LEGALITIES IN AMERICA
“Earning a US degree in English has not brought me a job in the US yet,” a friend of mine said the other day when we were chatting over a bottle of Corona beer. “Working at a gas station illegally is the only way I can earn my and family’s bread and butter. I would not even worry much if I had a green card.”
In the US, immigration status is the most important thing. If you are out of status, you are always afraid of being deported. To prolong your stay without any worries of deportation, you need a green card, for which you either need the sponsorship of the company you work for, or need to be married to a US citizen.
“I cannot marry an American woman, because I have already married a Nepali one,” said my friend. A college had recently interviewed him and invited him to give a demo class, after which it sent him an offer letter to teach at their college. They invited him to their orientation for new faculty, and provided him with a laptop and a smart phone. “I felt so different that day. The day before, I was working at a gas station, sometimes sweeping and moping. And the next day, I found myself a college professor in the US,” he said.
He was overwhelmed with confidence and boundless joy when he told his boss at the gas station about his new job. “As I was sweeping the floor, the courage came from nowhere, and I notified my boss that I was quitting the job” he relayed with a sip of beer. “At that moment, I dreamt of achieving a green card with sponsorship from the college. I recalled the hard work and menial jobs I had done for many years.” Nostalgia wafted like the smell of a freshly baked pizza. His words reminded me of my own early days in the US when I had cried because I was forced to do jobs that I did not like, and I had cried until I got used to it.
“Actually, today I invited you to share my pain” he said tearfully, raising a bottle of beer, “Cheers!” I wondered why he was sad when he had just landed a job.
“Unfortunately, a day before the class was supposed to begin, the dean notified me over the phone that I had no classes to teach, not enough students had registered for the class” he said, between hiccups. Seriously! I was dumfounded. I put the beer bottle down and looked at him. I could not make any sense of this whole drama.
Often, I want to go home, utilize my knowledge, do something creative in my own field, rather than waste time at a gas station.
How could it be that he had no class to teach, even after the college had given him a written notification that he would be teaching classes? Is this not fraud? Can this happen in an academic arena, and that too, in the US? Even in Nepal, if a person was selected after a demo class, he/she gets to teach some classes. That falls under the moral obligation of the institution. But in the US, there is no guarantee of one’s job, unlike Nepal where a government job is yours for life. The whole drama of my friend’s job search appeared like a drama, a fantasy.
However, my mind soon turned sober when I realized that my friend did not have a job anymore. He had proudly abandoned the one at the gas station, and going back there and asking for his job back would be embarrassing. It was not even easy to find a similar job at another gas station, but in the meantime, his credit card bills continued to soar. How clever these Americans are! I thought to myself as the alcohol soared in my veins. “They let you use credit cards for free and charge heavy interest, so you would never be able to pay it off, but continue to use more credit cards” my friend vented his anger.
My friend and I sometimes find a way to soothe our soul through alcohol after we return from work, exhausted. This is a common routine with many Nepali people in the US. Some people acknowledge it, and some don’t.
Many a time, my mind swings back and forth. I want to leave this country, go back home, utilize my knowledge by doing something creative in my own area, and create opportunities for the young generation rather than waste my time merely working at a gas station here in the US. But then again, money matters. Even if my work in America does not make me happy, or provide me with any mental peace, the money I make has supported me and my family. Every year, I ache for my home country for the first six months, and for the next six months, I resist the idea of leaving the US as I reconsider the situation back home.
“The situation of the country is deteriorating day by day, even if I plan for something back home, I will not find anyone to support me” said my friend. “I know that if a person like me is saying this, then there will be few to think of this country. But then again, I think, there are many educated, intellectual, and wise people in the country, in politics, but they do not seem to be handling the situation well.” He went on to say that he does not know of any government programs addressing the young generation. Wide roads, luxurious apartments, and modern gadgets in the US lure many people to this country, derailing their pursuit of their aims and ideals.
“However, I will continue to think of my responsibility toward my country and the people,” he says “and try to do something from here rather than leave America, but I do not have a green card.”
In Greek mythology, Circe is a minor goddess of magic, an enchantress and sorceress. Nirad C Chaudhary, in his book The Continent of Circe uses the story of Circe to talk about Indian people in a different context. In the context of Nepali people in America, America is like Circe, enchanting anyone who comes to her. They get stuck with her, even when they realize that not being able to leave is painful. This is what the country is doing to me, and to most of the Nepalis who come here.
“Why not work in a gas station and live in the US, never mind what job I had back home,” is what everyone here thinks. I wonder when my country will become as attractive as Circe, so that my friend would not have to suffer from all these twists and turns of life. “I do not want to live like this, without status, always fearful of deportation, always confused about whether or not to leave, always stressed about achieving a green card,” said my friend finally, emptying the beer bottle in a gulp.