Returning to the US: An Immigrant in My Own Land

So here I am, the eve before the coldest day in Minneapolis yet, trying to decide if my move to the US was the correct one. Those of you who have read a few of my previous stories may know that I renovated a house in Chengdu not so long ago, shedding no small amount of blood and treasure in the process. Why go through such efforts, if my plan was to leave not a year into my stay in the Compound?

I find myself asking that same question at least once a day. The last more significant one was the day before yesterday, during the tail end of my Uber ride to get a new phone for my wife. I should have been driving, but the battery in my 1995 Honda Civic gave out like Han Solo’s Taun-Taun, so I thumbed my iPhone and in less than five minutes a slick black VW rolled up, with Faris the Somalian at the wheel. We talked. He told me that he is a descendant of freedom fighting Dervishes, most of whom died when the British bombed their capital a century ago. He is here with his mom, sister, wife, and four children. His Dad, the chief of the tribe, steadfastly refused to leave Somalia.

“Brother,” he said, in the breathy, rolling cadence of the East African Muslim. “Why are you here with your small children? This is no place for small children. Maybe university, but the schools here, all they teach is sex and drugs and violence. The bills, brother, they never stop. They want us to be slaves, brother, not earning too much, always more debt. Children in bad schools learning to do bad things. You should not have come here my brother, as Allah is my witness.”

Christmas

Christmas at the Matuszak’s

Perhaps. My brother calls the monthly collection of bills “the Nut,” and mine is growing each and every day. It is true. American schools teach kids about sex and drugs and fighting. Americans perform horribly in all subjects (cept for weed smoking) compared with our developed peers, and even worse when compared to Asians. Debt is the engine that runs the US, because without debt there is no credit and credit is the backbone of a capitalist system. Without credit, no loans, without loans no business, without business no American Dream for you.

Yesterday I received three cards in the mail, one each for my sons and wife: Medica health care cards. For $18 a month my family has health care. In Minneapolis. At a very long list of clinics and hospitals that work with Medica. Tomorrow the day will be cold, around 20 below Celsius they say. Yet here I am, in my pajamas, writing this little note from the Northwoods to my brothers and sisters in Chengdu. Central heating ya’ll.

Let Me Be Your Eyes and Ears

Whenever I saw a man, woman or child who had returned to Chengdu from the US, I grabbed the hem of their longcoat like the exile, desperate for news. Is it true, I would ask them wide eyed and gap toothed, is it true what they say? No jobs and tense with a violence that must burst forth; run down and tired, waiting for the East Asians to saunter over and hack up the carcass and share chunks around a big “Fuck America” bonfire. Is it true? What’s it like? Why did you come back? Where shall I go, then, if America has nothing to offer me?

I was never satisfied by the reports I heard. Most everyone gave me cryptic responses, one- or two-liners peppered with “Oh I don’t know man” and “It’s cool …” – but never enough to slake my thirst for knowledge about the old homeland, if that’s what it is for me, and what the goings on are all about.

Now, I don’t need to rely upon weak scouts and spotty reports anymore. I can make my own observations. I can be the spy I never had, and you can be my handler, parsing each sentence for secrets and inside information, double meanings and directions to the treasure. So far, I have been impressed, to say the least. Impressed with the friendliness of everyone I meet. Impressed with the avalanche of work available in Minneapolis for those willing to do it, and impressed with the reception of my friends and family.

The Beater

The Beater

Yes, I drive a beater. But today after spending 100 bucks on a new battery, that beater surged to life and I scraped the ice off the windshield and handled my business. That beater cost me $1400. That’s a little over 8000 yuan for a solid ride. I’ll take that. There is a park across the street with 80% grass, 18% trees and 2% concrete. I’ll take that. It’s cold as hell out there, but we went sledding and ice skating, the lakes shimmer golden when the sun sets, and I had nachos and a steak fajita at Little T’s just off of Nicollet. That shit was DELICIOUS. My rent is $910 a month for a two bedroom apartment smack in the middle of the once-was zone between Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis. My neighbors are single moms, older couples, hazed out youngsters, and a couple of immigrants like myself. More expensive than Chengdu, but cheaper than Shanghai – and with central heating. I’ll take that.

What’s that? “Immigrant like myself?”Aren’t you a US citizen, Sascha? Why yes I am. But being here now, after all these years, is like being an immigrant in my own country, and that is a feeling I want to hold onto for a long time. Immigrants hustle harder, and that’s what’s needed in this land of milk and honey.

Sure I miss the old funk streets in Yulin and that good good Sichuan flavor. I miss the energy of China, the ease with which I sunk into the country and walked the streets feeling above and beyond. But I remember a lot of anger too, a lot of WTFs every day abut this or the other thing. I haven’t really said WTF out loud in America yet, except for when I’m browsing Reddit and I see a goat twist it’s own head around to look me in the eye.

There are a ton of jobs out here. Did I already mention that? I had three interviews today. Three. And all of them were decent jobs. I start two menial jobs this week, earning about $300 – $400 a week, and I could be working a lot more if I wanted to. I feel my hustle bones stirring something fierce out here, because the truth is, Yes, America does not have the hustle muscle of China right now, in terms of sheer mass, but what the US lacks for hustle numbers, it makes up for in resources and pin point accuracy. There are a lot of very smart people in the US; smart people who also happen to be cool. It’s refreshing.

Disaster Averted …

Winter is here.

Winter is here.

Am I in the throes of the honeymoon? Probably. Am I deluded and about to fall flat on my face? I doubt it.

What I feel most, and this is without question the most gratifying and most exciting, is that there is still space in this country for new cool stuff, new ideas, new businesses, new hustles, and new art. Second to that in excitement, but perhaps more gratifying, I have found that my decade plus in China was not a waste. I did not miss out and my skill set is actually unique and desirable.

I was afraid that I would roll into the US as an over the hill couldabeen searching for hustles that dried up long ago in a desultory land primed for a race war. I can tell you with certainty that the worst case scenario is also the most unlikely. Don’t fear returning to the center, after years on the periphery! There is no center! And the periphery is just the back of the bus!

Stay tuned, my Chengdu brothers and sister, for more Dispatches from the Northwoods.

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About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. After living in Chengdu on and off for twelve years, he now lives in Minneapolis.

18 Responses to “Returning to the US: An Immigrant in My Own Land”

  1. Ray

    Ha ha, sitting in Melbourne now taking a break from the ‘Du nuclear winter. Tried taking a train yesterday, got totally lost. Everything is different, but goddamned this air is nice, and damned if it aint cool to get a smile when you buy shit, even a “how you doing? Have a nice day”. Very difficult decision coming soon…..

  2. drjtrekker

    very interesting. Please keep the updates coming. Find myself thinking about the move back home as well…young child, tired of the b.s. all the time, and the pollution.

    Good luck Sascha

  3. Rick in China

    Great write-up Sascha, have fun back home! My own exit plans are (still) in the works.. makes sense, if not just to save the wee ones’ lungs from constant hammering by particulate..

  4. Nice report on “the return”. Sounds like a dream. I like the Somali driver’s comments up against your non-threatening reality. Knowing the twin cities myself, I really started salivating at the Little T’s reference. Make sure you pick up some Surly Furious ASAP. Thanks for the positive take on going home again. Who knows, I may have to join you on that one.

  5. Hey Sascha,

    I have to agree with your article although I do agree with your taxi driver too. It is more difficult for immigrants and minorities here full stop.

    So cool that you are living close to where we used to live when we lived in Mpls. I can’t imagine living in that cold though. Brrrrr….. How is your wife adjusting? Is she able to work in the US? What about the boys, do they miss China?

    It seems like a long time since we left Chengdu, 1 1/2 years ago, but I still long for it although everything in Portland is really great. There was something about life that I really loved there and I feel like a piece of mee is still in Chengdu. I will have to tell you more about our repatriation offline sometime.

    Take care and keep writing! Good stuff!
    Kim

  6. Enjoyed the piece Sascha.
    Again welcome back to Minnesota. Land of Sky Blue Waters, wonderful summers and F’ing ridiculous winters. Good news, only 3 months of misery left and the butterfly will emerge from its chrysalis. If I can do anything to help make your life better, give a holler… I will do my best. Your on my turf now.
    Regards,
    Rick in Mn 🙂

  7. Welcome “home” 🙂

  8. Why would anyone NOT move to Philippines??

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been looking at coming back to my home country after living in China for a long time. It is a little intimidating to return, but I think it has to be done.

  10. Daily WTF’s definitely improve one’s rage management skills. I’ll have a patient heart of iron.

  11. hey all, i’ll definitely keep you posted with more yammering about the USA and China. There is a lot I’ve noticed about how the two interact, how they’re similar and not so similar, and how sucking up bits and pieces from both can make you have more fun in life. I have been WTFing in the US, but mostly due to road rage. It’s serious out here.

  12. Charlie

    It sounds like a fun bizarro-familiar adventure. I’m sure it’d be even more so if you weren’t returning to a city that you know well and have a lot of friends and family in. Sometimes I wonder about what it’d be look to move to some completely unfamiliar city in the states after living in Asia for a long time – serious culture shock. This is a more reasonable option though since you have a family to care for and help them lay down their own roots in America.

    Good luck!

  13. You got some courage to move back to US. It will take about 4-6 months to realize it was the best moment or the best decision to do it but, by that time, you will be already feeling US like your new home to worry.

  14. Good to read about your new life Sascha!I miss central heating too! Best luck. Amy

  15. Respect to you Sascha. I stumbled across your blog really and was….so surprised by this post of yours. You take such responsibility, and so little entitlement, your comment to family, work, producing a life that you’d like for all of you….it’s in many ways so matter-of-fact for you (it seem) and is so very very rare today. I too have had listened all the rumblings of no work and no fair whatnot in well…every country…from individuals. I’ve always found opportunity when I wanted to, I’m worth what the market will transact with me for–which varies of course. That hustle mood….I love it. Please keep us all updated on how your family progresses.
    PS I’ve often thought (given only recent ventures into the China scene) that I could not, truly would not raise a child there if I had the option. The US is much more conducive.

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