Entering the bus always feels a bit like a social gathering. It’s early in the morning; some passengers come from Vigo, others from Caldas or from Santiago, and the passengers from Orense, starting about a year ago, have resigned ourselves to go to Porriño, a little more than forty-nine miles away, to take the bus. Despite the inconvenience, it’s worthwhile: the flight from Oporto to Newark is a direct one, and the difference between flying straight to the destination and taking connecting flights is a great one, not so much because of the hours spent waiting at additional airports, but because there is always the possibility of missing the flight and not being able to travel until the next day.
We, the passengers, talk amongst ourselves, and I ask some of them how long they have been living in the United States: “I was already born there,” “I don’t even remember,” “Twice as long as you’ve been there,” “And how long have you been there?” And by the time we reach the sign welcoming us to Portugal, we are all half asleep and the silence is only broken when the country’s Radio Comercial replaces the previous Spanish broadcasting station. It’s incredible the way in which just a two-hour journey, a group of strangers become family by the simple fact of a shared immigration experience.
The plane is always filled with people older than seventy, especially around this time of year when people from Galicia and Portugal who had formerly lived in the Ironbound neighborhood in Newark return to the United States to spend the winter with their children and grandchildren. These children and grandchildren were born elsewhere in the world and even though they maintain their cultural roots, they know that life will continue to be easier on the other side of the ocean.
On reaching the airport, I sat outside for a little while to take a breath of fresh air (I got dizzy on the bus—again). An older, well-dressed man asked me for money. I asked him where he was going. “If I had somewhere to go, I would not beg,” he said with a smile. And I, sitting there, thought whether having or not having a place to go is what defines us. He continued speaking: “I come here every day to watch the planes go by…”