So, recently I started going to a live theatre style thing (good word use me!) called The Moth.
The basic premise of The Moth (which happens all around the world) is that you go to listen to stories. It is a story slam, and each week (ahead of time) a topic is chosen. If you are brave enough to get on stage and tell a five minute story (there are penalties for going over time) then you can put your name in a hat and get up on stage. There are judges randomly selected from the Audience and a winner is chosen each night.
I have been to The Moth five times now since moving to LA. I put my name in the hat four of those times, and I have been called to the stage once. This is not the story I told to an audience, it is one of the untold – and I thought in light of recent events around me, I would share it.
(Pause for Applause)
As you may be able to tell from my accent, I’m not from around here. I’m an immigrant who is six, almost seven months into my first ever American experience. And let me tell you – moving to Los Angeles was not easy. Oh no. I was on a deadline from the minute I stepped off the plane.
My experience at LAX on January 12th 2017 was a real eye opening experience to start my journey. As you know, the then incoming president was talking about building a wall and limiting immigration. I was so terrified. As an Australian without a visa, you are allowed into the US for three months at a time on an ESTA waiver. Canada has them too. It basically is for tourists and what not to come and spend money in this great country. I saw numerous Mexican and Asian people from my plane being pulled into secondary questioning. I was shitting myself because I am naturally afraid of figures of Authority, and I was sure that I would be turned away, even with the ESTA. But I was waved through with a smile by the man with a gun on his hip. As I took my passport back and my hands slumped to my side, a tear drop of sweat fell straight from my pit on my finger tips. I had made it through the (invisible) wall.
I had always wanted to live in Los Angeles or New York. I spent the last five and a half years in Toronto, working in the film industry, and I felt like I was ready for the big leagues. I was depressed in Toronto because I just, couldn’t stand being on the outside of the room in the creative industries. Even if it was an eyebrow hair, or the edge of my gross toenail, I wanted in the room.
I have wonderful, wonderful parents, and my Dad agreed to lend me about $7,000 US dollars, that I was to make last over the three months I was allowed in the country. And he expected me to find a job. To figure it out.
The clock was ticking from the moment I got off the plane. I had emailed every person I’d ever come into contact with in the film industry. I loitered around Soho House on my laptop trying to look important – striking up random conversations. I applied to over 150 jobs in 2.5 months. Midway through my first month my relationship ended with someone I was very much in love with. And I lost DAYS to crying and writing garbage in my diary. But I’d look at the calendar, and I’d look at the clock and I’d be exhausted by the minutes slipping by where I didn’t have a job or hadn’t figured out how to make the American dream a reality. I went on meetings with older film execs who then it turned out wanted to fuck me. I had incredible interviews, 2, 3 rounds and then when they realized I needed them to sign off on a visa, my emails and phone calls would go unanswered. I tried so hard not to spend too much money, but it doesn’t last as long as you think in this town.
At 2.5 months I booked a ticket to take me back to Toronto. I was sick to my stomach with the thought of going back to my last home, dumped, broke and a failure.
And then, I got a job. Something random outside of the film industry – though still in events and marketing, and they weren’t phased by the visa.
As an Australian, I am fortunate in many ways. The US and Australia have an agreement that only flows this way, started under the Bush administration. If you are an Australian Bachelor degree holder and you are offered a job that meets the median wage restrictions and somehow relates to your degree, you can get an E3 visa, and it only costs $320. I am a production manager at an experiential food truck marketing company, and my degrees are in English and Film and my masters is in creative writing. My company argued – well she IS going to be sending a lot of emails. And when I went for my interview in Vancouver (because you have to visit a US consulate outside of the US) they didn’t even LOOK at my shit. My interaction lasted 30 seconds (I’m not kidding) when it had taken me 45 fucking minutes to go through security and get inside the building.
On April 12, exactly 3 months after I landed my first day at LAX, I walked out of the US consulate in Vancouver with a red white and blue visa glued into my passport.
You’ll notice through my story that I have continued to call myself an immigrant and not an expat. Growing up in Hong Kong and Malaysia, I was an expat. In fact, I used to constantly refer to myself as an expat brat – that is, someone who grew up away from the country of their birth. But its funny, right before I came to America, I read an article in the Guardian about the term expatriate, versus the term immigrant and you know what I discovered? Only white or western people are considered Expats. According to this article which used definitions from experts, “an expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (‘out of’) and patria (‘country, fatherland’)”. The article went on to say “Africans are immigrants. Arabs are immigrants. Asians are immigrants. However, Europeans are expats because they can’t be at the same level as other ethnicities. They are considered superior. Immigrants is a term set aside for ‘inferior races”. And that pissed me off.
Because, just like every immigrant to this country, I had a deadline, a drop zone where I told myself, if I can’t do it by this date – I gotta get out. People born in the places that they always live in, don’t realize how difficult it is to move to a new place. Never was a country more difficult to move to than the United States of America. And I speak English. I am white. And blonde. And semi-attractive. I have a degree on a piece of paper in a common language. I’m well- educated. I come from a family that’s wealthy enough to help me.
Can you imagine what it is like to move to this country without the language, without an education, without the money? I can’t
Just like any immigrant, I had to hustle and grind, and do whatever it took to get myself established here in this country.
And you know what? They still wouldn’t give me a goddamn credit card. I’ve got a 10,000 dollar limit in Canada, and here in the US of A, I have a $500 limit. One of those bad boys where you put down a deposit. I couldn’t get an apartment because I have no credit history in this country. Chase bank didn’t even want to let me open an account because I didn’t have any mail with my address on it. And I didn’t have any mail with my address on it because I couldn’t sign up for fun bills like electricity or gas or phone plans.
I found myself on a date recently with someone I will never see again. It turned out in the course of our indian food, that Austin was a Trump supporter. I listened, confused, as he told me about how immigrants were taking away jobs from hard working Americans. At the end of his tirade I set my napkin down and said: You know Austin, I’m an immigrant. I took away a job from a hard working American. And do you know what Austin said? Oh no – you don’t count as an immigrant.
But yes I am Austin and to the people here listening (or in this case… reading) I am an immigrant to this country and for all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, I am proud of myself for being here 7 months later, for holding tight when every establishment, and beauicratic nightmare tried to shake me off.
I want to remind the people who were born here, that those of us who weren’t, have experienced looming deadlines of visa’s running out, the fear of leaving this place we want to call our home. Next time someone is hard to understand, or someone complains within earshot about immigrants in this country – please rememeber that each and everyone us has fought a near impossible battle to be here, and we just want to be a part of this once great nation.
Be nice to immigrants. I mean, we were technically all immigrants once.