'Wherever you go, there you are' : Code Switch Many immigrants have described the feeling of being different people in different places. Maybe in one country, you're a little goofy, a little wild. In another, you're more serious — more of a planner. In this episode, which originally aired on Latino USA, Miguel Macias explores how his identity has been shaped by both Spain and the United States, leaving him in a state of limbo.

'Wherever you go, there you are'

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Just a heads up, y'all - this episode contains mentions of suicide.

What's good, y'all? I'm Gene Demby, and this is CODE SWITCH from NPR.


DEMBY: So for as long as CODE SWITCH has been the thing, our team has been made up in no small part of the kids of immigrants. So when we're all chopping it up on the CODE SWITCH stoop, which is the joke-y (ph) name for the little area in the NPR office where all of our cubicles are situated, we sometimes get to complaining about our families and our parents, you know, as you do, and all the typical generational frictions and frustrations come up, but also so does a lot of commiserating about this experiential stuff - right? - this giant gap in outlooks when you are born and raised in the United States, and your mother or your father or the people who raised you grew up somewhere, you know, halfway around the world.

People on the team have talked about what it was like to go back to their parents' home country and to see their parents transform into these unfamiliar beings once they were back in this different element, their own element. A normally taciturn father who was suddenly really mischievous and quick-witted, the life of the party even. The anxious mother who was just more assured, who was just moving lighter. Sometimes it was a function of people's parents slipping back into some role they played in the family order back in the old country, back in the day. And sometimes it was just about their parents being able to step back into a life they had before they had the life they have now, before any number of potential lives and careers and lovers came off the table.

On this episode, we're going to hear a very personal story from someone who was stuck between these two different versions of himself, these two different modes of being. Miguel Macias was an executive producer with our play cousins over at Latino USA. He grew up in Spain but moved to the United States when he was in his 20s. And he's spent a lot of his life since toggling back and forth between these two worlds that he inhabited on either side of the Atlantic. And this episode, which originally ran on Latino USA, Miguel gets very honest about his hopes, his regrets, his debilitating depression and what you lose when you choose the freedom of not putting down stakes anywhere.


PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MIGUEL MACIAS, BYLINE: This story starts in 2012. That's the year I started taping interviews with my friends in Spain. The 2008 economic crisis was four years in and not going away anytime soon. I saw many of my friends give up on their dreams of a more fulfilling life as I watched from the outside. So we talked. We talked for hours and hours about the crisis, politics, society, Spain, our generation.

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: My generation was born around the time Franco, the Spanish dictator, died. We grew up under a new democracy full of promise that things would be better for us, better than for our parents, not just politically but also economically. But the crisis took away that promise. By then, I had been in the U.S. for more than a decade. I had a stable job as a professor teaching radio production at Brooklyn College in New York City. And at that moment, when so many of my friends were basically drowning, I felt lucky to live somewhere else, to have some stability.

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: That's my friend Pablo, an architect. Studying architecture in Spain seemed like a good idea for a while for my generation, when construction was booming, until it wasn't, until the crisis devastated the sector. Work started to dry up progressively until there was no work for Pablo. He was unemployed for years.

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: He went into a dark place, thinking that, at 40 years old, he had nothing to show for his life...

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: ...Wondering what good happened to him in 20 years.

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: He started doubting himself. Everything you expect to feel when you're unemployed for a long time, he knew these feelings were coming, and he still suffered from them.

PABLO: (Speaking Spanish).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: As I listened to my friends talking about a system that felt like it was falling apart, I told myself, why would there be a place for me in this society? And they told me too in no uncertain terms, Miguel, don't come back to Spain now; it's horrible here. So for me, at that moment, the crisis took away a different kind of promise - my dream to go back to Spain one day.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking Spanish).


MACIAS: I am, by all means a privileged immigrant. I came to the U.S. because I wanted to. I was able to study and get a job. I even had support from my family in my early years here. I guess we could say that I've been fairly successful, too. So I could have gone back to Spain any time. I can go back now if I want to. But for some reason, while I once felt free to leave, I never felt I had earned the right to go back. And I could have gone back, too, in those years if it weren't for the crisis. But instead, I used every opportunity I had to spend time in Spain. And these interviews - they became a way to get to know my friends better, get to know what they thought about me.

MARIANGELES: (Through interpreter) Just one thing. Seriously, Miguel, can I really ask you questions?

MACIAS: Yeah, I'm saying that if the conversation leads to you asking me questions, I will answer them.

MARIANGELES: (Through interpreter) But are you ready for my questions?

MACIAS: Mariangeles (ph) is one of my best friends in Spain. She has a way to cut through the crap when she speaks. I interviewed her twice for my documentary about the crisis, but by the second time I sat down with her in 2016 at her terrace overlooking the center of Seville, the same place where we have had so many parties over the years, by then my conversations with my friends had turned a lot more personal.

MARIANGELES: (Through interpreter) I think that you are part of your group of friends in Spain as much as if you lived here. Now, they are happy when you visit, but they don't miss you when you're not here.

Do you consider them your people?

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish) I do. They are my people, but they miss a great part of my life, the same way that I miss a great part of their lives. (Speaking Spanish).

MARIANGELES: (Through interpreter) I have one more question for you. Do you ever think about coming back?

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish). Do I think about it? I think about it all the time. Where do you think I'll be in 10 years?

MARIANGELES: (Through interpreter) You'll be there. I think you just don't want to come back.

MACIAS: I did want to go back. I still do. And hearing many of my friends say that I didn't kind of broke my heart because it made me feel that they were seeing something I couldn't see, that I had reached a point of no return. In my mind, I had just never found the moment to come back. I always imagined there would be this time in my life when I would be successful enough to be able to make some kind of triumphal return, to finally rest, to even be happy, build a house, work on my own things, not have to worry about my career anymore, and that moment has never come.

So I'm not sure how 10 years have passed since 2012 and I still have not been able to make a decision because I'm afraid - afraid that 20 years of my life could evaporate without a trace if I went back, afraid that my achievements would not mean much in Spain, that I couldn't even get a good job, afraid that the past two decades of my life, the effort, the fighting, the sacrifice, the loneliness, could amount to nothing. It's an immigrant's worst nightmare, going back with nothing to show for. And while this might not actually be true, those are my fears. And fears have a way to sneak up on your decisions, to convince you that the worst-case scenario is real.


MACIAS: The first time I ever visited the U.S. - long before I moved - was in 1991, when I was 15 years old. My father was obsessed with the need to speak English to succeed in life. He was also obsessed with succeeding in life. So my parents signed me up to one of those summer programs where you spend a couple of months with an American family. I spent a few summers over the years with Peg and Mick (ph), my host family in the U.S., who made me feel at home in Delaware. I kept coming back. I guess I liked it there. I don't really remember. Lourdes (ph), who was my girlfriend at the time, she does.

LOURDES: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: She remembers me connecting with the U.S. when I was young. She even still has handwritten letters that I sent her during those summers. I would tell her about everything that I observed with bright eyes.

LOURDES: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: I remember the night before I visited the U.S. for the first time. I have this image of walking into my room and seeing a bottle of scotch and a box of condoms on my table. It took me a few seconds to understand that my parents had found them where they were hidden in my room. I was 15 years old, and I was a difficult teenager. But that didn't keep me from getting straight As in high school. My mother, who's a psychologist, took me to her home office to talk to me about the obvious risks of drinking and having sex at that age. All I could think about was the fact that the next morning, I had a ticket to jump on a plane and travel to Delaware.

That was my first summer in the U.S. Many followed in the '90s. So when I decided that I wanted to go live somewhere else, the United States seemed like the logical place for me to go. In January 2001, I packed a suitcase, got a job as a waiter in the West Village, and I started to count the years - five, 10, 15, 20, almost half of my life at this point.


MACIAS: My initial goal was not necessarily to stay in New York permanently. I wanted to study radio production for a year, maybe two. I enrolled in the master's program, I got a student visa, and I started working as a teaching assistant at Brooklyn College. I thought I was going to go back to Spain with my fancy title and score a great job. I had spent a bunch of time in Spain after college working in bars and clubs, playing guitar in a rock band, just being young. So when I moved to New York at 25 years old, I was ready to accomplish things.



MACIAS: For a few years, I just put my head down to study and work at all times, except for when I went back to Spain for the summer or for Christmas. I remember having the feeling during those years that I had started running, running at all times, and that I was never going to stop.

IRENE: You were so busy during that time. Even before you began school, I remember you were always very busy, and you were working a lot of hours.

MACIAS: Irene (ph) was a professor of mine in grad school. She met me just a few weeks after I arrived in New York in 2001. She's been a patient mentor, even though I've disappointed her a few times throughout the years with my decisions.

IRENE: Do you remember how you felt then?

MACIAS: I think that when I was a student, I was very excited about my potential, you know? At the time, I thought that I may have a lot of talent. And I was very excited about what I could accomplish. And I was convinced that I was going to achieve great things, basically.

I worked with Irene on my master's thesis project. It was a long audio experimental documentary about romantic love called "Chasing Love." It was really important to me. I thought it was going to win all the awards or something.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: I've been in love and it was a physical feeling. It wasn't like the idea of, oh, now we'll be together. That'll be great. It was a feeling in my stomach.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: People just take love at face value. You know, like, oh, they're married, so they're in love. They love each other. But you're like, but why? Why are they in love?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: There's definitely things going on in our bodies that require us to touch other people. You know, that's definitely true.


IRENE: I think in the present that you are a very, very, extremely talented person. But maybe I always felt that your creativity was, like, very slippery. I felt that you were sabotaging yourself the whole time. Your whole life in Brooklyn College was very general with other people, but I think to a point of being an excuse not to sit down and confront a creative project because at the end of the day, we're always afraid of rejection.

MACIAS: She is right. I am afraid of rejection. That's why the creative process is something that has haunted me for years. Creativity is slippery indeed, and I needed to take risks. But I've always been risk-averse, so instead I turned to my professional development as the thing to be proud of. I made it the reason why I came to this country and success, progress, accomplishment became crucial for me. As I worked, I worked at all times.


MACIAS: In 2004, after graduating from Brooklyn College, I was offered a job in public radio and I couldn't turn it down. And that's what I told myself, that I couldn't turn it down. There would surely be another chance to go back to Spain. Funny how I keep telling myself the same thing decades later. Then, not long after I started my job as a radio producer, I met Julia. Her name is not actually Julia, but we'll call her that.


MACIAS: We fell in love, started spending almost every single night together, then moved into a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn. We got married. Julia brought along perhaps the happiest moments of my life in the U.S. I felt I was growing roots. I loved the life that we had. We eloped, went to Montauk for our honeymoon. We were a team, and we could do anything we wanted. So we picked up and moved to LA. Julia taught me so many of the things I know about this country. As an immigrant, I've always been wary about assimilating. But with Julia, I actually understood so many things - politics, culture. She made me a football fan who would go to the bars on Sundays, eat wings, drink beer and cheer for the Steelers. Went to Dodger Stadium quite a few times to see Manny Ramirez at bat, Broxton closing games. I once cooked a rabbit paella for a bunch of friends in the amazing yard that we had. I felt like I was growing up. That was a time when I was the farthest away from Seville, both literally and in spirit. But I would still go back for Christmas every year.


MACIAS: There's a picture Julia once took of me in Spain. I'm laughing, my head tilted back, while hanging out with friends on a sunny Friday afternoon. One day, while looking at that picture, Julia said something I will never forget - when you're in Spain, you're like a different person. Even the way you laugh is different. I couldn't understand what she meant by that. Then, over the years, I spoke to other immigrants about it. They all had heard the same thing. I've never been able to understand the differences between my two identities. Like, I couldn't give you an example. It's more like what I hear from people who know me about the way I laugh, the way I interact with other people, the faces I make. But there's also something else, something that has shaped my identity deeply.


MACIAS: So how do you think about the meaning of life, then? I mean...

LISALI: Oh, no. You're not going to ask me that question (laughter).

MACIAS: Yes, yes, yes. I mean...

LISALI: That's ridiculous. This can't be the first question.

MACIAS: (Laughter).

LISALI: Are you crazy?

MACIAS: That's my good friend, Lisali (ph). She emigrated from Brazil decades ago. She's one of my closest friends in Brooklyn, and she has seen me navigate all the changes in my life.

LISALI: Ultimately, I think it's about daily survival, but it's also about the love and the connection you make with people. Yeah, in general, I am a half-glass-full person, I guess. But it's funny because I see you that way, as well. I know you've struggled with your depression, but it never transpired in our relationship. I know that happens in your life because you tell me, but it's not something I experience. And I actually - my interactions with you, I see you as a happy person.

MACIAS: I am optimistic, you know, as a way to survive, you know? So - OK, so I just need to think positively about where things are going to go because, otherwise, I will be depressed all the freaking time, basically, you know?

LISALI: Right. But it's also interesting that I feel like not only our interactions, I find you are - seem a happy person. You are always enjoyable to be around. You're a positive person. But I feel like you also have it so together. Like, you are one of the most punctual people I know, and I'm pretty punctual.

MACIAS: I have suffered from chronic depression since I was a teenager. I've done all the things that you can do - therapy, medication. I am stupidly proud of never missing a day of work, never saying no to a plan with friends. But all the while, I was suffering.

The other thing that I've thought sometimes is that being an immigrant always kind of - it's complicated, mentally, to some extent, you know? I mean, you know...


MACIAS: ...I suffered from depression, you know, a decade before I moved to the U.S. But it's true that, you know, you have to develop a little bit of a different personality and different language, right?

There was a time when I was young, when I was openly sad. My friends in college knew me as someone who was always thinking, questioning, but also sad. I was convinced I wouldn't make it to an old age. I don't know how far I thought I would get, but suicide was a real option in my mind.


MACIAS: Then one day - I'm not sure why - I decided I did not want people to see me that way again. So I stopped showing my sadness. When I moved to the U.S., I had a chance to develop a different reputation, not just in the way people saw me but also in the way I thought about myself. I only told my closest friends about my depression, and when I did, I felt I was putting my life in their hands. I saw it as a weakness, a liability. I was convinced that if I told people, they would never look at me in the same way. And even with people I told, I never really showed my suffering. But my wife, Julia, did see a lot of the suffering, and she suffered with me as a consequence of it. She didn't know what to do when I would sit on the bed in the morning and stare at the floor, unable to explain what was going through my head.

There are two interesting things about suffering. One is that after the years, if you make it, you know you can survive it. So when something difficult actually happens, it might not even make you that sad because it's something real. After all, suffering for a reason is much easier than suffering for no reason. The other interesting thing is that you want it to stop, and so you're always thinking about what to do to stop it. And I don't mean hurting yourself, although those thoughts are always lurking around. I mean wondering what other life will make you happier? A different job, a different city, buying something, selling something, meeting someone, breaking up with someone.


MACIAS: In January, 2012, Julia and I separated. We had moved back to New York a few years before. I thought I would be OK, but I wasn't because it touched the core of my identity in this country. I felt uprooted, out of place, lost. I moved into a room in Prospect Heights, sharing an apartment with two young women - medical students. I would get up every day before dawn, go to have the same breakfast at the same local cafe, then head to work, stay way past my teaching hours and only return home late at night. I felt like an immigrant all over again. And then something happened - a moment that has stretched over the years for me that never really ended.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) When I met you - I didn't know, Miguel, because - what do I say - how American you seemed to me when I met you.

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Through interpreter) The large shirts. Well, when I met Miguel, Miguel was a very strange American.

MACIAS: I met Maria outside of a bar in Seville. People love to be out on the streets in the south of Spain, letting the hours go by while you talk about nothing in particular. And there's nothing in the world I love more than getting together with a group of friends outside. You can send a WhatsApp message at 1 p.m. and by 2:30 p.m., you have eight people together at some bar in the sun and no one make plans for later because you know you'll be there for hours. So Maria pointed at me from inside the bar. I looked around and gestured, me? She said, no, no, the friend next to you. Maria came out of the bar and Mariangeles, my friend, introduced us. We smiled at each other a lot, didn't talk much. Nothing happened that night, but I hoped we would run into each other again, which happens a lot when you spend hours outside of bars talking about nothing in particular. We ran into each other another night, and so it begun.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) I really think that when I first noticed your personality change, when I realized you went from a Spanish to an American way of being, was in the last part of our trip to the United States when we arrived in New York.

MACIAS: It did not take long for Maria to realize there was Miguel in Spain and Miguel in the U.S.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) You became much more serious, you looked down more, walked faster, talked to me less.

MACIAS: Maria and I fell in love very quickly. I guess everybody falls in love very quickly, but it was really special. Meeting Maria started a period of my life when I would use every opportunity I had to go back to Spain. I would load my big suitcase, close up my little apartment in Crown Heights and take off for months at a time. Every time I had to go back to New York, it was heartbreaking to separate from Maria, my friends - every single time. And it did not get easier over the years.

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: This conversation was recorded in 2017 in Spain. We had actually broken up after a really tough stretch for both of us. We sat in an empty living room to talk with the sun coming through the windows.

(Through interpreter) What role do you think my visits to Spain play?

MARIA: (Through interpreter) I think it's a role of - I mean, your visits have a nourishment role - nourishment in many ways. (Laughter) You eat all the tapas in town. And I think it also contributes to your survival because I don't know how sustainable a life like the one you lead is without having a little bit of affection from time to time. And you do have friends there, but I think relationships here are more about touching and also more about laughing.

MACIAS: (Through interpreter) I do laugh a lot more here, yeah.

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Through interpreter) And also, you always come wanting to laugh, sitting down with your friends and seeing that everything is the same. I don't know. I would say that you're home. I know you wouldn't say it, but these are things that make you feel like you're at home.

MACIAS: And I held on to those things over the years. I don't know if it was a choice I made or the sway of the small things that made me feel at home in Spain. My friends are a huge part of it. But then there's Maria. We continued to see each other after breaking up. And naturally, after a while, we came back together.


MACIAS: During that time, one of those days walking down the street in Spain, Maria asked me what I thought love was, and I told her something like, it is full trust. It is caring, understanding, support, really knowing each other, more or less what you and I have. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw her hold back her tears. Another day, when I had just arrived from the U.S., she hugged me on the subway and told me, it's just that life's better when we're together. And I stayed there, hugging her, silent, so that she could not see that I was holding back tears.


MACIAS: I would feel deeply lonely in New York after spending months surrounded by my friends and my girlfriend, but I would also struggle when I spent long periods of time in Seville without my usual work routines. Routines are a big thing for me. It's how I fight depression.


MACIAS: A few years later, I got tenure at Brooklyn College, yet one more reason not to give up everything I had accomplished. But I kept recording interviews with my friends in Spain.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: (Speaking Spanish)

MACIAS: I also taped hours and hours of me just hanging out with my friends, tape that I stored on a harddrive, tape that I haven't looked at much, the past 10 years of my life in video as if I was trying to hold on to those moments, as if they were not happening unless I was taping them.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).


LISA: I didn't send you the book "Wherever You Go, There You Are"? I didn't insist that you read it?

MACIAS: I didn't read, it, no. "Wherever You Go, There You Are"? - tell me.

LISA: Oh, we have to - "Wherever You Go, There You Are." It's a famous book about exactly that - you know, that there is no better place.

MACIAS: Lisa is a dear friend from my LA years. We were really close back then. Now, we talk less often, but I still consider her one of my closest friends in the U.S. We talked about this notion that your problems travel with you.

LISA: I don't think it's untrue that somebody can be happier in a certain environment than in another. You know, I don't think that that's untrue. But I think, at the core, simply relocating doesn't erase whatever fundamental issues or needs or demons or angels or whatever in us.

MACIAS: I now know the depression came with me when I moved to the U.S., even when I tried to hide it, to deny it, to pretend it didn't exist. And I am terrified now that depressio will chase me back to Spain in full force if I moved back.

Right. I mean - and my fear is that nothing will get rid of those demons. So on one hand, I have this, like - this constant need to make decisions to be happier and, on the other hand, I have this constant fear that, no matter what I do, I will never be happy.

LISA: What do you think it means to be happy?

MACIAS: For me, being happy means to not suffer, basically.

LISA: Mmm hmm.

MACIAS: I mean, if I were able to just go through my days without suffering, then I would call that happiness.


MACIAS: Sometimes, I forget that I'm depressed. I take my medications every day as if I was taking vitamins. I pretend that I'm handling things perfectly, that depression is not influencing every single day of my life. And every day, when I get up, I check on myself for a minute to see where my mind is. Am I going to be able to cruise through this morning, or is it going to be a battle? I've wondered many times if the process of migration, the process of uprooting yourself, developing a different personality and different language might be the worst possible combination for people who suffer from depression.

Migrating, just like depression, is not a single event. It happens every day when you get up, happens every time you meet someone and they notice your accent, every occasion someone makes an old cultural reference and you don't get it. It happens every time something important happens back at home and you're not there for that - a birthday, a death, a celebration, a sickness, good news, bad news, no news, this life. And you're not there for any of it. And over the years, my depression and my process of migration have intertwined in a way that now I no longer can tell them apart.


MACIAS: The pandemic caught me in Brooklyn in 2020. I had a plane ticket to go back to Spain around Easter, and I remember telling Maria in February, I don't know, this COVID thing is not looking good. I worked from home during those months, and I mostly did OK, keeping myself busy, dodging sadness one day at a time.

In early April, my mother told me that the private nursing home where my father lived was being taken over by the public health system. A few days later, she called me to let me know that my father had tested positive. We laughed it off. My father had survived a devastating stroke, decades of living under the risk of dying from another stroke any day. COVID could do nothing to him. I have never liked to talk about my father. I was 12 when he had the stroke. I only have scattered memories from that time, but I was never able to bury the image of him trying to smile at me when I walked into the hospital room days after. My sister Beatriz was two years older than me.

BEATRIZ: I don't remember very much. I just remember the shock of seeing him like that. I think my mom said, you're going to recover. She'd talk to him in a very tender way. And she said, you're going to recover, aren't you?

MACIAS: He did not recover. He became disabled, fought hard to get better. And he was relentless, the way he had worked relentlessly all his life. But ultimately, he never got much better. Beatriz and I had never talked about this until this past Christmas Day.

BEATRIZ: I felt you separated from - I don't know if the family or me, but I remember before that we were very actively united, you and I, as children. And I don't know if that was a turning point - kind of afterwards interpreted that it was too hard for you. So you kind of got away from the whole family. And part of the family was me. But I also felt bad because I was a child, so I felt I was left alone.

MACIAS: As I went into my teenage years, I wasn't just far away from my family; I was also having fights with them all the time. My father needed a lot of care, and I didn't help. It all fell on my sister and my mother.

BEATRIZ: And I was very, like, very clear of the fact that I was still talking about him as an agujero negro.

MACIAS: Beatriz calls him an agujero negro, a black hole of energy and care. Even when she took him on big trips to Russia, to New York, just to please him, he could not be grateful.

BEATRIZ: I went there saying, this is just for him, so I'm going to do whatever he wants. And it was very obvious that he couldn't be good. And I would say, do you want to do A or B? And he would say B, and then he would just be angry at me because we did B and shouting at me. And in that trip, it was - for me, it was very obvious that was something I had been seeing all along my life. It was toxic in some way, but in that trip, that was obvious.


MACIAS: I barely remember anything about my father before he had the stroke. My mother always tells me that I was really close to him, that I would go everywhere with my father. But I've wondered many times if he ever had the capacity to enjoy life. He was old-fashioned, obsessed with work and productivity. Everything he did had to have a purpose. Even dancing sevillanas was a project for him. My mother told me once about a summer when he got to the family's house near the beach for a long vacation. He sat on the stairs and said something like, what am I going to do here with all this time? He would go on long bike rides, and I would come along. He would buy lots of sardines and grill them at home. I didn't like sardines back then. I love them now. But my relationship with him after the stroke could not have been worse. I thought he was mean, ungrateful, controlling.

BEATRIZ: Yeah, I remember you couldn't look at him of the face when we were having lunch as teenagers, very young, here in this table. And it was always tense when we were together. But I remember specifically, you don't - do like this. You're looking at the table. And I interpreted that - I don't know - if you couldn't just accept that he had gone, that you felt abandoned in some way by him.

MACIAS: So, you know, the one thing that I've talked about in therapy many times, but, you know, it's - I don't know if there's any conclusion, but, you know, the fact that for all intents and purposes, you know, Dad died basically when he got sick.


MACIAS: My father wasn't much older than I am now when he had the stroke. I cannot imagine what it was like for him and my mother. And for me, I simply never came to terms with what happened. The father who took me everywhere became forever disconnected from this other person who I never learned to love. Those are the years when I started going to the U.S. during the summer. The United States became my escape. I miss Spain. I found refuge in my friends. They became my lifeline.

BEATRIZ: It was also obvious that you were a different person when you were with your friends. I've said you have anesthesia when you were at home, but then you will see - I will see yourself with your friends. And you were totally different, and you were very loved.

MACIAS: Yeah. So yeah, I think that I became very cold with the family, and also unfair probably. And with Dad, I don't think I was - I was very unforgiving with him.


MACIAS: I've never known how much of my father's toxic behavior was there before and how much came after his stroke. My mother and sister explained it in a number of ways, but I didn't understand it or didn't want to understand it. So I moved away, emotionally and physically, leaving the burden of caring for my father to them. It was selfish of me, like many of the decisions I make. I've been running away from the legacy of my father all my life. My constant need to accomplish things in my life in the U.S. to one day earn the right to go back - it's pretty clear to me now where it comes from, but I don't even know what exactly I'm trying to accomplish anymore and for what purpose. The further I get, the more elusive the notion of success becomes, and the opposite of success is failure.


MACIAS: On April 9, 2020, my mother called me to give me the news. My father died of COVID three days after testing positive alone in his nursery home in Seville. I cried on the phone, took the rest of the day off, went back to work the next morning. After all, suffering for a reason is much easier than suffering for no reason.


MACIAS: As the years went by, I changed jobs as part of this accomplishment strategy of mine, as it wasn't already problematic. The only problem is that the burden fell on my relationship with Maria. I had less and less time for her, and Maria warned me more than a few times, this is not going to work, Miguel. And it didn't really. But we persevered, mostly thanks to her patience. And then I got an offer for a great job in D.C., an offer I couldn't turn down. Maria did not take it well.

El tema. What do you mean by el tema?

MARIA: (Through interpreter) Well, the topic - I'm talking about the subject of what's your plan? What is your life plan? What do you plan to do?

MACIAS: This was recorded in October of 2021, when Maria visited me for a week in D.C. The day she was flying back, we sat down on the sofa, with the warm sun coming through the windows, to talk.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) It is very difficult after 10 years and the distance to have projects in common and suddenly, once again, take it all to pieces and have to rebuild it in some other way. And also - this is something I have already told you - that I think they're going to give me the Nobel Prize for patience because my decisions, my preferences, my personal growth, vital and professional growth - they are never taken into consideration here.

MACIAS: Well, I feel - I mean, like, yeah, I mean, that's true. But I feel that I do have a huge amount of respect for your - I mean, something that people ask me all the time is, you know, so is she going to come here, you know? And I always think that, you know, for me, it's always - I think that I have a lot of respect for your life there, your job, family, friends. And I've always felt that asking you to come here would be a huge sacrifice. So in a kind of - in a twisted way, I am taking it into consideration.

MARIA: (Through interpreter) But again, it is a consideration that you're having for me in which you're not taking into account what I think because this is an old conversation, and you know that. And you have never asked me to come live with you directly. Is this a project of yours in which...

MACIAS: Yeah, I mean...

MARIA: (Through interpreter) ...We're going to see how long I can last by your side? And what will I feel like? Working - just working for you, and working and waiting for me - is that what you want?

MACIAS: I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean, I'm kind of like - there's this great irony to the way I approach life in general, which is I've always - since I was very young, I've been obsessed with being ahead of life, basically being ahead of the kind of things that you will know 10 years from now, 20 years from now so that you can make the right decisions earlier in life. And so the irony is that that has kind of turned into this eternal chase. In the process, life is going by, basically. And I think that's what makes me sad about the past, that I feel like I've just been running all the time (crying).

MARIA: (Through interpreter) Oh, my darling, maybe you have the opportunity to stop running and to just be. That is why I have come to visit - to be with you, not to do many things or eat in many places or see the Capitol many times. I have come to be with you and spend time with you, which is the only thing I have decided - try to spend time with you when I've had the chance, when you have allowed me to.

MACIAS: Hearing this broke my heart. It breaks my heart every single time I hear it. I've wondered too many times what kind of person I am, if I am capable of hurting and disappointing people that I love. I've made some mistakes in my life - sometimes mistakes to rectify previous mistakes. I've dragged Maria in the process. I'm desperately hoping that those mistakes somehow amount to the right final outcome to one correct final decision. But maybe lately things are beginning to change.


MACIAS: Recently, a friend of mine sent me a message. She's also an immigrant to the U.S. She also struggles with depression. She was holding back tears while talking to me about the same things I've been struggling with. Where is our place in the world? Why are we putting ourselves through all this suffering, going back and forth? And the only advice that I could give her is, try to decide where you want to be in the future. And even if you don't know when that will happen, even if you continue to wonder what version of yourself is more real, at least you'll know that you made a decision. And at that moment, I realized that I had made a decision.


MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).


MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: I bought an old house in Seville to tear it down and build a beautiful home where we can live and be happy together. This past Valentine's Day, I sent flowers to Maria's job - not the kind of thing I've ever done. I also asked her to marry me on my birthday while getting lunch with some good friends in Seville in the sun. What else could I ask for?

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Recently, we visited the old house to talk about what the new house will look like when it's built.

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIA: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: I'm not surprised she's skeptical when I tell her that I will come back to Spain for good when the house is finished. My time is ticking away, but I finally know where my place in the world is. And even though I don't have a date or a one-way plane ticket, I know I will come back to Spain to live with Maria, to finally rest, to even be happy, to live for the things that matter.


MARIA HINOJOSA, BYLINE: This episode was produced by Miguel Macias and edited by Sophia Paliza-Carre, with help from Marta Martinez and Andrea Lopez-Cruzado. It was mixed by Stephanie Lebow and Julia Caruso. The Latino USA team includes Daisy Contreras, Mike Sargent, Julieta Martinelli, Victoria Estrada, Reynaldo Leanos Jr., Alejandra Salazar, Patricia Sulbaran and Julia Rocha, with help from Raul Perez. Our editorial director is Julio Ricardo Varela. Our associate engineers are Gabriela Baez and JJ Querubin. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Special thanks to Yorch for the music for this episode, and thanks also to Adriana Tapia. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubinos. I'm your host and executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. Join us again on our next episode. And in the meantime, remember, (speaking Spanish).

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