On December 18, 1995, my plane landed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The very first thing I remember is looking up and seeing 4:43 PM. That’s my first memory of being an immigrant in the U.S. The second is walking through the front door at my aunt’s house in Maryland, a moment that lives on in a home video somewhere. Fun fact: Fresh Prince of Bel Air was playing on the TV in the living room.
I don’t remember a whole lot from the actual flight, except being so nervous that I forgot how to say “milk” in English. The night before our flight, my mom kept telling me to go to sleep. We had to be at the airport at 6 am. I was too nervous to sleep and I wanted to watch The Mask, which was playing on my grandmother’s TV. It was as if all of my anxiety and fears funneled together into my desire to watch that movie. It was dubbed in Turkish, so it’s not like I was going to get last minute English lessons. I just really wanted to watch it. Eventually, I got yelled at too many times for trying to sneak into the living room so I fell asleep.
My dad was already in the US. He had flown out here in September to start working. The morning he left, he woke me up to say good-bye. He had enrolled me in a private school in Turkey so that I could learn English. The family was counting on me.
And continued to do so for the next 18 years. We lived with my aunt and my cousins for a couple of months because it was the holidays, then the 1996 blizzard hit so finding an apartment and moving was tough. But we did. Then began my life as our family’s translator.
I had to grow up really fast.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my life would’ve been like if we never moved. Would I have ever learned English? What would’ve been my first job? Would I have gone to college? What would my relationship with my brother be like?
The thing is, I have no idea.
I don’t even know what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t moved to Seattle a year ago.
Being an immigrant at such a young age was difficult. I don’t think I ever truly got over the culture shock, but I also never let go of my identity. There was a lot of teasing and never quite fitting in. Being an adult now and understanding myself a little bit more, I think that was a combination of being an immigrant but also just who I am as a person. I’m kind of quirky and have stopped apologizing for it.
I’m proud to be a Turkish-American. I’m a really sentimental person and traditions mean a lot to me. I don’t talk about them a lot but even through our ups and downs, my family means a lot to me. Even if I’ve been kind of the odd man out, pretty much all of my life.
But hey, there’s always one, right?
So, 18 years ago, my life changed. It’s been quite a journey but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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