchorage.
We entered our new home, a nicely furnished apartment. Thanks to all my friends in Anchorage, it wasn’t painful getting a place to live. Our room at the apartment was all ready with a bed, desk, couch, and even TV. Strange, I moved to a new place but it didn’t feel ‘new’ but familiar like I’m back to where I belong. I guess that’s the best kind.
Just like that, I became an immigrant. A Korean living in Anchorage, Alaska. My fascination with the Arctic region, cold weather, and the beauty of Alaska led us here. Many people often asked me “Why Alaska?” when we could live literally anywhere we wanted. That’s because I think Alaska is the most beautiful place in the world, inside and out.
Also, although there’s a lot of negative press about how the US is going right now, it is still the land of dreams to the rest of the world. The American Dream still lives. The American ‘can do’ spirit, respect for individuality, all the industries, and a big land, you can be whoever, do whatever, wherever you want. I do know that living in the US isn’t all unicorns and rainbows like the rest of the world sees. But in our Asian eyes, being able to live and work in America means I made it. Of course, that’s not the reason we chose to move here; but I understand how fortunate I am to be able to live this life.
My official green card won’t arrive here for another 120 days, thanks to the new regulation of the State Department. So my passport has to be my form of legal ID until it arrives, although I’m an official resident. It kind of feels weird because I just moved to a new country but there was no booklet or guide that came with it. I mean I’m sure all the information will be on the State Department’s website but that website is really hard to navigate. When I passed the customs in Honolulu, I was expecting some kind of brochure or something like ‘here’s what you need to know’. But nope. Although I have a place to stay and my suitcase is totally emptied out (frequent travelers, you know how satisfying that is) but I still kind of feel like traveling. Well, it’s a new thing I’m trying out. Hopefully, I will feel like a resident as time goes by.
Hi, my name is Juno and I’m an immigrant. Nice to meet you!