Only some can share the dream…

This is an edited version of something I wrote seven months ago…when my daughter was a newborn, when I still blogged on Yahoo, and Nathaniel and I had yet to begin coauthoring Amor and Exile.  Since then, I wanted to remove my daughter’s personal information until we make our final decision about whether her real name will be included in our book. But since Yahoo discontinued their blogs,the best they could do was delete the entire post. I didn’t want to lose it entirely since it was a disappointed reflection about the failed DREAM Act on the reasons why some people are able to get legal status while others aren’t, now pertinent since the act stands to be resurrected in the upcoming immigration reform period.  Since posting this, my daughter and I have traveled for our first time together up to the States and back, giving us an ever deeper appreciation of the privilege of binational status. In fact, I too may have it soon—my application for citizenship was approved although the paperwork is still yet to come in. I hope to write reflections on our trip and my own impending naturalization in my next posts, but in the meantime…

*             *            *

December 2011

These past couple weeks, we’ve been so sick…the long nights up with the baby have taken their toll on our immunity.  During these dreary days of illness I received news about her U.S. citizenship.  Although she was born in Mexico, since she is my daughter and I am a U.S. citizen, I can confer mine to her.  So seven weeks ago, we packed ourselves and 100+ sheafs of paper; including, but not only, copies of our every possible ID, lab reports and prescriptions from my pregnancy, ultrasounds, transcripts from my high school, college, and MA, our marriage license, my birth certificate, an affadavit of my precise whereabouts for every day of my life since 30+ years ago, photos of the birth, before, at the hospital, and after; and drove out to the U.S. consulate in San Miguel de Allende to apply for her Consular Report of Birth Abroad and U.S. passport.  At the office, my meticulous organization paid off but the passport photo was a little too D-I-Y. They didn’t mind that Margo was the background holding the infant, but the inkjet job was a bit off color.  So we took a taxi over to a real photo studio and had my digital images printed out on her laser.

Six weeks later, I emailed to find out if her documents were ready, which they were not, and Margo wondered aloud if a U.S. government office in Mexico would in fact operate on Latin time.  I said, nah…but in reality, I was worried about a little more than schedules.  Although they’d accepted our documents, they couldn’t tell us at the time whether she’d receive her papers or not- that was for them to decide at the Embassy in Mexico City.  And of course since I don’t believe things until I see them, I couldn’t help but be paranoid as to whether or not they’d actually grant her citizenship. It’s not that my documentation wasn’t impeccable, it wasn’t even that her dad is Mexican or that he was in the U.S. illegally at one time.  More than anything, I think my anxiety was a byproduct of many years of me applying for visas here in Mexico, and fearing that obtaining the baby’s citizenship was too easy compared to what it might ever be for her Dad (near impossible).  There had to be a hitch.  And so I crossed my fingers tight and put it out of my mind.  Of course my daughter will get her papers. Right? Then I got the email from the Consulate.

When I saw the words addressed to my 5-month old: Para comunicarle que su pasaporte americano se encuentra listo en nuestra Agencia Consular en SMA (This is to inform you that your American passport is ready at our Consular Agency in San Miguel de Allende).  I breathed in deeply and grinned.  So it shall be, my Mexican-born daughter is now a U.S. citizen.  That night, as Margo held her on his lap, I told him the good news.  What do you think, I asked.  I’m jealous, he responded. I threw back my head and laughed at the irony.  It had been lost on me that Margo might feel bad about the ease with which we were able to obtain citizenship for her as compared to him.  No kidding, I said.  Well be prepared, I replied, because there’re going to be many things that she’s going to have that you never did. He smiled.  Yeah, he mused, looking thoughtful, she’s going to be able to do many things I never was.  I realized he had only been joking, and that there was no hint of resentment in his voice, rather, it was filled with pride.

Our daughter is one of the lucky ones.  By virtue of her mother, who had sufficient orientation and economic resources to shuffle a few papers, she can now be a legal citizen on both sides of the border.  But is she any more American than children who have grown up their entire lives on American soil, even though they were born in another? Although her womb was American, so to speak, she will spend a good part of her childhood in another country.  Individuals who would have stood to benefit from the DREAM act which narrowly failed to pass the Senate this morning will now have to continue either a clandestine life in the only country they’ve ever known, or embark on a new life in a foreign land, to avoid discrimination and apprehension by the law.  It was innocuous enough of a bill, meant to reward young men and women who, of no choice of their own, were raised in a country “not their own,” and despite this, perservered enough to begin an education or join the military.  They now will not legitimately be able to pursue these goals, are not accepted with open arms by the society that stands to benefit from fruit of their labors [note: unless of course another version of the DREAM Act is passed].  It’s not that I am not grateful that my daughter is able to obtain U.S. citizenship, because I am.  It will make doing things in the States much easier, even if we can’t be accompanied by her Daddy.  It’s just that in a time when so many Americans by birth fail to recognize the very privileges they hold, it seems like we ought to expand our definition of who’s an American to those who truly desire to be so. Don’t we all have a right to DREAM?

Brave New Vargas

The suffering economy. Crime levels. Apathy about our country’s seemingly unending involvement in foreign wars. All this bad news only serves to further polarize the political environment in which we can discuss an issue that’s at the heart of our nation: immigration. But immigration is getting hot. Yeah, yeah, you say, it’s like this every few years. But since the 1986 amnesty, no comprehensive immigration reform has been enacted by the U.S. government. However, we have seen the absorption of the Immigration and Naturalization Service into Homeland Security/ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the passing of rather anti-immigrant laws in southern states such as AZ, AL, GA and now SC. An estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants live in hiding in the U.S., not to mention their citizen family members. It seems that despite the attempts to pass meaningful reform that addresses an increasingly complex immigration situation in the U.S., reactionary xenophobia threatens to overshadow our country’s diverse and worldwide roots.

It’s easy to get cynical in this atmosphere, especially when you’re someone like me whose life has been so profoundly impacted by this simple situation, as described by Jeff Hawkins, in America’s Shameful Moments on June 24th, at DefineAmerican.com:

“At times in the past, the U.S. did not restrict the number of immigrants. If you got here and were in good health you were let in. Currently we restrict the number of immigrants each year. We expect people desiring to come to the U.S. will respect these restrictions and wait in line. That hasn’t been the case and we find ourselves with about 10 million adult immigrants living and working in the U.S. who came here illegally.”

And yet, those inspiring moments do come now and then. Hope re-surges in me that Americans are capable of recognizing immigrants’ humanity, be they documented or undocumented. Or of having a rational discussion about our economic dependence on them. The moments come when I see individuals speaking out for their loved ones who are undocumented, as in Tony and Janina’s Wedding. Optimism fills me when I see authorities such as Paul Bridges, Mayor of Uvalda, GA, suing his own state over a new immigration law, challenging what he feels to be ill-fated policy not just for his town but the entire nation. Or when I post to this or my other blog, Succulent Seer, and get responses from equally inspired individuals.

Perhaps the person who inspired me the most recently was Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who came out as an undocumented immigrant in My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant in the New York Times magazine on June 22nd. Although I won’t summarize the article here, and his situation is different than my husband’s (he was sent to the U.S. as a child, and then chose to continue the life for about 14 years once he found out he was here illegally), there is a certain kinship in that there finally came a time when Vargas realized he couldn’t maintain a secret life anymore. For us, this moment came when we decided that all legal options were impossible, and we would have to move to Mexico to stay together. Knowing the risks which Vargas is putting himself at by outing himself, is inspiring in itself. Seeing that a publication likes the Times was willing to run his article, and that Rachel Maddow brought him on her show in a sympathetic manner is similarly heartening.

However, observing the knee-jerk reactions by some of his “fellow” journalists was offensive. One even went to so far as to say Vargas has disqualified himself as a journalist by being straightforward about his status, as quoted in The Media Deportation of Jose Antonio Vargas, by Daniel Denvir. So is that to say that any individual who’s ever formerly engaged in any illegal activity, such as adultery, drug abuse, traffic violations (pick your poison) disqualifies themselves from their profession? The argument about Vargas being a habitual liar just doesn’t hold up. Most everyone has some dirty laundry in their closet they’re not quite ready to hang out. Come on guys, I’d expect more objectivity when you’re bashing subjectivity.

This is when I can feel the heat of the debate all the way down here in sunny Mexico. Comments like these, although I try hard to ignore the chaff, are strong enough to pull me out of my writing of our book to talk about what’s going on. It concerns me that people are willing to get so high up on their holier than thou horses that they can’t see the forests for the trees. It affects how I write my story. I get nervous about how people are going to react to me telling a story, how it could be construed that I was harboring my husband, no matter how much the immigration lawyer we’re working with assures me that that’s unlikely. Ultimately, I worry that we have strayed so far from our own humanity that we don’t recognize that of others.

But then I think of the brave ones. Like my husband himself, who said, “I never hid who I was.” It’s true, he didn’t, and he also had a lot to lose by voluntarily deporting (as did I, by accompanying him). However, he didn’t have the same exposure as Jose Vargas, who’s essentially making himself a high-profile guinea pig of the new ICE mandate that “law enforcement resources should be aimed at those who would do the country harm, people who threaten national security, violent offenders, and drug dealers,” as described on the American Immigration Lawyer Association (AILA) blog. Vargas said, “We have not had a credible conversation about immigration in this country.” How can we, when everyone is too afraid to see the truth, much less speak it? It’s a big risk he’s taking to speak the truth of his own life, a risk that people with pre-conceived notions about undocumented immigrants won’t sufficiently appreciate, but one that *will* inspire a lot of people, including me. I think I speak for millions when I say thanks, Jose, for sticking your neck out.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – 13th century

Considerations for writing a love exile memoir, Part 1

One of the objectives of this blog is to “document the lengthy, emotional and complex process of writing a book about immigration.” With the exception of my undying urge to get our story out, the day-to-day landscape of actually writing it is in a constant state of evolution (at least on my end—Nathaniel can tell you himself how it’s going for him). The first chapter (my arrival/situation in Mexico) was surprisingly straightforward to write compared to the one I’m on now—about when Margarito and I first met. The collaborative editing of my first chapter was demanding, but it was the part I liked best about the developing co-author relationship with Nathaniel. This chapter is much harder to get started, although I’d thought it’d be the easiest—I mean, how complicated can a “how we met” story be to tell?

Fairly complicated, it appears. On the practical side of things, it is farther back in time and I must rely more on memory and journal entries (10 years ago vs. these last few years). Thus it requires a great deal of effort to transport myself sufficiently to deliver an authentic rendition of that time and place, although it’s a task I’m starting to get the hang of. Photos, music, meditation, and just plain dedicated time are helping with that.

When Margo and I first became pals, Cinco de Mayo 2001

Then there’s the emotional side of things. Revisiting what we “used to have” up in the States vs. “what we’re limited to now” in Mexico creates a nostalgic perception of the past that threatens an objective view of the past and the tenuous equilibrium I’ve forged in the present. It’s also a challenge to separate how I analyze current happenings from how I consider the past and its influence on the present. In light of this, I’m experimenting with alternative ways to manage my current “stuff.” I normally journal to process my thoughts, which you don’t really need to be an exile or a parent to relate to. Unfortunately, on top of the book writing, it’s turning out to be an inundation of verbiage that’s becoming overwhelming to organize, especially since in my case almost anything in my life can become material for this book. Since I’ve got to stay on top of the stuff that’s constantly cropping up in the present (I’ve long since learned the perils of repression), and thanks to the advice of a support person I’m working with, art will be the new medium for present-day processing while working on past-tense chapters.

Which brings me to another creative technique I’m a little more apprehensive about, although my gut tells me it’s OK to just go with the flow for now: finding my place in the current literature of my genre (I’m not even sure what to call it—The love exile memoir?—as it mostly exists on the blogosphere or third-person in the media). Although Nate and I are not newbies to the written word, this is our first book, and so we are both experimenting with what works for us. On that note, I’ve decided that instead of irrigating my years-long drought of contact with other immigration love exiles like me (I describe this circumstantial isolation more in the book), I’m going to keep mostly to myself and not inundate myself with the stories of other people who have had to live through the experience of having a spouse deported or forced to make the choice to self-deport.

When I shared this tactic with Nate, he responded that keeping abreast of all the stories and political landscape is important to him. In my opinion, as a journalist covering a large subject matter like immigration, it makes absolute sense for him to approach his subject with a great deal of familiarity. My own subject, on the other hand, is the journey my husband and I have made from getting together in the States, self-deporting, and resettling in his country of birth. Now that I’m involved with this project and Nate’s tipped me off to the abundance of fellow love exiles’ websites, I crave spending time reading up on them, or meeting the people he’s writing about, or getting to know the faces behind the cases that keep popping up to the public light who are living a similar hell as I. However, not only are there ethical concerns with us keeping our sides of the storytelling separate, but there are only 24 hours in the day and as Nate and I have both agreed, we need to keep the distractions to a minimum. So I’ve made a difficult decision to prioritize my precious (new parent) energies and just keep my nose to the writing grindstone. I am, however, making a local exception—a mutual friend is introducing me to another love exile couple recently arrived here to Queretaro. Ironically, the woman’s father found me through Amor and Exile’s Facebook page before I even met his daughter. I’m looking forward to meeting our new neighbors.

Once the manuscript’s done, however, I am eager to get more active in the wider activist community, more than just posting a few links and making a few alliances here and there. After all, the immigrant rights movement is really taking off and God knows many families really stand to be affected by what pans out in this next expected reform period.

Public journalism

Thursday night I hosted the first of a monthly series of events in Boise, Idaho tied to the topic of Amor and Exile. I am currently serving as one of the 8th Street Artists in Residence (AiR) in downtown Boise; I get free office space in a very cool building, in exchange for monthly programming in the building. See Boise Weekly’s original story on the program for more on the idea of the residency.

For the first event of the Exploring Amor and Exile series, I piped in Ben and Deyanira, from Playa del Carmen in Mexico, via Skype. I’ve known Ben for several years as a fellow personality in the Idaho media landscape. He hosts a two hour talk and news segment on La Fantastica 970 AM, a Spanish language station in Idaho’s Magic Valley. In 2007, his fiancee, Deyanira, was detained at LAX on her way to Idaho Falls for their wedding. She was then deported back to Mexico, bouquet in hand, because she tried to enter on a valid tourist visa, rather than a marriage visa. Ben has been living in Mexico for about three years now, waiting out her three-year ban and trying to figure out what to do next.

Here is their story, in their own words, as told to a group of about 15 people in Boise Thursday night.

Exploring Amor and Exile #1 | A short video from the first in the Exploring Amor and Exile series at Boise’s 8th Street Marketplace. (Call Recorder to be purchased ex post facto).

I have interviewed Ben a half a dozen times in the last six months and have already written up much of their story. But this public interview was extremely valuable for several reasons. First of all—and this is hard to admit—I screwed up Deyanira’s last name in my notes. Ben corrected me right away in the comments under the Facebook invite for the event.

I also thought to ask them, for the first time, how they would compare U.S. Homeland Security to the Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexico’s immigration system; Ben will soon be eligible to become a Mexican citizen. Ben replied (after giving props to the immigration office in San Miguel de Allende, where he used to live): “It’s the same old, same old, I mean, there’s no difference, you go from one country to the next, same thing. I’ve seen how the migra treats the Central American people who come over the [Mexican] border …”

The audience—I should say, the people we journalists formerly considered the audience—sat next to me on comfy couches, during the interview, and jumped in at several points with questions. People wanted to know about the deportation experience, about life and work in Mexico, and most interestingly, about efforts to unite mixed-status couples like Ben and Deyanira to throw more weight at Washington, D.C. So I learned more about what the public wants to know about their story and I think everyone who attended learned something new as well.

My attempts to organize and formalize this public interview process were less successful. I created a public Google Doc that participants could edit during the event. This was inspired by a post I read a few months back on ProfHacker, a blog I read when I pretend at being a teacher. Unfortunately none of the attendees had laptops and I did not have time to coach people on editing Google Docs on their mobiles. I emailed the link out to a dozen attendees after the event, but no one has taken the initiative to provide feedback, followup questions, etc. I find it difficult to interview, moderate, monitor Skype and also mark up a Google Doc, so maybe it’s a multitasking problem.

I’m going to try again next month with crowdsourcing the interview experience, maybe with a little more advance prep for the audience participants. I think that Google Docs has the potential to do this, but if any readers have ideas for other tools to use, please comment below.

Exploring Amor and Exile #2 is at 7 pm, May 26 at Cole/Marr in Boise … the topic will be announced soon. You can subscribe to our event calendar (ical), or just check it out on the site.