My parents visit me every year during the cooler Texas months. The summer heat is just not tolerable for a human being acclimatized to Central Europe. They "fry" before they set foot outside the door. Every time I pick them up at the airport, I grin at the heavy jackets and coats they carry before they get to our 85-degree November weather with high humidity. Ah, the things our bodies can adjust to over the years.
Besides looking forward to seeing and spending time with my parents, I also look forward to the rich goody-bag that’s in their heavy laden suitcases. As soon as my mother arrives at my house, she unloads the suitcase filled with Milka Schokolade, Gummy Bears, Potato Dumplings and Lebkuchen packages.
That’s a rarely seen amount of cookies and sweets in my house. There are also four pounds of Tschibo coffee, freshly grounded, Hiefenmark marmalade and gossip magazines about all the European royalty to keep me updated on the courtship of aristocratic Europe. It makes good reading when my dad watches the news on a television set that I hardly turn on during the year. If my kids don’t watch some programs in the afternoon, it would never be turned on. Crossword puzzles are also challenging in these magazines. I can solve about a third of them, if even that much. The rest get filled in by my dad.
I really wish my parents could bring me butter, bread, rolls, sausages and other perishable items. But these things will be taken away at customs, of course. Once my mother was able to sneak in a loaf of bread, which was devoured by me within a day. I could buy these things online or at a German Deli in one of the towns around here. It’s just so much sweeter when mom unloads the suitcase, since she knows what I like and what I would appreciate. She knows she is pleasing my taste for sweet things and it makes her happy to see my eyes glow with delight.
The first few days I will get up at 5:00 AM in the morning, since my mother’s jet lag won’t allow her to sleep longer than past 4:00 AM. After about three days, I can’t keep up with her early morning schedule since I am not a morning person to start with.
My favorite time with my mother is still at breakfast. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the room of the kitchen. This in itself is a lure to get me out of bed. My mom has the table set just like she does at home with saucers, cups and plates. I get to taste my first bite of marmalade with butter on rye bread. Mmmm….and, my mom is sitting across the table from me telling me about their trip and all the preparation she and my dad went through. In detail she describes how anxious my dad gets a week before take off, and how his blood pressure rises when he sees the prices at the gas stations. The combination of the two just gets him going into endless rants. Ah, I love my dad!
We catch up on family and friends. I tell her about the kids and how things have been. Although we discussed most of it over the phone already, we just enjoy our face to face talk and to be able to put it in better perspective. We share a few laughs and reminisce about times long gone.
It’s our sacred time together. Mother and a daughter talking to one another woman to woman; mother to mother. Over time our lives have both been enriched by the unexpected events that separated us over the years, and yet we became closer than ever before. Experience and knowledge and distance can be an incredible bond to strengthen the love for each other.
One noticeable remark my mother keeps making every time during some of our conversations is when she comments on how "Americanized" I have become. She doesn’t think that I could ever return to my former country and live there again. I wonder about this so many times myself. Could I or would I ever want to move back home again?
I certainly have had my share of homesickness. There are things I still miss which are endless to name. Since my choice of leaving was not brought on by persecution of an oppressive government or economical hardship, my adaptation to a new culture and way of life took different turns and twists. It wasn’t so much that I saw the land of milk and honey as I saw the challenges of growing up from childhood to adulthood. I actually was disappointed with the life images that I saw with my eyes verses the images I saw in movies and magazines. There was no New York City where I lived.
I endured a culture shock that hit me so drastically after my arrival in 1980, for which I was quite unprepared. I separated myself from hills, rivers and forests, familiar smells and tastes and people and moved into the dry desert of El Paso that offered no consolation to what I left behind. Everything was so different and nothing remotely resembled home.
These desolate surroundings reflected my inner landscape of an orphan. Never in my life before had I felt so lonely. I craved everything German. Music, food, clothes anything I could get my hands on. If I heard my language spoken, I rushed into the direction of the voice just to start a brief conversation. It brought me back home for a moment only to receive an onslaught of greater sadness. In hindsight now, I realize that I fed on things German so I wouldn’t lose who I thought I was: A German girl from Germany knowing only German things.
Life moves forward in time and settles back down into a comfortable pace. New friends and a job can bring normality back to every day living. Discovering new food and flavors and a taste for adventure can quickly move the pendulum into the opposite direction. I began to search for ways to fit in and blend into this very different society that I’ve admired from afar for so many years. The abundance of choices in stores and the availability of getting what one wants at any time for any situation made life very convenient.
As the years passed by I noticed how I struggled at times to figure out where my "loyalty" lies. Is it with my native country or my new country? I often had the impression that I had my left foot on the European continent and my right foot on the North American continent. Am I German or am I American? This agonizing identity crisis must be very familiar to any immigrant who leaves his native country behind.
There were times I had to defend my Germany to my American friends, informing them that there are other people in the world that speak other languages and have different cultures. There are other cultures in this world whose people have made a positive contribution to civilization. And to my German friends and family I had to let them know that America is not just fast-food, wastefulness and microwaves.
I remember getting annoyed when I read articles in German magazines that only presented the extreme sides of American life in a negative light; and the frustrations I felt and still do over the lack of knowledge that Americans have of Germany since it is rarely brought up in the media to begin with.
Since I have a slight accent, I can rarely get away with being a true Texan. My spoken English is a mixture of British and American English with a hue of German. Depending on my concentration and focus, I can influence how much of my German accent can dominate in my speech. These audible signs mark my nationality to any observer of accents. I can never claim nor pretend to be a native of this side of the globe.
When I speak German I tend to accentuate my words with an American style at times. Not always, but it slips out that way without realizing it. The result is a big laugh and a raised eye brow from my listeners. I can see the question forming in their faces if I really was from around here or another country.
So what does my mother mean when she says I am "Americanized?" Is it the way I wear my hair or the fact that I laugh a lot more than the "stoic" German people? Or is it the fact that I become accustomed to the benefits of living in a capitalistic society that still rewards hard work and entrepreneurs with more pay and less taxes than a socialized country and a paternalistic government? Or is there some genetic code in every human being that makes us uniquely our nationality?
We can all agree that every country and land holds its unique features of nature that are breathtaking, enchanting and charming. Each corner of the world reflects its own beauty. It’s nothing a nation built or did. People have forever glorified their land in songs and hymns. Even the desert and rugged landscape can hold a profound meaning to indigenous people if we really asked them. The ones who own it feel a strong tie to the soil they live on. But I am not a land; I am a human being with a name of my own as well. The land provides for my needs and gives me purpose to expand and grow. It is the base which I call home.
I cannot even define myself politically. Because I am German, I am automatically put in the category of a socialist, and as a woman I can quickly be branded as a liberal. Over the course of time, and after a few lessons in life, I have shed the false protective cloak that European socialized governments wrap around their people and wrested independence for myself.
The democratic styles of the country of my birth and the country in which I reside differ in that one is considered socialist and the other capitalist. Both countries form political parties that represent their ideology of their governing style. Do these parties represent who I am in terms of my being? They can in no true measure meet my individual needs and be my personal guardian. All they can do is uphold laws that exist already that govern the physical world. I am not in the form of a political government, since my mind and spirit are under the influence of the greater Intelligence who created me. I cannot, in good conscience, claim that I am the product of a political organization that looks out for my wellbeing. I am not defined by the name of a political party.
The Constitutional principles of individual freedom and liberty that apply to every person living in America taught me that a person is quite capable of making decisions and choices for himself and his family without government’s interference. Regretfully, these principles are gradually being removed by a rising herd mentality that is being fed with fear and panic. Challenges, diversity and decision-making are part of the process to independence, and can only continue if these principles are respected. They permit room to experiment and discover innovative ways of doing things. They can bring new depth and color to old ideas. But does that make me American if I believe this truth?
America, the land and country, only upholds these principles as they were discovered by the founders and applied to their land as the way to govern. This makes America the first of its kind after many failures in other parts of the world with similar ideas. These ideas were only refined and sharpened by men who knew about history and believed in God, the Creator of all things. But is this knowledge patented somewhere to belong uniquely to America and its people? It can only survive for as long as the people in whose hands it was placed have a conscience and a sense of accountability. These things only function in man himself and not in a political apparatus, which does not contemplate on any of these ideas and principles. The American nation only embodies these principals, but it is not these principals.
I belong to a religious organization that is Catholic. The faith I practice is Christian. It was here in America where I returned to the roots of my faith again. My spiritual identification is in Jesus Christ. In this identification I can find everything I need to rejuvenate my spirit. I can find life of abundance coming forth from its well. The way I practice it may differ from other organizations. All I can do is reflect Christ’s character to the outside. I am not Jesus Christ, the Savior. My Lord does not wave a flag nor does He have a nationality. Those who wait upon His return must understand that He is not looking for brightly colored flags or blind patriotic duty to a political party. He looks upon the heart of every man and woman. His opponents will be the ones who sit upon the ruling throne of the land. They will be judged according to their deeds. My faith and religion are also not defined by a nationality. I am allowed to practice my faith, because of the principals that a country applied to their foundation. God blesses those who observe His laws and not because of my patriotic duty to a government.
And so I ponder over these questions, which so often make me wonder if I am the vision or image that people expect to see in an American. Or am I still the German?
After my parents leave and the house returns to the life of Sabine Barnhart, I fill a glass of wine and sit in the quietness of my kitchen. All I can hear is the ticking of my clock in the living room. I no longer have the need to go back as I did years ago. I am quite content in the place and the time I find myself to exist. There’s no need to run home any longer. I know that I can pass between the two lands with no hindrance. I feel comfortable here as I would there. Travelers seem to have that same attitude. They can fit in without having to change others. They are who they are meant to be. My life in America most likely just helped me realize this truth. So for now, I am Sabine Barnhart who currently resides in the United States of America in the state of Texas.