i was going to go swing dancing tonight, but i got a letter in the mail that made everything seem a little pointless. so instead i am here trying to slosh some sort of coherence together and hopefully it is lucid without sounding morbid.
let me back up. my family relocated to the US when my dad was getting his PhD at the University of Minnesota. i was twelve, fresh out of Chinese elementary school, and plopped right into the cesspool of hormones and cliques that is Midwestern public middle school, being mostly illiterate in the English language and completely clueless. but i liked learning and i wanted to do well so with the collective five thousand years of Chinese pride and determination steeped in my twelve-year-old being i learned the language, made friends, found somewhat of a direction of my life that people keep asking me for and i am here, twenty-four years old going off to graduate school for physical therapy.
but i am living a borrowed life. borrowed because the only reason i can stay in the States, with my still-forming identity and the people i have come to love, all depends on the agreement between the governments of the land in which i was born and the land on which i was transplanted. the Citizenship and Immigration Services of the United States America holds a titanium scepter over the people who crosses her borders, and seeks vengeance onto their children’s children, into the umpteenth generation. since i wasn’t born in the States and because i entered as a dependent of my dad, i was considered ineligible for citizenship, save for specific circumstances. later, when i became independent, and a student on my own, my sole qualification to maintain my living rights in the States were my academic merits. what can you do for the United States of America? the voice asked me, an incessant murmur and i could never really shake the feelings that i had to constantly prove my worth lest i am not wanted, that i am not welcome.
when i graduated from college my student status (a F1 Visa, in immigration vernacular) was viable long enough for me to find a job, my current one. the expiration date of my F1 meant i needed to either extend my current status based on my employer’s qualifications, or change it to something semi-permanent, such as that of a worker (H1). at the time of my employment, my employer indicated that they indeed meet the qualifications stated by the USCIS for an extension, if i needed it. this information was later proven false when i applied to extend my student status, leaving me with the option of seeking a semi-permanent status. unfortunately, the latter decision was not available as my employer did not have the financial means to support my application for a H1 Visa, a minimum of three-year’s worth of salary. the funds weren’t there.
i had one last option left, to change my status into limbo land, an exchange scholar Visa J1. this would allow me to continue my working status and some time for me to sort out the almighty question of what do i want to do with my life? it came with a caveat, though, that i had to return to China for two years after my J1 term is complete because the definition of exchange scholar was to transmit intellectual wealth between the nations for the betterment of science and understanding. i would not have chosen this if i had any other choice, because all of my secondary education has been in the States and i felt like a stranger when i visited China in 2009, because i was only just beginning to find out what i am passionate about and what i want to commit my time and my heart into, what is it that makes me tick and what i can do for others that brings joy: what i wanted to do with my life. and it would take place here, in the United States.
the letter that came in the mail today was a reply to an inquiry i had submitted in November, explaining my situation and asking if i was subject under the two-year physical presence requirement that says i have to leave the States when my employment is done by the end of June, re-apply for a F1 Visa all over again, and upon the completion of my graduate studies, depart the States and live a minimum of two years in China. i told the review board that my decision to become a J1 was the only option, that i had asked all of the right questions beforehand but received the wrong answers, of the miscommunications and poor timings, and that i can do a lot of good for the United States of America.
the reply was no. i can’t stay.
so i am sitting here trying to not feel worthless and inarticulate and taming the beast that rears its seven heads and ten horns and roars that no matter what i love, what i do, what i want to commit to and what i think is worthy, i am only as good as a piece of paper tells me i am. and it’s not because i think the governments aren’t fair, or that the exchange of knowledge is bad, but rather the feeling of utter isolation because none of my friends understand the extent of my situation, the feeling out of place wherever i am, of trying to prove my worth but finding that worth is a flimsy word in the face of a system that didn’t live the individual lives of so many people trying, agonizingly, to be smart enough or accomplished enough to fit whatever criteria that deems a human being valid, all of the things that i am striving so damn hard for to fulfill but finding myself always lacking.
i live a borrowed life, a life i am afraid to love and cultivate because i fear–and i know–can be suddenly yanked out by the roots and flung across the Pacific, because my adulterated freedom is dependent on the rules that i never quite understood but still was born into and am subject under and demanded to obey. and sometimes i wonder, if whatever i am living can be called a life at all, but rather just a gesture, a mime of what i think should satisfy the expectations of people and systems.
all of this i write in a language i learned twelve years ago. it’s a language of my life now, but i don’t know if this life is really mine.