These days the only thing that keeps me calm is leaving home. The freeway is a long road full of anxiety. My hands get sweaty cold each time I drive. I’m stuck. I feel panic rising, a sensation that death is present. My breath gets faster, my mind goes away. Nobody is here to hold me. I’m driving to L.A. in search of truth.
From Figueroa Street, I can see Downtown, an immense mass of beautiful buildings. This is becoming my territory now. It’s painful, a place so far away from my own land. I have been searching for almost ten years for a space where I can belong, too. Where I live now is a small city surrounded by farms, nothing else. Even the architecture of that town resembles the stage of a movie set, all beige in my mind. No distinctions.
The days are empty here, life just a routine. I suffer from a constant feeling of loneliness, of being certain I’m in the wrong place, a terrible disconnection. People can’t figure me out; my accent disturbs them.
At night, I’m the most alone. Not a sound to disturb me. Every night the same. Year after year. Everybody in their own space- their own houses, nobody to share life with. My isolation is crushing me. I’m afraid of everything.
But L.A. is saving me. Listening to other emigrant women gives shapes to myself. I question, I listen: why did you leave? Why do you stay here? Some interviews go for hours, their eyes full of water. They are fragmented people, one part of their bodies here in Los Angeles, the other part somewhere in Latin America.
The fragmentation of this city reflects my own. I see Downtown; I understand that this is my port now. Here, a piece of Latin America is palpable ---- social conflict is present.
I arrive at Claudia’s house to do our first interview. Her place is a dark space full of wood smells. I observe her silver trails of hair, pleasure and pain interwoven. “It has been many, many years in this country,” she whispers, “many friends have returned to Colombia and I stay.”
Claudia’s pain is my pain. Her struggle mine. Listening to other immigrants women is painful, but in some strange way, their voices are stitching my wound. “Things are competitive here,” recalled Maria, “here we live very alone, no help, so we become more and more alienated.”
Maria explained how she hasn’t seen her kids for twenty years. Her blue paintings show her loneliness. Anylu opened her door to her small apartment. She left Honduras because of the war. She was only 16 when she arrived at her Chinese grandparent’s house in Echo Park, a silent place where she could not feel welcome. Not one to greet her or say goodbye, only a plate of food at the end of her bed every night. She felt unclean. She felt alone. She would scratch her body until blood made her remember that she was alive. I see her big beautiful brown eyes in the most remote part of my being. Her story soothed my pain.
I’m one more woman, here, - una mujer mas- in this place full of foreign hands. Fifty years have passed, and the immensity of this city draws a big question mark for me; to manufactured, too much Dia de los Muertos and Salvadorian flavor.
Maria exclaimed, “To emigrate is to die; a part of your core disintegrated.” Is it that your core is interwoven with your own land? I don’t have a clear answer, just a smooth sense that I’m alive again.
“Changing conditions are not a mistake, and not because you move to another country does your internal reality change” emphasized Claudia. Yes, I say, you bring your unfinished business with you, your broken psyche.
Silence IS the room. I can hear Claudia breathing; she gets tense. I close the door. Her voice melts in the room. “The violence here is not as the violence in ours countries. Here, things are more subtle; you have a constant feeling that there is a private club that you are never going to access. An invisible line that gets thicker and thicker at time passes by, until you reach a point at which you are able to ignore the line, the club, and the people in the club. And you move between worlds, as in a schizophrenic dance. There will be a minute,” she continues, “where panic disappears. You will realize that you still dream about the streets of your town. And that is Ok- in fact beautiful, to have an accent.”
If you could take one thing with you from your country, what you would take? Yes, I ask myself now. I will take those afternoons when we all met at my parents’ house for some festivity. And we will have friends, uncles, and cousins together eating and having long conversations. Where we’ll discuss openly my cousin’s latest divorce and my brother’s psychological traumas, where my friend Alejandro and I will fly away, where laughter and weeping will mix as one.
Today I don’t feel alone. I understand well how this was made. How these beautiful palms were transplanted as an exotic ornament for decoration. How this geography is for me a constant search for my own story.
The freeway moves with traffic. I’m driving back home from a long day of interviews. Downtown buildings are reflected in my mirror. I see the people around me in the other cars, all here in the same road.
L.A., yes, dear, you hold me, with your open wings and eternal contradictions. I stop at the beach. The Moon shines in the Pacific Ocean. I see a seagull. I see its wings vanishing through the sky. I hear Maria's voice in my memory. She returns from her country after not having been there for long--- long time. She visited her kids. They are adults now.
I asked her
So, are you returning to El Salvador?
Are your kids coming to live with you?
With her serene eyes, she answers
I’m not returning and
They are not coming to live with me
At this point visits are fine
Marcela Urrutia was born in Chile and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She studied Dramatic Art in Chile and Liberal Arts with a concentration in Creative Writing in Antioch University in Los Angeles, currently she is pursuing a Master in Community Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Marcela's work is a mixture of narrative poetry and poetry where she intersects her experience as immigrant in Los Angeles, her family"s political struggle in Chile, and her observations about psycho- social fragmentation. Her work has being published in" Revista Cultural", and " Two Hawks" a virtual magazine by Antioch University. Currently she is working on a bilingual text which contains the stories of Latin American immigrant women in Los Angeles.