c:a measure taken beforehand to deal with a need or contingency :preparation made provision for replacements
2:a stock of needed materials or supplies;
especially:a stock of food — usually used in plural
* * * * * *
Not much has changed since my last post, on the 4th of July, at least from my point of view. I’m still disappointed with the abundant xenophobia emanating from a nation of immigrants. As for the U.S. vs. Mexico, with the spate of mass shootings, the continual dumbing down of the executive branch, and even environmental disasters, the U.S. keeps giving us reasons to question whether the living standard it offers is superior to Mexico’s… except for the opportunity to be closer to family and (maybe) giving Margo & I both new professional opportunities.
Much of the above is circumstantial, but I also have a sinking feeling that it’s the result of a slow decline of things in the States compared to when this all started for us 16 years ago. And I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising, either, that declining living standards and growing anti-immigrant sentiment goes hand in hand. One of the first lessons I remember from basic biology was about density-dependent factors influencing populations – how with increased numbers comes stress, competition, disease, and other ills. It seems to me that our lives wouldn’t be as negatively affected, were space and resource deficiencies not impacted by the rapidly increasing gap between the mega-wealthy and the rest of us. To rewrite a saying, “if others were to live more simply, the rest of us could simply live.” But I digress.
As befuddling and frustrating as the socioeconomic declines in the U.S. and worldwide are in the midst of such abundance, I am oddly pleased that I still get disappointed about it all. But I guess my sentiments are precious proof I am not so jaded from our period of exile that my ideals have been completely destroyed… my remnant disappointment in regressive politics is proof that I still have hope and faith that all the wonderful things I grew up to love about the United States could actually be true, and could become the norm, rather than the exception.
* * * * * *
Even though my mindset hasn’t changed much in the last few months, my family’s situation has. We had a death in the family recently. My dear, closest, and longest-lived grandparent, Thelma, a.k.a. Grandma Cookie, or GG by my daughter, passed this past September, a month after her 95th birthday. My parents were visiting for my daughter’s birthday when she fell ill.
Perhaps it was the goldenrod and aster pollen swirling in the unseasonably warm Upstate New York late summer air, perhaps it was the unseasonably warm air itself, or maybe it was the prospect of one more forbidding Syracuse winter, we’ll never know exactly what happened. But GG’s COPD took a turn for the worse, graver than she’d ever experienced. A whirlwind of upheaval ensued: hospital admission, her refusal of medical intervention and acceptance only of palliative care, siblings flocking in from across the country, and we were all faced with the sudden reality that GG’s long run on Earth, her wide window of life was closing, and that our family matriarch’s reign was finally coming to an end.
The following weeks were sort of a blur. I returned with my parents to Nueva York to see Grandma, but of course, I had to go alone. I arrived just in time to say goodbye to GG. In giving her all our Mexico family’s regards, I was painfully reminded of how earlier this year I knew, I just knew, that I had to reunite them all in Canada or we might never again. Justin Trudeau must have known last December too, when he waived the visa for visiting Mexicans. I said everything I needed to. I cherished as much of her as I could in those final moments. And then I, and she, and we all, let go.
The degree of grieving I experienced with the loss of my grandmother was new for me. She was the first close family member I have lost. The resentment I’ve felt over the years of my limited ability to be with her and the rest of my family come into particular focus in the days immediately following her death.
I also relived my cosmic disorientation about having broken with a long line of female predecessors, 5 generations deep, who’d been born, raised, or settled in Central New York, since my German great-great-grandmother Theresa gave birth to my great-grandmother Florence on Bear Road. With my grandmother gone, in a metaphysical pole vault, my mother landed first place in the familial matriarchal line and I am next. With my father’s Southern Californian roots, and my husband’s Central Mexican roots now in the mix, my line’s roots are spread across the continent. I have never felt more confused about where to call home, nor felt more pressure to know how or where to lead my family to.
That sensation of suddenly becoming “next in line” was indescribable. It was almost akin to physical movement, of a rush of forward movement or elevation. I’ve never had nor heard of that feeling before. With it came a more urgent sense of responsibility. For my whole family. For myself. And like any self-respecting mother, I automatically and subconsciously began preparing for winter.
My family, on both sides, has always known well what to do with the turn of the seasons. Both my mother’s and my husband’s family were or are farmers, and thus know in their flesh of the rise and fall of abundance, the leafing of the branch, the bursting of the bud, the ripening of the fruit, the saving of the seed, and the storing of the plenty for a time of less.
As someone who has been a practitioner and a teacher of these cycles, these understandings are innate and instinctual for me every day, but as I grew up, went out into the world, and learned of the compartmentalization of knowledge in the modern age, I realized that not everyone is privy to this awareness or appreciative of these realities. There are even those who once were, but are no longer subject to the limitations of natural cycles, at least in their minds, by virtue of economic advancement or geographical displacement. And yet we are all subject to these laws and cycles of natural life.
One of the saddest things about saying goodbye to my grandmother was descending the basement stairs and finding myself in the recesses of the basement, staring at, and then lightly touching the metal rings of the tops of Mason jars, that held conserves my grandmother had made – who knows how long ago – probably of some local bumper crop, as she hadn’t been physically able to grow any fruits or vegetables to an amount of needing to can them for longer than I can remember.
It immediately took me back to a story my grandmother once shared with me about her growing up, perceiving her family to be living in poverty, until one day she and her family brought the Christmas turkey, bread, and vegetables to a dinner with family living downtown. Her mother, Florence, had been a victory gardener during the War, and because she had so much difficulty having her own children, she had adopted many to be a part of their family. My grandmother realized that, far from being poor, the riches they experienced growing up among wheat fields, berry bushes, and animal corrals far surpassed the riches her “wealthier” aunts possessed in terms of fur stoles and the like. My grandmother and her daughter, my mother, transmitted all of this to me in my childhood, and although it took a couple decades for the soil to be cultivated in me and to flower with that wisdom, the deep appreciation I have for the natural world, and the existential obligation to be co-participants in nature’s creativity, for our own good and that of our families, is deeply rooted in me.
I haven’t become a master of conserves, but I am a seed saver, and sower. I don’t make tortillas from scratch, but I do make a mean tamale. And I do recognize and value my creativity. Reconciling my exile was in itself a grieving process, it ebbs and flows. So perhaps I did have something to compare my loss of my grandmother to… I had to say goodbye to my nation. I continue to grieve her. Both losses were out of my control. The difference with exile is that the loss might be temporary, were we to be able to return. In both cases, I am forever changed by the event.
* * * * * *
Being uprooted, twice, from a home, with a prospect, albeit long and challenging, of being able to return, of having choice restored, after having grown up 20 years in a 5-generation long tradition as a Syracusan, then seven years a Californian, and now six years a Mexican, eleven years south of the border, but still (always) considered a gringa, continues to be disorienting. Thus, I seek whatever certainty I can from the compass inside. And looking to the women who came before me; Theresa, Florence, Thelma, Debbie, Jenny, and Olga; though the diverse list reaches back before the turn of the last century, the apparent constants are these: Generosity. Selflessness. Concern for others. Putting others first. Working hard for their families. Intense love for children. Aware of a woman’s strength. A love of flowers, romance, and beauty. At many times, refusing to accept injustice, and refusing to cede their power to the undeserving. Just some of my family’s values.
I can still taste Grandma’s fresh raspberries and currants that grew in her backyard, that was steps from my childhood home. I can still taste the jelly she made and shared with us all. I can still see the homemade cookies that she had waiting for her visitors on her counter by her pantry. Like her, I am drawn to cultivating, harvesting, partaking. To participating in the cycle of life, abundance, and sharing. For those around me, for the future. I am not totally sure what this will entail, beyond the occasional banana bread muffins, or socking away whatever savings we can to try and make a northern bid once more. For myself, for my family, for what the unknown holds. Many things are still unclear. But one thing is for sure, the wheel is turning, and the grain will be stored. For the time when provisions are needed.
Author’s Note: Something fairly big happened in our immigration journey in the past few months, news that, given how much of a watershed moment it represents, I really would have expected myself to have shared sooner. And yet, for reasons I explore below, I have been mulling over how to share, or perhaps unconsciously putting off the sharing. Several years ago when we were writing Amor and Exile, and I had more time to figure out how to write about and share my experience; and it wasn’t as difficult to simply give myself the creative space for my story to bubble forth. Nowadays, finding time for reflection, or taking an idea and expanding it, is a rare luxury. But given this new development, I’ve kept asking myself, what can I say about this? It’s hard to know what to say when you’re still getting your bearings. But then good ol’ Fourth of July approached, stirring memories and feelings about the US of A, and soon after emerged a question, the answer to which is at the heart of where we stand for the next few years. This is a work in progress, friends.
* * *
A art therapist colleague of mine once told me about a favorite piece of writing advice she’d once received: “write what you want to know.”
I want to know: “how can I, a person who rarely takes no for an answer, who has fought and won many battles, campaigns, and endured daily struggles, who knows what she wants and how to get it, whose nickname is ‘stubborn,’ ‘thorough,’ and whose very name means leader of the people; how can I be stuck in this multiyear limbo… how can I be on the cusp of the very opportunity for freedom that we ostensibly have been seeking for the last 16 years… how can I finally have arrived at the moment of truth, the time to move forward, the chance to capitalize; and yet, all I can seem to do is ponder the possibility.
Wouldn’t it seem that, after 10 (closer to 11 now) years of exile that I’d at least have gotten the pondering out of the way? Or was it that I was so protective of my heart, after how badly it’d been hurt previously, after those first years of lawyer visits, that I wouldn’t even allow myself to entertain the possibility of a door opening, couldn’t let myself be deluded into the idea that a future back in the U.S. could be possible, lest it be a cruel joke, as it has been for so many people, and could very easily be for us?
And yet now, it seems one nod has been given, the I-130 sort. I’m not even sure exactly what it means. Yes, you (to Margo), we acknowledge you claim you may have the right to a spouse visa based on the claim that you are married to an American. Is that what that means? That doesn’t include the several dozen other steps yet to be taken en route to the (still) possible visa (never a guarantee, even after paying the rest of the estimated costs for the whole application process, approx. 7500 USD – and that’s more than half of what I make in a year now to support our whole family, even as an employee of the US embassy).
And so, just like that, a new reality, a door has opened, and now a decision must be made. Or so it seems. And so the idealistic leader who got this whole ball rolling in the first place looks at the troops and says, “what are you all waiting for?” But the spiteful little girl, the one who thought, you didn’t want to play with me, so now I’m going to ignore you, is sulking in the shadows. The worn-out working mom who’s been pulling 50 hour work weeks regularly just wants to veg on the couch. The incessant reader of sensationally negative news about the racially charged violence in the U.S. is cowering indoors, freaked about the potential harm she could lead her family into with a move back to the States, not unlike the fear some Americans experience upon absorbing negative press about Mexico (whether that’s a well-founded fear or not is up for debate at another date). The ever-skeptical accountant who takes one look at the scant balance sheet and shakes her head, catching the glance of the ever-practical logistics planner, who folds her arms over her chest and sighs, imagining the gargantuan tasks ahead to relocate a family all the while aligned with the intricacies of an unpredictable immigration application process ultimately leading to a job search for a rather scattered boss who’s been out of her home nation for 11 yrs.
And hence, the conductor has her hand on the chain, wanting to blow that whistle, but the VIP passengers haven’t quite made it onto the train, which is still idling in the station.
Yes, we are idling in limbo, and I’d really like to know why. Uncle Sam, it is because you (inadvertently, I’ll allow you – I’m still that forgiving) forced out one of your own with friendly fire and she’s spent too much time and energy healing her wounds in a foreign land to be able to come home? Or is it that lovely México has truly seduced me with all her charms and I am now hopelessly under her spell? Is it possible that I couldn’t have foreseen that in the end, it would be a little of both?
* * *
And just like that, the I-130 was approved. And now I, a daughter of liberty, am attempting to summon the metaphorical troops, to brave what’s next. Whether that’s figuring how in sam hell we are going to afford this, whether our chances of waiver approval are the best or not, whether it’s the wisest investment to make when we have so little to invest, whether my family can bounce back from the pinball effect of the last twenty years of international migration, whether I really know my country anymore, whether I can or have to or will ever be able to or should let go of Mexico after seeing me through and providing me refuge and sustenance during some pretty dark times in the last eleven years, or whether I can ever forgive my country for being the main cause of all this mind-bending anguish in the first place, and whether the moment will ever arrive where the fireworks of happiness and relief rain down over us when we look back and say, “we’re done with this” …. whether that day will ever come, remains to be seen.
The big day finally arrived, almost two weeks ago. September 18, 2016. Marking ten years since we drove across the border in Nogales, AZ. It now feels like ancient history.
I think I sort of imagined back then that on September 18, 2016, we would be hovering over a sheaf of papers, ready and waiting to urgently send in the famous waiver application that would pave the way for Margo (and our family) to return to the U.S., soon after to be whisked back to the U.S. to reestablish our interrupted lives there. In reality, the scene at present is much more complicated, and just plain different than what I had first pictured.
The actual September 18th, 2016 went more like this for us:
Back in the spring of this year, we finally submitted Margo’s I-130 application, which I wrote about in my first “the tenth year” post. Rather unceremoniously, our lawyer submitted the files to USCIS, USCIS acknowledged their receipt of the application, and we haven’t heard anything back since.
Rather than sitting around biting our nails, basically, life just went on. I still work at Peace Corps Mexico, and Margo still builds thing for local folks who have requests for custom furniture. Our daughter is still attending a little Montessori school that lets us bring cupcakes in to celebrate her birthday with her classmates, complete with a lovely circle around the sun ritual that marks every year since her birth.
In fact, the only reason why September 18 is normally celebrated in this house is not because it marks the day we crossed into Mexico, nor the anniversary of my Mexican naturalization (it really does share that date) – but rather that it’s our daughter’s birthday. Why fate would have chose to combine 3 such event all into one date is beyond my comprehension, but it did make for a rather pleasant celebration opportunity this year, especially given that we have more reasons to be grateful for our life here than we have complaints – leading to a profound lack of urgency to return to the States.
Being a plant person, I’ll use a botanical metaphor. After 10 years, favorable conditions have led to our growth as a family, and we’ve put down deep roots. In the plant world, transplanting can be risky business. If the plant and its roots have been neatly contained in a smooth, enclosed container, it’s fairly straightforward to move it to a larger container or plant it out into the ground. In fact, it’ll probably be happy for you to do so, especially if it was cramped before. But if a plant has been growing freely in the ground, its roots spreading deep and wide into the rich soil, intertwining with rocks and other plants’ roots, drawing up plenty of fresh water and nutrients and leafing broadly into the bright sunshine, it’s not going to take so kindly to your digging under it, pulling it up, and severing its roots. Often, the plant dies back considerably before taking off again in another place. Sometimes it never quite survives the transplant, and just withers. In other words, if the plant is flourishing, there’s got to be a really good reason for you to go for the transplant.
I’ve pulled up roots a few times now in my life, first when I left NY to go to CA, where I met Margo; and again when Margo and I left CA. Each time the pulling up roots itself was not so traumatic – perhaps the previous conditions left my roots feeling cramped or limited somehow, and so they were ready for an upgrade. But the transplant to Mexico was complex. At first, it felt like I’d gone from fertile to rocky soil, and I wilted a bit – for a couple years. But like the mesquite trees here who slowly, but surely send their roots deep down to the subsoil to find water after which they pull it up for others nearby to share, I dug deep down inside and found inner reserves that I wasn’t previously aware of – in the form of resolve, patience, and commitment. I also discovered nourishment all around me in México, in the form of a home of our own, friends, culture, a growing family, future colleagues, and the vast beauty of the natural environment.
Considering what’s been invested into my flourishing again, I probably shouldn’t be surprised at my own hesitation at visualizing such a big move again, especially when there are no guarantees as to the outcome.
So when everyone asks, “are you going back up to the States?” (now that the 10 year waiting period has passed), the first thought in my mind is honestly “why?” and then, “flojera” (Spanish for an almost self-indulgent laziness). I have to confess, there are a few other external factors that don’t help us chomp at the bit for a return bid; namely the cost (>$5,000 USD), this year’s Presidential race ( I definitely won’t make ANY moves until after we see the outcome on Nov. 8), and the police brutality situation (my family members are brown-skinned).
Still, the main pull to return has always been, and will continue to be, the distance from family. We make it work through visits, and when they happen they are truly enjoyable. My daughter seeing her grandparents (my parents) only twice a year and me seeing my brother on average only once a year is getting old fast. But a few conditions for a move that I’ve conjured up haven’t presented themselves yet, namely, forward movement on the visa application (it’s a matter of time and then money), getting the title to our home so we can sell before a move (it’s taking forever), and me finding a really amazing job that would make a move worthwhile (I haven’t been looking, since the visa piece takes longer).
If this is painting a convoluted, circular picture as to what logic I may or may not be applying to a move northward, it’s not accidental. An unseen force seems to be holding those roots fast in place for now.
I am acutely aware that a factor in my being able to stay ten years in Mexico was an initial Herculean effort to find contentment within the confines of a limited situation. Therefore, I want to inject a heathy dose of suspicion into my complacency (I’ve noticed it in myself in other areas of my life besides my thoughts on moving north), and keep it present to make sure I am not selling myself or my family short – but I haven’t quite figured out how to make sure that I’m not letting the difficult years here or the U.S. media cloud what hasn’t yet but might emerge as a dream of a life in the north.
Writing and reflecting on this question definitely helps a bit, but then when one who is prone to plant metaphors tries to type out a coherent explanation as to why she just might not know what she wants yet (in terms of where she sees herself in 5 years), and then her husband of 12 years sends her 6 year old into the house holding the first mature avocado that’s fruited from the 12″ sapling from the Sierra Gorda that she planted her yard 8 years ago, where in the background orange butterflies flit among dozens of wild sunflowers under the bright blue sky, well, answers to elusive questions seem just as hard to find as they’ve been for the last 10 years.
I posted this to one of the online immigration/exile wives support groups I’m a part of today:
“In our tenth year here, I’ve finally decided to start moving forward with Margo’s I-130 [Step 1 of a long and expensive legal immigration process for my husband]. I’m really busy with work so I’m having it done through Attorney Laura Fernandez. I’ve paid a little over a third of what it’ll cost in total (just made a deposit today). I should be able to pay the rest when I get my tax return. I’m not ready to do the waiver, I’m not in any hurry to move north (especially not if Trump gets elected), and we’re pretty settled and happy. But I don’t want to get in a rut, and I am feeling a pull to broaden our options. I want Margo to get his GED eventually, and he won’t do it here. I’m craving good better public education for my daughter, and she’ll need to live in the U.S. for some years to be able to transfer her U.S. citizenship to any future children. I miss crisp forests, rivers, and lakes. And I can afford it little by little now, so it can’t hurt.
I miss my family. They come to visit every year but that could get harder in the future. I wish my Grandma could see Margo again. I want to expand my own horizons. It’s going to have to be gradual, this turning this notion into a reality, because we’ve re-rooted here. I have a circle now. I have a home. But I’ve been meditating a lot on the idea that you don’t necessarily have to be unhappy to want to make a change.”
In our ninth year here, although I didn’t write much about it, I did a lot of thinking about my feelings of readiness to go forward with a visa waiver application. Even in the last few months, a lot of vacillation has occurred. So now, the act of taking one step, albeit small, feels like a watershed moment. This moment has been a long time coming, and even though I’m not as actively involved in immigration advocacy as I once was, it would feel odd to reach this stage and not share it. So here I am. I have a day job now, so I might finally learn the art of the short and sweet blog post after all.
Everyone is waiting with baited breath for the much-anticipated executive action to be announced by President Obama this evening at 8 pm. Everyone who sees immigration as an important issue, that is. My coauthor Nathaniel Hoffman described how most of immigration is a waiting game in Chapter 3 of Amor and Exile, The Binational Labryinth:
“Immigration to the United States, whether legal or illegal, is a waiting game. You wait to be eligible for a visa and then for your visa to be approved. Sometimes you wait five years or sixteen or twenty-three years for that visa. You wait three days to get deported or you wait a year for the immigration courts to clear their backlog before you get your hearing. You wait for your brother or your father to fill out the paperwork for you, for a letter back from the National Visa Center. You press two for Spanish and wait, on hold. You wait for a pardon. You wait and watch as Congress takes up immigration reform and drops it and takes it up again. You wait up at night for your loved ones to return home from work. You wait for dark to fall, for the floodlights to pass and then you run across the line and wait for transport. You wait for another mule with trunk space.”
Even if I were waiting, I wouldn’t even be able to listen in to the announcement, because I’ll be teaching English (I currently work nights) while it happens.
Part of me it not really waiting at all though. I was, for a few months. I wrote and circulated an open letter to President Obama in August when it became clear the plan for executive action was in the works. I spoke with Center for Public Integrity reporter Susan Ferriss about my thin hopes for inclusion earlier this week for her piece, “U.S. spouses of ousted immigrants await Obama plan.” However, when recent reports began to point to a probable emphasis on relief for parents of U.S. citizen children, I knew we’d probably be waiting this one out. There will likely also be the perfunctory nod to “highly-skilled” workers. There *might* be a bone thrown in for spouses of U.S. citizens via extended “Parole in Place,” but whether that will happen or not is yet to be seen, and even if it were, it probably would not extend to any of those undocumented spouses of those U.S. citizens who happen to be outside of the country.
No matter what happens, we will have to be clear about what this executive action is and what it’s not. The run-up to this executive action is being billed by some as “fixing the broken immigration system,” but please. You can’t possibly argue that giving tenuous relief to a small fraction of the individuals who need reform is a fix of a broken system. As immigration lawyer and advocate Prerna Lal puts it, she’s “still concerned about the millions left out by the plan specifics.” So this executive action is a Band-Aid, at best. Of course, human rights advocates like Ellin Jimmerson, Director of The Second Cooler, a documentary about the wide human rights offenses committed by the immigration system, narrated by Martin Sheen, have been saying it all along: if widespread human rights aren’t advanced by immigration reform, in the end, it’s not net progress. Sure, it’s a step, albeit small one. Even Obama knows that. Advocates and legislators alike believe that no matter the reach of this executive action, it’s no substitute for Congressional reform.
So no, this executive announcement probably won’t make a lick of difference for my family, especially because we are currently in Mexico. If we had decided to stay in the U.S. and wait it out under the radar as millions of others have done, there might be a slight chance we’d get relief from this. That remains to be seen, as it’s uncertain whether the action will extend to all individuals with 9(c) inadmissibilities. So yes, if it were that 9(c) cases could get relief from this, then yes, we would be left behind for having left the country to try and “get in line.”
‘Course, I won’t be alone in this, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of us will get left out. But this seems to be a recurring pattern, one that I’m not sure will ever be entirely rectified, even by a bill as large as HR15, for reasons which activists like Jimmerson expand on amply.
Which is why, for the moment, I am boycotting the waiting game. In my final chapters in Amor and Exile, I describe how I’ve toyed with the idea of pulling out of the waiting game entirely, not willing anymore to pin my life hopes on an act of Congress or an executive action such as the one on November 20th, 2014.
Ironically, November 20th is the Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. I wonder if that was just coincidental? Most everyone down here is working today because we already celebrated the occasion on Monday (they do long weekends early), but instead of going to the downtown parade or to a party, I spent it with the editorial team for Amor y Exilio—the Spanish translation of Amor and Exile that is currently underway.
Even with the question of “did we miss out?” potentially shadowing over me during the aftermath of executive action, I would rather take the bull by the horns when it comes to the possibility of arrepentimiento. Rather than regret or question any of my past decisions to move to Mexico, to make this leap of faith, pasa lo que pasa, I would say no, I have no regrets. I prefer to embrace the fact that my husband was duly safe, at no risk of detention in these last 8 years. I am grateful for the freedom to have built our own home, in a lovely climate, and to have made lovely friends and to be making a life for ourselves.
Sure, it’s nice to think of what the future could hold when and if my husband is permitted to travel and/or reside alongside my daughter and I to my home country. Yes, I will be frustrated if the system once again fails to reward people who are trying to do the right thing. And there will still be that glaring recollection that Congress’s failure to move forward on a real fix is what’s brought us to this point.
But our time has not yet arrived. And so in the meantime, I see no reason to wait—just every reason to keep trying to move forward.
P.S. Today’s featured image was chosen for no other reason than it’s throwback Thursday, and it’s our 10-year wedding anniversary in just under one month.
Two major global news events — apprehensions of child migrants on the Texas-Mexico border and the latest flare up of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — converged for me this week in a prescient piece by by journalist/activist Jose Antonio Vargas in Politico. Vargas is the undocumented reporter whom we’ve written about here (and who, full disclosure, blurbed Amor and Exile).
He wrote an essay about being “Trapped on the Border,” presaging his detention at the McAllen, Texas airport four days later. In the piece, Vargas quotes an immigration attorney friend who messaged him, asking, “I am so glad you are visiting the kids near the border. But how will you get through the checkpoint on your way back?”
Meanwhile, half a world away, Israel, another land of checkpoints, was preparing a ground invasion against the people of Gaza.
These two stories, and their portrayal in the media, share a number of critical themes. Vargas’ rude introduction to immigration checkpoints in the American South, reminded me of the long-standing Israeli use of checkpoints to control, humiliate and persecute Arabs. The checkpoint is a blatant symbol of Israeli occupation, just as it was of South African apartheid. And as it’s become along our southern border.
The checkpoint presupposes the ID card, which allows governments to place people into winner and loser categories: Israeli/Palestinian, black/Indian/coloured, documented/undocumented, immigrant/native.
The checkpoint puts law enforcement, or soldiers, or national guard into the position of suspecting everyone; their job, by definition, is to impede human progress, not to promote progress.
The checkpoint is a militaristic metaphor that has no place in a participatory democracy like Texas.
The checkpoint breeds fear, as Nicole dramatically describes in her passage in Amor and Exile on crossing into Mexico.
The checkpoint dissolves essential freedoms, like the freedom of movement, the right to presumed innocence, protections against search and seizure.
A line from the Jasiri X video below sums up the ethic of the checkpoint: “criminalized without a cause at the checkpoint.” (Note the apparent handcuffs on Vargas in the photo above.)
This gets close to the issue here, and the larger notion of our broken immigration system. We are so far from the ideals of the 1965 revisions to the Immigration and Nationality Act that we no longer have any moral bearings on the meaning of immigration in the United States.
Vargas continues to ask us to Define American. In lobbying for abolishing the discriminatory quota system that the 1952 INA had cemented into law, then-President John F. Kennedy told members of the Italian-American community in 1963 that immigration to the U.S. was both a family affair and a way of building a nation:
We hope the Congress of the United States will accept these recommendations and that before this year is over we will have what we have needed for a good many years, which is the recognition that all people can make equally good citizens, and that what this country needs and wants are those who wish to come here to build their families here and contribute to the life of our country. — via The American Presidency Project
Vargas visited with child migrants at the border, kids who had come to the U.S. alone, like he did, in search of family and better fortunes. “I don’t think you can look in the eyes of these children and not know the kind of hell they’ve been through,” Vargas told The Guardian. “I don’t think you can look at them in the eye and tell them they have to go back to where they came from.”
The volunteer in the short video below, posted by Vargas’ organization, Define American, defines American:
The Border Patrol held Vargas for most of the day on Tuesday and released him, as a low-priority detainee, according to the New York Times, with a notice to appear before an immigration judge.
Amor and Exile argues that at least, at least, the American public (and elected officials) should see the plight of U.S. citizens like Nicole, who are forced into exile because of the arbitrary immigration status of their spouses, as a starting point for reforming the system. But apparently, we can’t even see the plight of children — small children fleeing gang violence and poverty as a starting point for compassion. Instead, our model policy for these children, for leaders like Vargas, for our historically fluid international border is the command and control model of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, barriers and walls, militarization, suspicion and ethnocentrism and classism.
This is not the America (nor the Israel, for that matter) that I know. Our best hope is to take Vargas up on his call and really do the hard work of defining American, because I’m not sure I recognize her anymore.
Amor and Exile made the front page of The Rumpus.net, a popular online literary magazine, in today’s The Sunday Rumpus Feature. Allison Cay Parker gave it a great review, here are some excerpts:
“Although I can now boast intimate familiarity with many infuriating aspects of our country’s immigration system, the truth is that in relative terms our process was an emotional and logistical cake walk compared to what Amor and Exile coauthor Nicole Salgado, her family, and other bi-national couples represented in this timely, urgent book are experiencing. The crucial difference impacting their cases: the “undocumented” status of their foreign-born partners.
Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders reads as one part memoir, penned by American expat Nicole Salgado, and one part journalism, researched and written by Nathaniel Hoffman (editor of TheBlueReview.org). Combining forces, the coauthors have produced a story that is in turns informative and deeply resonant, and that captures the complex, often contradictory set of laws and emotions that govern the lives of immigrants and their families. […]
At its heart, Amor and Exile is a plea for the reunification and repatriation of American families. The book’s unique contribution is that it illuminates the ways in which our increasingly punitive immigration laws, designed to criminalize and remove migrants in the name of national interests, in fact force many ordinary Americans into financial and emotional hardship and deprive them of rights otherwise considered inviolable in our society—chief among them, the “freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life,” which the U.S. Supreme Court defends under the Due Process clause of the Constitution.”
The review says many more great things about Hoffman and Salgado’s writing and the impact the book can have, but you’re better off reading the review in entirety yourself, here. Thanks to Allison Parker for the review, and to The Rumpus Sunday editor, author Gina Frangello, for selecting Amor and Exile for this Sunday feature review.
As a follow-up to my post about our visit to ITJ Campus Queretaro to talk about Amor and Exile, I thought I would post a couple of lovely reports from fourth-graders at ITJ from the closing ceremonies of their unit on migration. I had to work this morning but a friend who has a child at ITJ sent me the photos of the reports via Facebook message.
It was interesting for me to see how our story is viewed from the eyes of 10 or 11 year olds. It’s cool how they picked up on things that we didn’t even say. And even cooler how they were able to inspire me back with their reflections on our story.
Thanks again to the teachers at ITJ Queretaro for including us in your great, reality-based education model. And thanks to the students for your great reviews. Now if only you could export your learnings up north…
**Errata noted since publication: the students are fourth-graders, not third-graders as originally posted. My apologies!