Thoughts of an Immigrant...

Heart and Mind Dissonance

Left: 7 years-old me in Poland , right: 18 year-old me in Chicago

After sixteen years of being away from a place I had once considered my oasis, being reunited with one of my long-esteemed childhood friends in Chicago had been like a breath of fresh air. After being disconnected for years from my culture, my home, my friends, and family, I had started to perceive my heart as a separate entity. A lot of people raised in two different cultures can attest to the fact that sometimes it feels like the mind is one place and the heart is in another.

We often hear the phrase “the heart wants what it wants” and that phrase only starts to gain meaning when you can physically and emotionally feel the dissonance.

I’m a 23 year-old college graduate, one of the first in my family to graduate from a university in the United States. Originally, I had emigrated here from Krakow, Poland; the second largest city in Poland. The memories of my time spent there are like a faded, shattered glass; in retrospect very vividly pleasant, but simultaneously very distant. Yet, these small intricate pieces of my childhood have shaped the person I am today. Certain smells will bring me back to a time where life was simple, easy, and carefree.

Eastern Europe is essentially not a place of luxury or riches; it’s a place where you’re happy to enjoy the simplest things in life, a place filled with great tasting food, where you can come across smart and driven individuals who push and strive for greatness, a place where artists conceive their most sacred pieces, and where doing well in school is actually considered cool as opposed to deviant. In essence, a place where all sorts of slavic languages come together and everyone can understand the other.

However, my family and I had to leave because even though Poland was a place I had once called home and envisioned spending the rest of my days there, fate had different plans for me. I had been diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy, particularly affecting my limbs, also medically referred to as spastic diplegia. Poland, unfortunately, could not offer me the medical attention or treatment that was necessary due to lack of funds, resources, and equipment. *I plan on expanding the anecdote regarding my disability in further posts.*

We figured we had no time to waste. At 8 years-old, I found myself on a plane to Chicago, Illinois, United States of America alongside both of my parents. They said on TV that it was a colorful place filled with skyscrapers and golden opportunities; a place where dreams came into fruition and the place where my grandmother resided for a good 15 months before we had decided to join her. I was excited, but I had never been away for so long.

The initial plan: 2.5 years tops—learn a bit of English and make the best of our “temporary” home, but as any immigrant can agree, 2.5 years turned into an indefinite number.

We are now on year sixteen and I do not hold any grudges, resentments, or regrets. I do, however, have a heart filled with melancholy. Sure, you can learn the language of the people, adapt to its culture, immerse yourself in the music and customs, indulge in the food, and celebrate the nation’s holidays, but at the end of the day, certain mispronunciations, sense of humor, and the overall way of carrying yourself will give away that you are not from here—and you will never fully belong. Once again, the heart is in one place, while the mind in the other. Sometimes, it’s a quarterly split, other times an uneven division. I missed my friends dearly; these were the kinds of friends that from the start were going to stick with me no matter what.

Hence, when Weronika and I reunited in Chicago sixteen years later, it suddenly felt like a missing piece of my heart was finally put back in its place, like in a game of Tetris. I moved to the city on my own about 3 years ago. In Chicago, the population is roughly around 9 million, and I couldn’t help but feel all alone. Our reunion only proved that the friendship had never died. It was as if we had picked up right where we left off, whilst catching up on the drama, angst, losses, gains, and of course heart breaks. She spoke with such grace, poise, and intellect that it was making me feel a bit bashful. It started to make me think, "What would I have sounded like if I was raised on my sovereign land?"

I never truly felt like I belonged in America, but everything about it is so familiar and when I open my mouth to speak I sound fully American, but intrinsically the heart pumps red and white. I looked at myself in the mirror one day and said, "So, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for the place that has made you foreign in the first place." Yet, I don't think I would have had it any different. 

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Paulina Pachel
Paulina Pachel

Contrary to popular belief, my first name is not pronounced PAH-LAYNA. I am an intricate mix of flavors and you'll get a taste of them through my writing pieces; versatility and vulnerability go together like a fresh-baked croissant+coffee.

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