I wonder about those who cannot walk in another person’s shoes. Those who only see the opportunities taken, but cannot see the price paid.
I wonder about those who feel so threatened by people like me they can only respond with hate. Oh, I know, not really people like me. I am the right sort of immigrant. But, I am still an immigrant.
I wonder if they have ever thought what that would entail.
I wonder if they have ever walked off a plane, out of a railway station, and looked around, lost, no landmarks they recognise. And not with the excitement of a few days to bumble around a city, but with the knowledge this is your home now. Find your way, make it work. This is where you stay.
I wonder if they have had to register people’s surprise, when they open their mouth and begin to talk. Oh, you’re one of those.
I wonder if they know how it feels to stand in a queue, at the shops, the post office, mentally rehearsing the conversation you need to have once it is your turn. Hoping it stays on predictable tracks.
I wonder if they have ever felt the hopelessness of not being able to make yourself understood. I wonder if they know the moment the conversation moves beyond you; if they have ever felt that blank stare on their own face, searching their mind for words and grammar they don’t have, only for it to be met with a flicker of irritation.
I wonder if they know how exhausting even a trip to the supermarket can be. What it feels like to stand in front of all the cleaning products, trying to guess from the pictures which is the one you want. How bewildering the selection of flour can seem. How sometimes you buy something and get it wrong, or you don’t buy, only to find out later you were looking at the right thing after all.
I wonder if they know how it feels to be the person who spends too long reading the signs: the notices up at daycare, the notices to residents of your apartment block. This is, I suppose, what it is like to be functionally illiterate, lacking the access to information everyone around you takes for granted.
I wonder if they know how unpredictable the world can seem, when all the little social rules are so clearly ingrained, and yet so impenetrable to you. That nobody ever knows you didn’t know until too late. The sort of clothes your children are supposed to have, what to take with you to parties, what foods you are supposed to eat and when. That every public holiday is a surprise.
I wonder if they know what it feels like to have a child more fluent in the local language than you. The pride, mixed with frustration at not being able to follow them into conversations they want to have.
I wonder if they realise that these language problems are fleeting and generational. Adults will manage and muddle through and if allowed children will integrate easily. Bi-lingualism is not a threat. It is a skill, an asset, a bridge between worlds.
I wonder if they know the nagging question I ask myself. Is it worth it? So far from ‘home’, from family? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
I wonder if they understand that we make new homes. We grow to love places that were not ‘ours’ to begin with.
I wonder if they know the doubts. The way parents question themselves, as they watch their children assume a new identity. Will they be accepted?
I wonder if they know how it feels to watch their child play with their friends; the funny-sounding parents as important as who does or does not have a cat, less important than who does or does not like to dig holes with you. I wonder if they know how it feels to think that all it takes is media hype and careless words for your children to discover that they were not welcomed after all. Merely tolerated.
I wonder how it would feel for that toleration to disappear. To find decency is no longer required. To find yourself put up for public judgement and the verdict is you are not welcome.