We weren’t in the cafeteria for more than two seconds before Chupa marched right over to introduce herself.
“My American sisters are here!” She spoke beaming her radiant smile. “Come, come, sit with me.”
After struggling to order food from our hotel staff who only spoke Russian, Brooke and I joined Chupa for breakfast.
Her hospitality was especially welcoming considering we were now living in a country that doesn’t even share the same alphabet. Although our conversation primarily revolved around one word sentences and a lot of pantomiming, it was a relief to be able to communicate with one of our new teammates.
I could not help but notice Chupa’s body was tattooed with vibrant artwork. While it is not uncommon to find female athletes with tattoos, it’s incredibly rare to find anyone from Kazakhstan decorated with images that were so clearly American.
“It is my dream,” she spoke with utmost yearning. “I want to live in the United States more than anything.”
Her entire left arm represents a visual “bucket list” of cities within the United States that she would like to visit including the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, the Empire State building in New York City, and even the notorious Las Vegas sign in Nevada. All over her body are iconic figures such as Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, the Statue of Liberty, and many more. Last but not least, the American flag rests prominently upon her left shoulder.
“I don’t feel like Kazakhstan is my home. I can feel people when they stare at my tattoos with bad energy. They don’t understand and a lot of times they don’t agree. That is why I want to go to U.S so bad, I will fit in there. I have a feeling once I visit I won’t want to go home.”
Many people may view her tattoos as a form of self expression. For me, it is a humble reminder that life in the United States should never be taken for granted. Everyday I stare at her tattoos appreciative for the opportunities I have received in life. While I recognize that a lot of my personal achievements are the result of hard work and perseverance, I was born in a country that encourages self expression as we chase our most ambitious passions.
With that being said, there are people all over the world who share the same dream as Chupa. They see the United States truly for what it is— a land of opportunity embodied with beauty, grace, and limitless possibility. Of course our country is not perfect, but there are people who would make tremendous sacrifices to trade places with us.
To whomever comes across Chupa as she ventures across the U.S for the first time this December, I hope they welcome her with open arms as she tours the cities that have so proudly rested upon her arm for almost two years now.