__MAIN_TEXT__
feature-image

Page 82

As an immigrant, I am, by definition, out of place. I am Bulgarian, but when I go to Bulgaria, it takes only a few words for a stranger to understand I do not live there, that I am not a local. In fact, they understand more about me than I do about myself: they see that I am privileged; they believe I got lucky; my family took me to the promised land, and now I am an American. They assume I am wealthy. The average Bulgarian takes home five-hundred dollars per month; I am wealthy. When I was growing up in America, however, we were broke. Once, in an argument with my father when I was twelve, I used the p-word. Poor. He got upset and I felt afraid and ashamed, ashamed of being poor and ashamed that I had said what was so clear to me. He said we were broke, not poor. He said broke is temporary, but poor is a state of mind. Every time I leave Bulgaria I sigh with relief, ready to rest in my Americanness, until I land in America. In America, people call me exotic: Mexican, Persian, Native American. Once, at dinner, a waiter asked me if I was Amazonian. When I fill out a form in America, I exist in the gray area between being a person of color and, because I’m European, checking the box marked white. My nationality is misleading. I am only American when you come to know that I was born in Bulgaria; I am American only by virtue of the piece that is no longer there. My parents and I came to this country as refugees. After years and piles of paperwork, we received our blue, eagle-stamped passports. I became a white American. Of all my self-declarations, that was one I’d never thought to make. At twenty-four I spent the summer in Bulgaria after a year teaching English in Thailand. My first week back in Sofia, I met up with my uncle, my father’s brother, for coffee downtown. We walked down Vitoshka, a wide boulevard with the center of Sofia on one end and Mount Vitosha on the other. We entered the first floor of a large bookstore and sat at the café. It looked like any chain bookstore in America, but in Bulgaria, it was a sign of progress. We drank down our Turkish coffee. He leafed through books on homeopathic medicine, a hobby of his, while I waited in line for the bathroom. NONFICTION | 73

Profile for phoebe

48.1 - Winter 2019  

Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and art selected for phoebe's Winter 2019 issue.

48.1 - Winter 2019  

Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and art selected for phoebe's Winter 2019 issue.

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded