S2Episode32 Belonging As A Foreigner

March 15, 2024

Good morning from Galicia. I am in La Coruña in the Northwest corner of Spain with my bestie, Marion. Before I go on to share what I want to talk about today, I want to say that Marion and I decided about five or six years ago that we were going to make an effort to do something alone every year. I have to say I’m proud of us. Marion and I have kept that promise to ourselves. Even if it’s a short weekend, we have made a point of carving out time to be together and to do something fun. We’ve taken some great little trips together. It has been just great, and I highly recommend that you do that with your loved ones.

In fact, it’s funny as I’m telling you this, I’m realizing I’ve started to do this with another group of people. I am one of five women. We all lived in Italy for an extended period. Four of the five of us are dual Italian citizens. We have our WhatsApp group, we do the occasional zoom call and this coming April we’re going to do our second weekend together. Even though we’re only looking at year two, I’m hoping that this is a tradition that we keep up.

On to what’s on my mind this morning. What I have been thinking about a lot is what it means to be a foreigner. I think it’s pretty obvious that I would be thinking about that because I’ve found myself back in Italy for over two months, where I spent such a huge chunk of my early life. I was here from the age of 25 into my mid-forties.  I became part of the fabric of Italy in many ways. It’s funny, I used to say about my marriage that we learned adulting together. We became adults together. I worked very hard to integrate myself, especially in terms of how I ran my household, but I didn’t feel the burden of it until one day. I was driving down the road in my little town outside of Milano (Merate) when these words came into my mind. You will never be one of them.

I had been trying for so many years to prove that I was a good wife, that I ran a tight ship and I did things the way things were done in this country, and in one fell swoop I came to peace with the fact that I would never be Italian. And I not only came to peace with it, but it was a huge relief. I released this burden that I was carrying to try to be the perfect Italian wife. Anyway, I got past that. I ended up getting divorced and I spent many more years in Italy, but that moment in the car as I was driving home from the butcher down the windy road in the hills outside of Mila, was a pivotal one for me.

This this time that I’ve been in Italy has been the longest period of time that I have spent in Italy in almost 20 years. This time I bring not only the wisdom of many years of life, but the perspective of someone who moved away, reestablished themselves in another country and is here yet again as a foreigner. While people make loving comments to me like you’re one of us and you get us and you speak Italian so well, in my heart of hearts what’s standing out for me is that I will never be one of them. I am a foreigner.

I’m thinking about all of the foreigners in the United States – all over the world – – and in my case in New York City where there are huge pockets of foreign populations that stick together and create communities. There’s Koreatown and Chinatown and many other pockets of the Bronx and Manhattan and Brooklyn, where people forge communities and stay rather close to their own people. I’s a really cool thing and something that I didn’t have when I was here in Italy. Yes, of course I had American friends. I belong to the professional women’s organization, an international group of women living in Italy. Yet I did spend an awful lot of years – and time and energy – working hard to fit in and to become part of the fabric of the Italian life and lifestyle. My Italian life. There’s something so very special about speaking Italian, having history with people here, understanding a lot of the subtleties in people’s behavior and conversation. and feeling this incredible sense of being welcomed and belonging here in many ways, even though I’m not one of them.

I guess all this to say that I’m musing on what it means to belong. And as I returned to New York where we are flooded with foreigners from all over the world, I guess I have this sense that I’ll be appreciating them and looking at them with fresh eyes and fresh perspective. Being far from one’s homeland is really, really a big deal, one that I have experienced firsthand. I guess maybe there’s something more that I can do in my own small little ways to make the foreigners that are in my life feel and know that they belong and that they’re welcome.

I’ll leave it at that for today. Until next time, from my heart to yours.

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Friends say I live my life out loud. That’s because I’m a curious, adventurous person and, as an appreciator, I simply love to share what lights me up. Consider this is your invitation into my fun, multi-faceted world.

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