Tomorrow April 25th at 12 pm, I will participate in a panel at UCLA at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The panels is titled “Exiles and Outsiders” While I was preparing my bit, I ran across this piece I wrote in 2003 and thought I would share it with you.
To me exile is a feeling. The feeling of a vacuum. I experience it in my stomach every time that the plane that carries me away from my country takes off. In that precise moment, I know that my body, the body of that woman sitting on an aisle seat in the pressurized cabin of the aircraft, has ceased to be whole. It has become a torn body. I know I have become an incomplete self.
When I get off the plane, usually at Houston International Airport, I feel different, physically transformed. I am smaller, weaker, tongue-tied.
In the throng of people going through immigration and customs, I disappear behind a document, a photograph. I am looked up in a computer. I speak only if spoken to; the ease to joke, to make light belongs to my Spanish personality; in English I am humorless, clumsy. Without my language, I am disempowered. I mumble.“The instant I leave my country I begin to die” wrote the Colombian writer, Alvaro Mutis. I understand that. I understand why death is often referred to as a journey, a trip. Death is the ultimate exile.