In 2015 my partner and I decided to join the local branch of our Native Plant Society. They welcomed us with open arms, free cuttings from their gardens and unnamed envelopes full of seeds. Even though we got along really well, I always felt a bit odd talking about the virtues and follies of native and foreign plants as an immigrant.
You might think it’s silly to compare plants to people, but in the 1900s American gardeners did turn to native plants as a reaction to the recent flow of immigration- European style gardens were considered to be “showy” and one magazine at the time recommended: “Our national pride ought to influence us to choose native plants instead of foreign ones”.
As much as I feel like an Australian, I can never pass as a native. My appearance gives me away, and I’m constantly reminded I’m an outsider- “where are you from” is a favourite conversation starter by cashiers and Uber drivers that I’ve known for under 30 seconds. In the plant world I’d be some exotic species, an Amazonian water lily rooted in the Brisbane river.
But I’m not just exotic, I’m naturalized. “Naturalized plants thrive in the area where they grow, but they do not, over time, become native members of the local plant community”. Feeling like they belong in their community is the #1 thing immigrants want when moving to a new country. It’s rated even higher than having a job!
So what does it take for an immigrant, even a naturalized one, to feel like they belong in their local community? It’s in the little things- being invited to someone’s house, having a conversation that’s not about where you’re from, joining a local group… Maybe even a Native Plant Society 🙂
Sara Fonseca is a Brazilian illustrator who migrated to Australia as a teen in 2002. Growing up she loved to read books and comics, especially Turma da Mônica and Mafalda. She graduated from the Queensland College of Art in 2010 with a Bachelor in animation and worked in the Brisbane games & animation industry for several years. Sara now resides in San Francisco, where she continues to draw and write stories.