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Handling A Loss From Afar

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A Mother-Daughter Pair From El Paso

I moved to Lund, a small student town in southern Sweden near the border of Denmark, in August of 2015 for a two-year masters program in Anthropology. The plan was always to move back to Texas, the state where I spent the first twenty-three years of my life.

So far, that has not happened. Considering I just bought an apartment in Malmö, it does not seem like it will happen anytime soon either. However, just because I decided to stay in Sweden after my studies does not mean I like it here. A lot of days, I actually dislike living in Sweden.

My grievances with this country ultimately boil down to fundamental differences in culture that are beyond rectification. For example, the way entitlement manifests among most Swedes’ behavior is different than what I experienced (or enact myself) back home in the United States. That being said, I have been here long enough to realize that different does not equate to bad or lesser than. It’s just a type of different I can’t seem to wrap my head around or, certainly, empathize with.

Essentially, Sweden is and will always be bad cultural fit for me. I think this stems almost entirely from the fact that I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas — a sleepy, unassuming town on the border of Mexico. It’s not exactly what you picture when you think of Texas. It also happens to be the hometown of Beto O’Rourke.

I woke up this morning already knowing that Beto would not win his bid for Senate against Ted Cruz. As much as I would have enjoyed seeing him unseat Cruz, it was the wrong campaign at the wrong time. In a state that largely values Guns, God, and Pro-Life wholesome values (in that particular order), Beto’s progressivism was too much to handle at once — especially a mere two years after Trump was elected.

In a New Yorker article today, Emily Witt wrote, “to be a politically engaged Democrat in Texas is to possess an irrational fortitude.” Her words — painfully true — forced me to think about my identity as a “Texan” as I fall deeper down the Swedish rabbit hole.

Why should Beto’s loss affect me at all? I don’t even live in the United States, let alone Texas. In fact, Texas took away my drivers license this year for not residing in Texas, forcing me to sink a breezy $2000 into getting a Swedish drivers license so I could drive IN TEXAS. Why should I care about Texas anymore if Texas doesn’t seem to care about me and, definitely, doesn’t align with my values or ideals?

If there’s one good thing that living (i.e. suffering) in Sweden has taught me over the last few years, it is that if you have the opportunity, advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves.

I moved here knowing no one and nothing. I have survived the immigrant struggle this long for two particular reasons. The first is that my privilege and affluence has quite literally afforded me the ability to stay here. Thanks Mom and Dad.

The second is that a few people took pity on me and have dragged me kicking and screaming through every process I’ve learned to do in Sweden— from setting up a bank account to figuring out what section of the grocery store you can find marshmallows in (hint: they are in the candy section instead of the baking section because Swedes are monsters).

While I had little control over either of these factors, that does not mean I am not acutely aware of how privileged I am to have had access to both financial and emotional support during the entirety of my time as an immigrant (including now). There are a lot of people who come to Sweden without access to either. Coincidentally, there are also a lot of people crossing over the border to El Paso who have the exact same problems.

I’ve lived on a border for most of my life, albeit Mexican-American or Dano-Swedish. Immigrants — legal or illegal — are a normal part of my daily life. At the end of the day, the legality of their status doesn’t negate their existence. Whether they’re following a pathway to citizenship or not, I can vouch with certainty that they’re terrified and probably hating everything. They’re also doing the best that they can. That is how I still feel, three years and counting.

So, I care about Texas because I care about El Paso and everything border culture represents. I care that Beto is from my hometown because I can relate to his values. I care that he advocates for the people who don’t have the opportunity or privilege to advocate for themselves. Ultimately, I care and choose to continue caring about Texas because a few people in Sweden cared about me, even when they didn’t have to. Isn’t that to the true immigrant dream?

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