Author's note: I thought it appropriate to share this excerpt from the upcoming MY TWO FLAGS in honor of our Star Spangled Banner.
We land in JFK at midnight. Two hours later, our visas are checked and signed.
“Welcome to America, Mrs. Amaya,” the lady behind the counter says, handing over our documents.
“Muchas gracias.” Mom’s eyes turn liquid as she thanks her.
My mother, though short in stature, with pixie features and a soft voice, is nevertheless tough. Her strength is only surpassed by her kindness; a well of optimism and a rigid guide. Her skin is so fair, she easily burns in the noon sun and freckles dot her face. Her soft hair lightens a bit, unlike her sisters whose more traditional darker skin and thick black manes make it hard to believe they share the same parents.
I shrug into my coat while Mom buttons up my sister’s jacket. Mom can’t stop crying. We are all eager to see Dad again.
“Today is your dad’s birthday,” she reminds us.
Our reunion couldn’t have taken place at a better date.
Once outside of the small office, the first fragment of reality that shocks me is the stifling humidity that takes my breath away. I feel like I’m in an oven. The jacket quickly comes off, as well as my sister’s and Mom’s sweatshirt.
“Why is it so hot?” I ask in a bewildered voice.
“I forgot it’s summer here,” Mom explains. “It slipped my mind.”
The heat makes me shake my head, and suddenly long for the mild climate of Quito. Up until this very moment, I never thought to appreciate such a blessing.
Men wear shorts and t-shirts or tank tops, and women wear scandalously short outfits that show a lot of skin. Carrying our jackets, we might as well have beacons over our heads proclaiming us as foreigners.
Ahead of us, on the stripes of a large American flag are the words, “Welcome to America” in just about every language spoken across the globe. The sight of the flag has always filled me with a sense of wonder; ever since I heard Mom call it a symbol of hope as it waved in the breeze on top of the American Embassy in Quito.
We follow the people from our flight to a large contraption that rolls luggage on a carousel. I spot our mustard-colored suitcase which contains the only possessions we have: clothing for each of us, a few letters and pictures for Dad and Hernan, and a few icons of another lifetime that Mom refused to do without, but they weren’t many. In fact, everything we owned was in that single suitcase. Mom had promised us we’d get it all back once we settled.
I was fine with leaving everything behind. After all, if I’d brought my soccer ball with me, I would have only been able to look at it, and recall each game, each goal scored that I celebrated with Manuel. The memories would be enough to crush me, and that is just one object.
From up on a tier, two arms wave frantically. They belong to two men that share so much of their appearance they could be twins. Their smiles are bright and triumphant. Dad’s is the widest and happiest I’d ever seen on his dusky face.
We push through the crowd, urged by the desperate need of embracing family in this strange new land. And then he’s there, throwing his arms around Mom, my little sister and me. The four of us cry as we cling to one another. At that moment, the tensions and pressures of the last seven years are gone like a tear in an ocean.
I’m three thousand miles from where I grew up. I’m in my father’s arms in the United States of America.I’m home.