What: Download the free ebook for yourself or gift to a friend by clicking the “Give as a Gift” button on the Amazon page!
NOTE: We’d like to move thousands of copies of the book next week and need your help! Please plan to download a digital copy of Amor and Exile from the Kindle store next Thursday and Friday, even if you already have a copy of the book! You can use it as a backup copy, gift to a friend or use it to beef up your digital library. If you support immigration reform or human rights, please share this special opportunity with everyone in your circles! And thanks for all of your great reviews of the book as well!
If you have any questions about the giveaway or how to gift a book to a friend, please email one of us. Thanks again for your support!
***** UPDATE *****
Our giveaway resulted in over 1400 downloads of Amor and Exile in 2 days. We got into the top 500 Kindle books overall, and were #1 for political science and emigration/immigration books on Kindle for a day. Thanks to everyone who participated!
Seven years ago, two women’s lives were changing forever. They both had just made commitments with men who were a persona non gratas, undocumented and unwelcome in the United States, the women’s own nation. One of the women stayed in her home country in the hopes of finding a path to stability, to live without fear. The other left and moved south, into “exile,” with the same hopes as the first. They did not know each other at the time, nor that the life paths on which they’d embarked would eventually cross.
Seven years later, they know each other. Paths have now crossed. The first woman finally moved south, just as the second one was considering when she’d ever possibly return North. Seven years have passed and not much has changed, except for the birth and growth of their daughters, and some deaths — not the least of them the passing of many hopes from those early days.
This past week, we welcomed Krystal and her family into our home. Krystal is a longtime blogger (currently posting at LoveMyHusbandMoreThanTheUSA, previously at A Year in the Life of Krystal) now newly fellow “exile wife,” to use the term she coined the night of our first meeting in person. It was a quick stop for them on the way to their own new home in the Central Mexican Highlands, not too far for where we live.
Our meeting was surreal in many ways — first because Krystal is someone I have only “known” virtually for just over a couple years, since around the time when we began writing Amor and Exile. Secondly, Krystal’s arrival to exile is something that I’ve been “watching” her prepare for for some time now — via her public postings of her family’s struggles. As a U.S. Iraqi war veteran and mother dedicated to justice for her family, she long resisted and tried very hard to make it work for them to stay together in the United States. And so it felt somewhat monumental that one of the warriors, a legendary character from our loosely organized but broadly cast net of immigration-affected families was finally “surrendering,” and making the move into exile.
A few days ago I hadn’t actually expected to meet her. I was aware of her family’s impending move south, the vague details of the approach, and where she’d be arriving. But I know how these trips go, having done one myself. When you have your whole life riding on four wheels plus the emotional momentum of a spouse only a few hours’ drive from reuniting with a family he hasn’t seen for years, your forward motion is unstoppable. Side trips beyond a brief foray at the beach seem frivolous, unreasonable even, given the main purpose of your viaje. I also assumed she’d be taking a more southerly route given her destination. So I expected to continue to wish Krystal well virtually, and mourn the inability of yet another one of us to obtain the rights to stay back home with our entire family intact.
But as fast as data flies in the interworld, another member of the network tagged me in a comment that Krystal would be driving through Querétaro. Suddenly, my virtual propriety dissolved and social pressure tactics emerged. I commented that I’d be hurt not to see her — half joking, but also aware of the unique opportunity her drive through our town posed. After a flurry of Facebook messages throughout the day and finding the geographic coordinates of my house so she could locate us (we have no physical address), I discovered I would have house guests that evening after all. I quickly set about making sure that Krystal’s family’s stay would be a moment of comfort in what can be a emotionally grueling journey, having left behind everything they knew and held dear.
The truth was, I needed Krystal’s visit probably as much as she needed a safe place to stay. Despite my abundant blessings, I’d become somewhat depressed recently about the lack of progress in many things I deem important in my life — all related in some way to my state of exile. Combined with a cold winter and my family being sick during the holidays, my mood was worse than blase prior to my friend’s arrival. I was trying hard to pull myself out of my funk, but it wasn’t quite working.
Part of me doubted they’d actually arrive. I surmised they might either get held up in traffic a state away, or decide to push through and make it to their destination by that evening. Later Krystal confessed that her own husband had his doubts, compounded by the fact that I couldn’t give them a house address. We laughed about it once they’d arrived safely, but my husband probably would also have questioned his wife’s wisdom for taking a winding rural route on the outskirts of an unknown city in the dark night, trying to find the town of a friend she’d met on the Internet and who she was Facebook messaging with to find.
But every message I received showed a location a few kilometers closer to my house, and my own husband had offered for their girls to stay in our daughter’s room so they could be comfortable (a rare move of generosity on his part, as he is often more reserved than I), an offer which I extended through the cyberwaves to her. I added that our property was gated and safe and that their dogs were welcome, after intuiting the stress that builds at the end of a ten-hour drive across a foreign country.
Suddenly “they were here,” i.e. in my town, but I was still at work, and the cell phone connections weren’t working. She had thought she was lost but I told her she did better than most local friends at finding the place. I got home as fast as possible and found them at the local convenience store and they followed me home. Luckily, they’d found a taco stand across the street to grab a bite while they waited.
Meeting someone you’ve only known virtually, I’m starting to realize, is a really amazing experience. I remember when it first happened for me last summer when we went to D.C. to deliver our book and I met another Crystal, from PA, who’s also part of our network. So many dimensions emerge that are impossible to ascertain via Internet — and a knowledge of someone, and their heart, becomes whole. My first impression was to be deeply impressed that she found my place in the middle of nowhere in the dark, with only a pair of GPS coordinates to go on. Next, I saw a couple that was tired, but still propelled by the weight of their journey. I then saw the two young girls who were along for the ride, and loved and cared for very much. And then the four of them walked up our driveway, across our doorstep and into our home.[/caption]
At one point, Krystal and I were sitting at the dining room table chatting a mile a minute. She had mentioned that her younger daughter understood Spanish but refused to speak it, and I responded that it’d happen naturally, eventually. As her elder daughter, who had thought I was named “Michelle” at first, sat with us sipping Lipton cup-a-soup, she asked her mom a telling question. We’d been spilling terms like “retired” and “exile,” and the eleven year old wanted to know what the e-word meant. I smiled, and let Krystal take that one. “It’s when someone has to leave their home against their will,” she explained. End of the discussion. It hit me then that the girls were aware of the journey but not fully aware of the implications of what was happening — but how could they be? Even though they were every bit a part of the collateral damage of a policy that’s in effect declared war on immigrants, these two precious, displaced souls were happy just being my daughter’s playmates for a night. And that was just fine, because in my opinion, the less you understand of the reasons behind this nonsensical forcible exodus, the better. Afterward, the girls were playing board games, reading picture books, and running joyfully about the house until bedtime could be extended no longer.
After catching each other up on the various latest details of legal laments, family feuds and professional pinings, the parts that don’t get shared in Facebook statuses, we soaked in a moment to just be. Two sovereign women who, despite a lot of fear for having to leave behind something so integral to our identity — our home country — and despite having to become a part of a machisto culture that often fails to nourish our souls about us as much as our own cultures under-appreciated our partners, were still in this for the long haul, come hell or high water.
Her approach to exile will be different than mine — less bound to one location, and will take a proactive stance to try and make the most of it by traveling. It’s an admirable approach, and I truly hope it brings even more satisfaction than we have found in our situation — we are truly lucky to have the house and land we do, but we are essentially bound to it until we have the means again to loosen the legal/economic ties that bind us to this location.
Aside from the simply lovely aspects of having our families meet and hang out, I was struck by the nature of our reunion. How we ran to take the Facebook picture and what an achievement it felt like. How we recounted the meetings among “our kind.” When I met Crystal, when Krystal met Jennifer, when Raquel met Giselle, and so on. It’s as if every meeting is special — and it is — as we know, without articulating it, that we’re a burgeoning demographic, a movement without a leader, a spontaneous organization, allied without really wanting it — who asks for a sisterhood that is defined by a loss of autonomy? — but also absolutely needing it, growing bonds where they’ve been forcibly severed, by our own country.
This kind of alliance is the kind that reminds me of spontaneous healing, where the body patches up a scratch or a cut, where positivity takes over pain without thought or intention. I saw this in my daughter’s total welcoming of strangers in her happy Spanglish and when I heard the younger one finally responding in her own adopted tongue as naturally as I assumed she would. I saw this in my daughter’s stuffed animals I found among the bedding where the girls stayed, the ones she’d lent them so they could feel a little more “home” along their journey.
It was a positive force that brought our families together in the first place, the urge and instinct to unite with love rather than ostracize with hate. It’s what I wish more for our daughters’ world when we are no longer. This kind of encounter helped renew my faith that I’ve done the right things in a time when the results are sometimes so hard to live with, it’s so easy to question my own wisdom, question what the hell kind of world we are exactly living in, anyways.
So thanks for stopping by, Krystal. Blessed be your journey.
2013 was a big year for Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, to say the least! We finished the manuscript, published under our own imprint and launched in the United States and Mexico. Thanks to the outpouring of support from friends, family and supporters of immigration reform and independent journalism, Amor and Exile is now available anywhere you buy books!
From our “Send Amor and Exile to Congress” campaign to sales in the U.S. and Mexico, Amor and Exile sold over 1,000 copies in 2013 — both print and Kindle. We also held 14 public readings on both sides of the border. We are happy to be contributing in a positive way to the immigration reform debate!
To see the year-in-review (with photos!) of other major milestones for A&E and immigration issues, click here. We would not have been able to to pull off such a successful year without YOUR support, so we’d like to take this moment to THANK you and wish you a Happy Holidays.
Big things are in store for A&E in 2014, also thanks to our growing network and media presence. We’re inviting our entire network of supporters to join us in increasing our reach with the American and international public and furthering meaningful debate on immigration. In that spirit, you can help us reach our goals by doing any of the following:
Review Amor and Exile, on Amazon. Positive reviews help increase our ranking and visibility on Amazon.com. Get more tips on how to do a review for us here.
Spread the word. Tell your friends about A&E. Share your copy or buy one for a friend. If you have a favorite bookstore that you think might like to carry our book, send us their contact information or go in and order the book — we have Expanded Distribution that allows any bookstore to carry us. See where A&E is currently being sold here. If you know of local book clubs or schools interested in our topic, let them know about us — book clubs and schools receive a 10% discount.
Help us make an impact during the 2014 Congressional debates. get in the know on immigration issues, by checking out our 2013 Year-In-Review. Stay tuned in for more ways to help here on our website. Commenting on blog posts, sharing issues on social media and contacting your representatives when bills are up for votes will go a long way toward enacting more humane immigration policies that affect families like Nicole and Margo’s, Suzie and Roberto’s, J.W. and Gabriel’s, and Veronica and Juan’s.
Thanks again, happy holidays and we look forward to hearing from you in 2014.
“Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign raises over $12,000 and delivers a copy to every member of Congress, the nine Supreme Court justices, President and First Lady Obama and Vice-President Biden and other D.C. officials
Nicole and Nathaniel are traveling on the East Coast of the United States over the Thanksgiving week with book events in Baltimore and Syracuse. On Sunday, Nov. 24 (tomorrow), two synagogues in Baltimore — Chizuk Amuno and Beth El — will co-host a 2 p.m. discussion with Nathaniel, who grew up in Baltimore and attended school at Chizuk Amuno through middle school. The event will be followed by a dessert reception.
On Wednesday, Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Eve, Nicole and Nathaniel will host an immigration discussion in Syracuse, New York, at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in downtown Armory Square. Details of the event are on Facebook; the hotel is located at 4:16 S. Clinton Street in Syracuse and starts at 7 p.m. Nicole grew up in Syracuse and will be attending the event in person, a rare joint appearance by the authors of Amor and Exile!
More Amor and Exile events are scheduled for February and March in Boise, including the first Amor and Exile Book Club discussion and the launch of a new local writers series in Boise. See our calendar page for more details and please let us know if your book club is reading Amor and Exile!
The authors are available for book club discussions anytime via video chat and are eager to discuss the book with organizations that have an interest in immigration policy, journalism, memoir writing and self-publishing. In November, the City Club of Boise hosted Nathaniel at a salon-style conversation at the home of Bill and Nancy Russell, a wonderful forum for discussing the immigration issues of the day.
Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders has been featured at several public events and earned media spots across the U.S. in the last month.
In September, Amor and Exile received a positive review from immigration lawyer Teresa Statler in AILA Voice, a quarterly publication of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (September/October 2013 issue, Reader’s Corner, pg. 17). In her review, “Love in the Time of Deportation and Many More Heart-Wrenching Stories,” Statlerhad this to say about Amor and Exile: ‘Salgado movingly speaks of her own and of other Americans’ ‘disenfranchisement’ and exile abroad due to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act… Hoffman’s legal information is very accurate, thanks to several AILA members with whom he consulted while writing this book… Let us hope that in this time of potential immigration reform, members of the House especially read these gripping personal stories of immigration and feel moved to make changes in the law that are long overdue.’
In events, on October 24th, Nathaniel joined the International Institute of the Bay Area in San Francisco, CA for a wine and cheese reading and discussion. Nicole skyped in long distance from Piedra Grande, Edo. Mexico, where she was leading a volunteer training for Peace Corps Mexico. Both authors dialogued with the audience about the challenges of life in exile and the hopes for immigration reform.
Prior to the event, on Tuesday, October 22, Amor and Exile went global on PRI The World, a program of the BBC, when Jason Margolis, a reporter with PRI released his story featuring Nathaniel and Nicole’s work in: “American citizens, in love and in exile, are waiting for immigration reform,” a 5-minute radio spot with accompanying transcript. Immediately following the SF event, Nathaniel was also interviewed on KQED, a local San Francisco NPR station, about his work with Amor and Exile.
The first week in November, Amor and Exile was featured at the Krieger Schechter Day School Book Fair in Baltimore, Maryland (map). Later that week, on November 7th, Nathaniel and the staff of Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho hosted a town hall style discussion of immigration reform featuring the stories of Amor and Exile and others like them (map). Nicole joined the discussion via Skype from Mexico. Also in attendance were Ben and Deyanira, one of the couples from the book, who recently returned to Idaho from a 3-year exile in Mexico; Leo Morales, communication director of the ACLU of Idaho; and Ashlee Ramirez, a representative of American Families United (AFU), an organization that supports HR 3431, the American Families United Act. Ramirez was in Idaho meeting with Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican who is seen as key to any progress on immigration reform in the House.
A few weeks later, Rebecca Bowe, a reporter with San Francisco Bay Guardian, profiled Nicole for an article she was writing about SF Bay Area immigration activists. Nicole’s story was included in the series of profiles of undocumented activists because although she herself is an American citizen, she is a former SF Bay Area resident now in exile due to immigration law, now “agitating from exile.” The article, “Undocumented and unafraid,” came out on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, and Nicole and Amor and Exile are highlighted onpgs. 1, 6, and 7.
This Thursday, November 21st, Nathaniel and Nicole will participate in the radio show Midday with Dan Rodricks(WYPR), a Maryland-wide, live public-affairs talk show, to discuss the book, and promote the Chizuk Amuno reading on November 24th. The show will air from 12 to 1 pm EST, with callers and email questions and will be streamed live at the link above.
Be sure to check out, share and/or comment on one of the above articles and learn more about recent activity in Congress regarding family reunification oriented immigration reform. And view our Events page to catch one of our upcoming events.
As we prepare to take Amor and Exile to San Francisco for a serendipitous event this week at the International Institute of the Bay Area, immigration reform efforts in Congress appear as stalled as ever. But the same cannot be said of action in the streets. Just last week, in San Francisco, immigration activists temporarily blocked a bus carrying deportees.
“Us, the community, have to step up and prevent the separation of families and keep our communities together,” protester Dean Santos told KTVU.
[box type=”info”]Join Nathaniel Hoffman and Nicole Salgado (who will attempt to Skype in from the field) on October 24 for a discussion at the International Institute of the Bay Area, 657 Mission St., starting at 5:30 pm (reception). Free event, open to the public. RSVP on Facebook.[/box]
The protest in San Francisco followed larger protests and direct action training in Arizona three days prior in which activists also blocked “deportation buses” in Phoenix and Tucson. The consistent and clear calls for keeping families together — to “prevent the separation of families,” as Santos put it above — have not been heard in Congress nor in the halls of public opinion. Even when an actual member of Congress, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a Chicago Democrat, travels around the country, for years, talking about keeping immigrant families together and keeping American families together, even when he’s arrested for it, the message does not come through.
Why? Why is the American public and the majority of Congress deaf to these calls for family unity? There are at least two reasons, hinging on the political and the personal realms. Politically, there is momentum to transform our immigration policy from one emphasizing family unity and family migration, as we have since the 1960s, to a more utilitarian focus on labor markets.
The super-positive pro-immigrant campaign coming out of Silicon Valley, the one that’s all over my Facebook feed, embodies this shift in many ways. While they are doing cool things like training activists in hacktivism, and they support a broad legalization program, their line on immigration reform focuses on workforce needs in the tech sector, innovation and talent. It’s exemplified by this month’s cover of Wired Magazine, a story about a young math whiz in Matamoros headlined “The Next Steve Jobs.” While the story is ostensibly about innovation in pedagogical techniques, the cover shot and the protagonist’s proximity to the border are clear references to immigration. Good ones, but, references that largely ignore relationships and families.
These sentiments away from family-based immigration are echoed in the Senate immigration bill, S. 744, which eliminates sibling sponsorship, limits green cards for adult children and kills the diversity visa in favor of new, merit-based visa tracks, tied to workforce needs.
Still, the Silicon Valley version of keeping families together could be re-couched in terms of networking. One of the arguments in Amor and Exile is that people frequently come to America for jobs, to be sure, but they come because someone told them about a job. A cousin, a brother, a mother who is already here put them in contact with a potential employer. Migration of any sort is a highly networked activity, built on relationships. That’s something that the LinkedIn set could easily sink its teeth into, echoing the family values arguments that anti-deportation activists are making.
The second reason politicians are not hearing the pleas of families separated through deportation is much more odious. It has to do with another central argument of Amor and Exile, that our immigration system is built from the dominant racial dynamics of the era. The fact is, many in Congress and many Americans in general do not see immigrant families, mixed-status families or bi-racial families as having equal claims to family values. Dean Santos, cited above, is portrayed in the media first as a former deportee, a stranger in our midst, and thus a second class citizen. His ties to the United States, to political activism and to relatives and friends here, are secondary.
Until the recent overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples were officially viewed as second class citizens for purposes of immigration (and many other federal benefits) as well. That changed, in no small part, as public sentiment toward gay marriage shifted in the wake of several years of super positive press coverage of gay couples. Everyone, it turns out, loves a wedding.
Which is why I was very pleased to see another form of direct action in August, as U.S. citizen Edgar Falcon wed his Mexican bride, Maricruz Valtierra, from opposite sides of the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso. According to the El Paso Timesarticle, Customs and Border Protection officials said border weddings are performed with some regularity in El Paso. We need to see more of these border weddings. Congress needs to see the white dresses and the mariachi bands and guests bearing blenders and wooden spoons. And Congress needs to hear from the teary parents of the betrothed who are forced to Skype into the wedding parties.
The immigrant youth movement is keyed into this fact; the annual Dreamer Graduation in Washington, D.C., included a wedding ceremony this past July, a lesbian wedding no less. But, and this is a key point, there will be no sudden outpouring of public, mixed-status weddings until something is done to curb the record numbers of deportations. I had a conversation with a strong immigration activist recently and throughout our talk I assumed she was already public about her husband’s undocumented status. But at the end of the conversation, when I asked her about possibly quoting her, she said no, that no one knows about his status. That it’s too risky still, too personal.
That is a key difference between the marriage equality movement, which is on such a roll in the public eye and the courts, and the immigration reform movement, which has been stymied in Congress. There are serious consequences to losing a state marriage equality fight to be sure, including violent repercussions. But they are different from the consequences of losing a public battle for a spousal green card, which can result in detention, separation and exile for families.
There are growing numbers of congressmen who have been to these weddings and know these couples, such as Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the CSPAN clip below. Every member of Congress has access to our book, Amor and Exile, and if they lost it, we’d be happy to send another. But let’s get them down to the border to see these regular border weddings, rather than the barbed wire and drone tours, which are so much more popular.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
As a child, these words from the Book of Exodus, uttered each year at the Passover meal, my extended family gathered around fold up tables, defined religion for me.
Because you, yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. The Passover traditions implore us to act as though we were ourselves, literally, strangers in the Land of Egypt. We are encouraged to welcome strangers to our tables each year, commanded to retell the story of the exodus.
[box]Remarks by Nathaniel Hoffman, co-author of Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders with Nicole Salgado, Cordillera West Press (2013) delivered August 11, 2013 at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.[/box]
While the immigration history of America is indeed unique, the greater story of humanity is one of perpetual migration.
The Hebrews of the Torah, and Jews throughout the ages, have been strangers wherever we have sojourned. Egypt, Babylon, Western Europe, the streets of New York, certainly here in Boise, Idaho.
We are perpetual strangers who adapt quickly to local ways and yet are always reminded that we are strangers. We learn to hunt and fish, go to rodeos, eat hot dogs in jelly—and yet we remain outsiders—strangers— in certain ways.
But the English term stranger is problematic and does not capture the full essence of the Jewish concept of the “ger.” The Hebrew word for stranger, ger, is from the same root as the word for settling down, Gar, to live, to sojourn, to reside. The Hebrews were settled in Egypt for some 400 years prior to the Exodus. Their community grew and they were integrated, at least at first. A young Moses grew up behind the palace walls. And yet the Hebrews remained strangers in Egypt as well, eventually abused by later pharaohs and forced to flee.
And when they came out of Egypt, they became strangers again, for the Hebrew word ger has yet another meaning: a convert. The ancient Jews’ passage through the Red Sea and 40 years wandering in the desert offered another kind of strange conversion, a key moment in the development of Western thought that is seldom considered by Western scholars. It was the Jews’ passage out of Africa and into the Near East, into what would become the Judeo-Christian legal system and religious tradition. The wandering Jews, exiles from Egypt, developed a new society, based on the tribal culture of the desert and the religious and scientific advances of Ancient Egypt. They were strangers twice-over: gerim in Egypt, though thoroughly Egyptian, and gerim, converts, in the desert, forming a new community but perpetual strangers in seeking to join that community.
That second Biblical sojourn out of Egypt, out of Africa, parallels the kind of human migrations that science continues to reveal today. Migrations of strangers who settle, join new communities, but always bring their ideas and beliefs and knowledge and food and dance with them.
An excerpt from Amor and Exile:
This tale could go back even farther to the early reaches of human history, when direct human ancestors first encountered one another in the most intimate of terms. The history of early human migrations is still unsettled, but recent evidence from Australia and Asia points to at least three human ancestor subspecies that intermingled in the millennia after early humans traveled out of Africa. Sixty to eighty thousand years ago, according to some scientists, modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) first paired with Neanderthals, a separate human subspecies, in Western Europe and East Asia and later on with the recently discovered Denisovans, another archaic human group, throughout southern and eastern Asia and Oceana.
It is still not clear how or when the offspring of these early human migrants arrived in the Western Hemisphere. Estimates range as widely as 40,000 to 12,000 years ago. But when European explorers “discovered” the New World in the 15th Century, their arrival heralded a whole new era of immigration love stories.
Even before the establishment of the union, the Atlantic Coast was well known for its mélange of cultures and nationalities and races. Conquerors and the conquered, travelers and settlers, slavers and the enslaved, Protestants and Catholics and Muslims and Jews and animists and Yorubas all met in the early colonies and explored all of the possibilities that came with seeking their fortunes, building a nation, defending territories and falling in love. This, of course, is a generous reading of American history—the conquest of America’s indigenous people was brutal and the young nation was clearly built on the back of African slave labor. But there is no doubt that amidst that brutality, there were also instances of humanity and love between members of different ethnic groups.
These relationships—both the loving ones and the many abusive ones— are what the early 20th Century black scholar W.E.B. DuBois called the “stark, ugly, painful, beautiful” fact of American life.
America is a nation of immigrants. As Oscar Handlin wrote in his 1951 book, The Uprooted: “Once I thought to write the history of American immigrants. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”
But like the ancient Hebrews, in every generation we forget where we came from. Even from the very first settlers on our shores, we confused the immigration equation. In the Disney version of the Pocahontas story, it is the native peoples of this land who are portrayed as exotic and foreign—”strangers in their own lands,” as Native American educator Cornell Pewewardy put it.
White settlers wrote their discomfort with foreign sojourners into our earliest laws, banning miscegenation, or inter-racial marriage, as early as the 1660s. Though African people settled in this country at the same time as white Europeans, our early immigration and marriage laws were designed to bolster the institution of slavery and maintain European control. Citizenship has always been tied to the dominant racial ideology in the United States.
Just as African Americans adopted themes from the Exodus story as they fought off the shackles of slavery in the 1800s, Mexican Americans can claim the mantle of strangerhood today.
Juan Diaz, who was deported back to Mexico from Nampa in 2008, feels like stranger in his own land, after a lifetime in the U.S.
Excerpt from Amor and Exile:
There has always been trauma in leaving La Virgen. But over the years the trauma of northward migration, a special form of exile invented again and again by millions of rural Mexicans throughout the latter 20th Century, became normal. Juan went North for the first time in 1990, seeking a nest egg to attend college, to study medicine, or maybe animal science, like Nicolas. But he liked the nest egg better than the idea of furthering his studies, so he kept going North—six times in 19 years. He crossed the porous border like everyone else, rebuffed again and again by the Border Patrol—he’s forgotten how many times—until he made it to the interior where he was welcomed with paid work, with freedom of movement and association, with the NFL and college ball on TV. Where his brothers and sisters and father were eventually welcomed with papers.
Juan worked as a breakfast cook and housekeeper in Mammoth Lakes, California, and in a wood products plant in Nampa, Idaho. He worked and he went home to La Virgen to renew his ties with his mother, to his mother country. But his exile—this uniquely Mexican form of emigration—was slippery. At first he left home out of economic necessity, unable to find the kind of salary he desired in La Virgen. He followed the example of his father and left home seeking his fortune abroad. But as the fruits of that fortune grew and the economy in La Virgen further stagnated, he accepted this economic exile as his new reality, in many ways giving up on La Virgen. His life abroad—eventually more than half his lifetime—became just his life.
Now Juan is exiled back to his own hometown, banned from allá, pre- vented by U.S. immigration law from settling down with his family, getting a work permit and eventually citizenship and living the American dream.
Fast forward to today. Congress has the opportunity to make gerim like Juan—a stranger in all of the ancient Hebrew connotations, migrant, settler, convert to the American Dream—whole again. Juan’s American wife, Veronica, is a stranger in Mexico today, living there with their four children, unable to return with her husband to the United States.
The Obama administration, while supporting the idea of reforms, has continued deporting strangers from our midst at historically high rates—more than any other president in our history. He is approaching 2 million deportations this year. While this may be counter to our Biblical tradition and counter to the stated rationale of family unification in our official immigration system, it is in line with our own history of welcoming the stranger with fingers crossed behind our backs.
As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, an early thinker in orthodox Judaism wrote a century and half ago:
“Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making rights in your own State conditional on anything other than on that simple humanity which every human being as such bears within. With any limitation in these human rights the gate is opened to the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings.”
But there is another American trait which gives us comfort this morning as well. An undying optimism and herky jerky arc toward justice. As British comedian Ricky Gervais, who wrote and direct the British version of The Office said of the difference between Americans and Brits:
“They’re slightly smarter. They’ve got better teeth. They got more ambition. They’re slightly broader. But the big difference is the Americans are more optimistic. And that’s due to the fact that Americans are told, they can become the next president of United States. And they can. British people are told, it won’t happen to you. And they carry that. They carry that with them.”
I’d like to end with one more reading from Amor and Exile that reflects on this unique American optimism:
Americans have always possessed a certain well-documented optimism when it comes to our futures, our abilities, our rights. It’s right there in the founding documents: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Any American child can grow up to be President of the United States. We don’t, but we could. We can all be rich, but we’re not. We can go wherever we want, whenever we want. Or at least we believe we can.
We travel freely across state lines and across most international borders because we are Americans and we are free. In January 2011 I walked into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, from El Paso, Texas, over the concrete channel that is the Rio Grande. I was carrying a large green backpack and I passed a Mexican soldier who did not even look me over. It was an official international crossing point and no one checked my passport. No Mexican official asked me a single question.
Our optimism is infectious, intoxicating, addicting even, though it’s also rife with bootstrapping myth and false hope. Mexican-American writer Richard Rodriguez, writing about the legacy of farmworker rights activist Cesar Chavez for The Wilson Quarterly, identified this uniquely American optimism as the catalyst for the rising tension along our border with Mexico:
“If you would understand the tension between Mexico and the United States that is playing out along our mutual border, you must understand the psychic tension between Mexican stoicism—if that is a rich enough word for it—and American optimism. On the one side, Mexican peasants are tantalized by the American possibility of change. On the other side, the tyranny of American optimism has driven Amer- icans to neurosis and depression—when the dream is elusive or less meaningful than the myth promised. This constitutes the great irony of the Mexican-American border: American sadness has transformed the drug lords of Mexico into billionaires, even as the peasants of Mexico scramble through the darkness to find the American Dream.”