Over a year ago, I was forced to make the most radical, painful, and transcendental decision of my life. I had to abandon the place I used to call home. I could bring with me only three suitcases, leaving behind almost everything I owned. I must say that, ironically—in my overwhelming emotional process—this epiphanic exercise was particularly healing and liberating. I realized that we place high value on material things, forgetting what really matters in life, and that was just what I could not pack up in my luggage: my family, my friends, and my home.
On the contrary, bidding farewell to each one of the members of my beloved family and some of my friends, was everything but therapeutic. It was more like a pernicious systemic infection. I was profoundly devastated, in some sort of lethargic state, completely absent and just functioning as an automaton. With each goodbye, my spirit crumbled on the verge of collapsing, like a dilapidated building. I ended up completely drained of all tears, vitality, and emotions. My father was the last person in this torturous procession. He tightly hugged me in the corridor, in front of the elevator—as if it were for the last time—and his tears washed away all my thoughts, soaking my jacket with his sorrow and despair. I don’t remember what we said to each other.
But the last thing I said goodbye to was my dearest mountain, Ávila. While the aircraft was drawing me away from home, I looked out the window and I saw it, always imposing, majestic, unforgettable. Just two words came out from my mouth: “te extrañaré” (I will miss you).
Beyond the prominent Ávila, hidden and protected, was my beautiful city, Caracas, her eternal lover. I closed the window shade and forced myself to fall asleep, with the beautiful image of the turquoise Caribbean Sea in my mind, wondering if I would ever come back.
Even though I had slept almost the entire flight, I was physically and mentally exhausted when the plane landed. It seemed to take ages to get through Immigration. I stood in an endless queue with an indescribable legion of people of all races, religions, and cultures. At the beginning, I perceived the sounds they emitted as an unintelligible, intricate syncopation. I felt oppressed by this metallic murmur and intentionally tried not to hear it. Then—as if they were reading my mind—almost at the same time, they all stopped talking. After lingering with me for a long, nerve-racking time, the Immigration officer ultimately approved my entrance and “welcomed me to America.” I furtively breathed a sigh of relief. The process sparked vivid impressions of the hordes of immigrants who arrived, a century ago, through the immigration station located at Ellis Island, right here in New York City. I pictured myself as one of those who preceded me; now, I was one of them.
It was a muggy September day. When I exited the terminal, the unpleasantly warm, almost adhesive moisture brusquely enveloped me in a savage, merciless embrace, as if I were back on my home continent, but in Amazonia. I experienced an immense desire to go home and thought, This doesn’t feel like home at all, but I abruptly realized there was no turning back. This was not a vacation. I felt suffocated by mixed, uncontrollable emotions, engulfed by so much fear and hopelessness that I had to stop walking. Afterward, from a distance, I recognized my best friend, Carlos, and his big, warm, luminous white smile, and suddenly, despite everything, I didn’t feel alone anymore. I recalled that he was one of the reasons to come to New York City, among all places in the world I could have ended up. He unconditionally had offered that I stay with him for as long as I needed. When we were in front of each other, we hugged, and he kindly declared, “Welcome to America, your new home.”
The next days, my grief dramatically evaporated like the stifling hot mist in the air, and the green foliage gradually turned into a golden-orange-crimson palette, and gently faded away, like my melancholy. Eventually, I started to adapt to this crowded, diverse, sometimes hostile, but fabulous city. Henceforth, the cold, crisp weather accompanied me everywhere I went; we became inseparable friends. After an intense search, finally, an organization took my case and offered me pro bono legal services, and one wintry day I applied for asylum. Days quickly went by, and without notice, the spring came, as well as the day of my feared interview. It was just 45 minutes—it seemed like an eternity to me—I was extremely nervous, but I didn’t cry or get emotional. Two weeks later, an employee of the United States Citizen and Immigration Services “welcomed me to America” for the third time. I pictured myself as one of those who will succeed me, and I decided to share my story.
Miguel Canelon was born in Venezuela and worked as a lawyer. He arrived in the United States in 2018. He studies English at the English-Speaking Union’s Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center, where the program officer for student services is Karl Hart, and the site adviser is Angela Wilkins.