Part of an email conversation, reworked for sharing.
"Welcome to Holland" is an essay for parents of disabled kids. (And here's an alternative and critical interpretation of that essay.) It makes the analogy of preparing for a trip to Italy -- expecting a normal child -- and then suddenly getting off the plane and finding you're in Holland instead. "Italy" is a metaphor for "normal" childhood, whereas "Holland" is a metaphor for disability.
To extend the metaphor (in a way that would have been entirely true 5 years ago, although I'm less sure now): I'm an illegal immigrant. I snuck out of the Holland border as a toddler -- crawled on my own, nobody carried me. Now I'm working and living in Italy, but always with a constant sense of fear. At any time, someone could check my papers and discover that my passport's fake. They could deport me. Any time. (Ok, in real-life immigration law, Holland residents don't need visas to enter Italy, but roll with me here.)
I make repeated dashes back and forth across that border. And none of my neighbors are allowed to know -- the trips I take at night, the money I send back, all the exhaustion and the stress that comes with wrangling my life so I won't be found out -- in order to stay in Italy, I need to sweep that all under a rug of excuses and can't come clean with them on why I'm just so tired all the time.
My family doesn't entirely know that I'm an illegal alien either -- they think I've long since traded my citizenship in for an Italian one. My parents live in Italy -- not just in Italy, but in a really nice flat there; two brilliant kids with engineering degrees, a hard-working family success story. They got brochures about Holland, once upon a time, when I was small. But it's a distant memory now, and thank goodness that their daughter ended up being Italian after all. Holland is that "other place" where "other people" go, the poor and pitiful ones. But not us, not me. Clearly, I'm not one of them.
But I am.
I still have my Holland passport. I will always have this passport. And I hate it, and resent it, and deny it. And I have carefully forged an Italian one that's so good that even experts can't tell it's fake. But I know it isn't real, no matter how hard I pretend.
The original email conversation ends here. I've added the rest since then.
If I don't forge my Italian citizenship papers, I can't go to school or get a job. I mean, kind of. But it would take a lot more effort to apply to a much smaller, crappier selection of them. And I have no route for naturalization. No matter how brave I am, how many useful things I do, how smart I am, who I marry, or how long I'm here, I'll never magically become a citizen.
My deafness is not heritable, so my kids will probably be born Italian. I grew up seeing that you could only look at a Holland passport with pity -- and I could never truly compensate for that, regardless of how hard I worked in Italy. So I used to honestly believe I ought never to put anyone in the terrible position of having me as a wife or mother -- that it would be selfish and unfair of me to even open up the option. My kids will grow up with an illegal-immigrant mother -- and being a first-generation child is hard, because your parents can't coach you through early life experiences they haven't had. Or if I choose to move to Holland, then my kids will have to go there if they want to visit me. Or if I choose to be a legal resident of Italy, I'll have to walk around wearing a giant orange hat to visibly mark that I am from Holland -- because that's how Dutch people get "legal" status in Italy. And what kid wants to walk next to their mom when she's wearing a weird giant orange hat?
And yet. There is a flaming hope there now, somewhere. That weird blended Dutch-Italian families with ordinary lives are possible. And that those ordinary lives would change the boundaries of what sorts of "ordinary lives" are possible. I know that other people do this, and I know it's hard. But... I can do hard. I've done hard my entire life.
Hi, Italy. I'm an illegal immigrant from Holland.