Secret Immigrant Behavior

A couple of years ago, when I was fresh out of college and living in my first apartment, my parents came to visit from Hungary. Opening a kitchen drawer, my Mom was surprised to find months’ or even years’ worth of Hungarian snacks, spice mixes, and other food stuff stashed away.

“Why do I keep sending you all this when you don’t use them,” she asked me. I didn’t really know the answer – or didn’t want to admit – that it just felt good to have all those familiar flavors right at hand, even if I didn’t want or need to use them. The shiny packages of meatloaf mix, the crinckle of the chocolate pudding powder package, all reminded me of home.

Eventually I began to understand that all of us immigrants are hoarders in a way. We might be well-adjusted, we might fit in, and there might be nothing about us that screams “I am not from here.” But I bet that ever immigrant in every part of the world has a drawer like mine, packed with stuff from home.

It doesn’t have to be food – I also hoard magazines from Hungary, a package of tissues my childhood friend’s mom gave me when I had the sniffles during a visit to Budapest, and a sweater that was last washed in my parents’ washing machine at home. I haven’t worn it – or washed it – since in hopes of keeping some of that familiar smell intact. It’s fading now, but if I burry my nose in it for a couple of minutes, I can still get a faint whiff.

Another characteristic of this behavior is buying things in your home country that are available in the US, because you believe that your country’s product is superior. Now that my parents are living in America, I think they are slowly beginning to exhibit traits of this secret immigrant behavior as well. They just returned from a visit to Hungary and they brought back things like pots, dessert forks, shower gel, and deodorant. I admit – the deodorant was for me. That, along with bags full of Hungarian cookies, chocolate, and spices all made the trip in suitcases and I know that my Mom will be hoarding them until the next holiday or birthday when she will sneak them into our packages. I can’t wait.

I suppose there is nothing wrong with this hoarding. But I feel silly admitting the melancholy I feel when I eat the last Pilota cookie from Hungary, or when I run out of my favorite deodorant. It feels odd that my identity and how I define who I am are somehow tied to such ordinary objects. I mean, what does an old plastic grocery bag from Kaiser has to do with who I am? But somehow, it does.

So I try to treat my secret hoarding drawer and the stuff in it matter of factly: it is there, it serves a purpose, it makes me feel better to have one, and anyone who doesn’t like it can get over it. All right, so I am a little defensive about it. I protect it from my hubby who likes to throw away unused stuff and I will not publicly admit its existence.

It will be our secret.

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