Remember all those stories we used to make up about America? In America, everybody was so rich, they slept in golden beds and dressed like kings. In America, everyone drove shiny new cars, and nobody walked anywhere. In America, no one ever went hungry, because everybody ate six meals per day.
Well, we were right about the cars, anyway.
It wasn’t my choice to leave you. One day, some important-looking people showed up at the refugee camp. They asked me my name, then a bunch of questions about my parents. They told me that I had to come with them; that my family was waiting for me. My family! I was so excited, that I rushed to get into the car. I would see Mama and Papa, and then we would come right back to the camp to get you and Fisha.
But when we got to the big building, my parents were not there. “Of course not,” said a woman in an impatient voice. “Your parents died in the attack on your village. We are sending you to live with relatives in America.”
I stared at her, not wanting to believe it. Then inside of me, some last strand of hope unraveled. I would never see Mama and Papa again.
As I stood there, bawling like a little boy, the woman gave me an awkward pat on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine,” she kept repeating. “It will be different, but you will adjust.”
Three days and one very frightening airplane ride later, I met my mama’s brother-in-law. “Call me Uncle Jaime,” he said. “Your Tia Karina can’t wait to meet you.” He drove us to his home – to my new home, which was a large brick house in a city named Detroit.
How can I begin to describe such a city to you? Imagine buildings taller than the tallest tree you’ve ever seen. Imagine so many lights that the city glows like the sun, even at night. And the cars – everywhere you look, there are cars, like herds of metal animals, growling and hooting and puffing dark smoke from their tails.
“It ain’t much,” said Uncle Jaime, who had a funny way of speaking English, “but it’s home.” He opened the door of our house, and I stepped onto a floor so soft, I wondered if people slept on it.
I gazed around in amazement at the fancy furnishings and cloth-like covering on the walls. “It’s beautiful,” I said.
A round woman with twinkling eyes threw back her head and laughed. “Ooh, I think I’m going to like you!” she said. Her smile was so much like Mama’s that I couldn’t speak anymore after that.
Uncle Jaime and Tia Karina were stricter than Mama and Papa. I couldn’t run around barefoot, and had to be reminded a lot to lock the doors, and to look both ways before crossing streets. But they were kind and loving people who were patient with me as I adjusted to life in Detroit.
They had a dog, too – a big, hyper, scary-looking dog named Raj, who decided from day one that I was going to be his new best friend. And before long, I was.
It was a very different life than the one I had always known. People are different here. Everything moves at a faster pace. Sometimes I think that I will never catch up. But I keep trying to adjust. Who knows? Maybe by the next letter, I will have adjusted, and I’ll be such an All-American kid that you wouldn’t even recognize me. Maybe.