We ran into each other at Heathrow Airport last year. “Hello, friend,” I said, picking up a Paddington Bear plush toy from the duty-free bin. “Te ves guapo,” I said, brushing lint off his hat. I knew he understood my compliment. He is, after all, an immigrant from Latin America; it’s what brought us together.
Though Paddington has starred in dozens of books, TV shows, and films, his origins were revealed in his very first story, A Bear Called Paddington, published 60 years ago this month. More recently, Paddington’s immigrant status has moved from a thread in the books and in the animated series to a focal point in the 2014 and 2017 movies. His tale feels particularly timely—against the backdrop of undocumented children being detained at the U.S. border and families being separated—offering a powerful, if at times limited, look at the difficulties of leaving one’s homeland and being a stranger in a new place.
It’s been more than two decades since Paddington and I first met. At 8 years old, I was a latchkey kid watching after-school shows in the suburbs of Virginia. Paddington was already a TV star, and his program was part of my regular lineup. The show’s stop-motion-animation style placed the rotund 3-D teddy bear in a paper-cutout London, and the shuffling theme song seemed to echo the protagonist’s waddle. In the series, Paddington lived in Windsor Gardens with the Brown family, which included two siblings named Jonathan and Judy. But I didn’t see myself as the family’s blonde, bobby-socked daughter. I saw myself as the bear—bumbling through the day as politely as possible; trying, and failing, to grasp the basics of London life.