The tenth year – II

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.

Jalisco, Mexico, September 2006
Highway in Jalisco, Mexico, 2006

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:

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The piñata
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The cupcakes
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The mezcal

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.

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Piñata top and garambullo

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.

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Xotol and pollinators
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First fruit

President Obama: Before You Act on Immigration

Note: If you want to show your support, please leave your name, state, and # of your congressional voting district in the comments. 

Querétaro, Mexico | August 7, 2014

Dear President Obama,

I’m aware that you are contemplating taking action on immigration and that White House staff is hard at work researching your options. Before anything happens, I wanted to make sure you heard my story, because I’m one of millions of Americans who stand to be affected by any decision you take—but our story is not often heard.

It’s been another hard year for us to be away from the United States. Not any harder than the last eight years that I have been away from my home country. But hard for different reasons.

When my father in New York was ill last December, I was unable to go visit and help him.

In California, where I lived and worked for seven years as a science teacher, two good friends had baby sons. I have not been able to meet them. One of my former students got married but I could only attend the wedding ceremony virtually.

From my home in Central Mexico, I watched one friend after another travel freely between the United States, Canada and Mexico, accompanied by their family members. I found out that a long-time dream I’ve had, to be a research associate of my alma mater, Cornell University, would not be possible. Even though the director of a lab was interested in collaborating, the University does not allow off-campus appointments.

Every time I experience these disappointments, I handle them the way I have in these past eight years of exile in Mexico—I focus on the other positive things happening in my life.

Exile? Yes, I have been living in exile in Mexico since 2006. I don’t like the sound of it, and I can’t say my plight is equal to that of other famous exilees, such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, or Malala Yousefi. But the reasons are ultimately the same—because of a political reality in my home country, I am forced to live away from my birthplace, and have been obligated to call another country home.

Sadly, I am not alone. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans are either forced abroad, torn apart from their family members, or forced underground in their own country, for the same reason that I am in Mexico: our broken immigration system. Thousands of us live abroad in isolation, subject to abject poverty and violence. Thousands of Americans’ family members—spouses and parents alike, are waiting indefinitely in their home countries to be reunited with their families. Thousands of Americans are living in the shadows in the U.S., as I once did with my husband, from 2001 to 2006.

What could possibly be causing this epidemic of Americans in exile? Why have I been unable to return to the U.S. all these years? The answer lies deep within the technicalities in current immigration law, statutes that were introduced with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. This law led to the plight I am in—that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans are in—today.

I’ve probably talked with thousands of people about this issue. The vast majority of Americans I speak with are truly confounded by this state of affairs. They ask me, “But why can’t your husband immigrate legally? You’re married!?”  So I coauthored the book Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders (Cordillera West 2013) with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman, to try and answer that question. But even as we explored many different reasons behind the plights of families like mine, I am still no closer to accepting the status quo. I actually sent you a copy of the book last summer. After publishing, we raised enough money to deliver over 600 copies of our book to legislators and officials on Capitol Hill. And we’ve continued to share our stories with thousands of Americans since then. I hope you or someone in your staff had an opportunity to read it.

Because my husband was subject to a 9c immigration bar before we began dating in 2001, even when we were finally married in 2004, I was unable to confer legal status on him. He had come to the U.S. to work without papers, and had been stopped and sent back. Prior to the 1996 law, my husband would not have received a 10-year immigration “ban” for that. But in the true spirit of the marriage vow for better or for worse, I chose to stay with my partner, and that meant I took on the burden of his immigration status, even when we were told by lawyers that the only way we could obtain legal status for him was to leave the country for 10 years, in the hopes of being able to someday apply for a pardon and then maybe a visa.

This December is our tenth wedding anniversary.  We have been in Mexico together for eight years. My husband has not seen my only living grandmother since then. He has not seen my only sister-in-law since we left California in 2006. I have not had income above the U.S. poverty level since then. I am afraid that even though we may make it ten years in Mexico, we will not be able to afford the legal process to try and return to the U.S. someday.

So much furious debate on immigration has yielded so few actual solutions in our Congress since I married my husband. Amor and Exile gives a thorough account of efforts like these and the history leading up to them, as well as other ideas for future relief. Some bills were more openly anti-immigrant than others. But finally, in 2013, we had hope with the comprehensive immigration bills, SB 744 and HR 15, which would grant relief to millions of hard-working undocumented immigrants. The American Families United Act, HR 3431 (now with several bipartisan co-sponsors), would help families like mine. Both bills would provide an opportunity for my husband to apply for a waiver immediately rather than continuing to wait.

But the frequent rise and fall of these bids leaves our families hanging on for dear life on this roller coaster ride on which our very futures depend. We hope and pray for legislative relief every day. Now, the long-term failure of Congress to act may finally compel you, Mr. President, to do something of your own accord. You tried for many years to prove you were “tough on immigration,” and you have received criticism for record-high deportation levels.

President Barack Obama Delivering 2013 Inaugural Address Photo: White House/Lawrence Jackson
President Barack Obama Delivering 2013 Inaugural Address Photo: White House/Lawrence Jackson

I knew you were doing this to try and provide the right conditions for Congress to move a comprehensive reform bill forward. But in the end, all that hard bipartisan work to pass a bill has been taken hostage by the radical Right. So I applaud you, Mr. President, for wanting to do something about the immigration impasse. It’s the right thing to do, especially in a nation of immigrants.

But here’s my fear: when that executive action is revealed, the one you have been deliberating for quite some time now, it will leave families like mine—like hundreds of thousands of others—out in the cold. I’m also afraid that after executive action goes into effect, backlash in Congress could make it even harder to pass bills that would provide relief to families like mine. If we can’t get relief from either executive action or these bills, our hard-working American families, who exemplify cherished American family values so much that we’re willing to risk life and liberty for our kin, will be left to languish in limbo, and left out of the opportunity to “get right” with the laws and live under one roof together today, in America, without fear.

I support the multitude of rationales to include millions of de facto Americans who contribute to our society on a daily basis with humane executive action. My family must be included in this reform as well. My spouse should be able to seek citizenship alongside me, as our daughter has, with all the attendant privileges citizenship confers, without the cruel and unusual punishment of a ten-year waiting period abroad with no guaranteed outcome. I should have the autonomy to decide where I will live with my family. As an American citizen, I should not have to choose between my husband and living in the U.S. My great-grandparents did not have to make that choice. Nor should hundreds of thousands of my counterparts have to choose between their family and their country.

President Obama, restore my faith that you kindled in your inaugural address last year, when you said, “Our journey is not complete, until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”  Be as creative as possible and use the full extent of your powers to take the lead in finding a way to include my my family—my husband—hundreds of thousands of our American familiesin that vision, and in any executive action you take on immigration, so we do not have to make the decision between family and country anymore.

Sincerely,

Nicole R. Salgado

California Voting District 18

and the Undersigned

Amber Henderson, Georgia, District 4
Rebecca Amirah Barragan, Texas, District 15
Jane McGroarty Sampaio, Massachusets, District 9
Meggan Macchado, Massachusets, District 9
Charlcie Cubas, Wisconsin, District 7
Krystal Loverin, Oregon, District 2
Linda Cedillos, Virginia, District 4
Shayna Elizabeth Diaz, California, District 4
Emily Bonderer Cruz, Texas, District 16
Rob Woodall, Georgia, District 7
Amy Koenig Da Silva, Massachusets, District 9
Shannon Ledezma, Texas, District 23
Israel Sanchez, California, District 53
Susan A. Davis, California, District 53
Elizabeth Sommo, Texas, District 15
Hannah Hoover, Texas, District 14
Kimberly Griffith, North Carolina, District 15
Angela Hernandez, Minnesota, District 4
Kamie Timms, North Carolina, District 10
Elizabeth Huerta, Texas, District 16
Laurie Hernandez, South Carolina, District 1
Madina Salaty, Kansas, District 2
Sylvia Malagon, North Carolina, District 4
Amelia da Silva, New York, District 23
Lucindia Dawn Torres, Oklahoma, District 1
Amanda Cameron, Colorado, District 1
Valeriano Serradilha, Georgia, District 6
Crystal Costella Mendez, Pennsylvania, District 8
Peggy Soto, Indiana, District 9
Sany Figueiredo, Georgia, District 7
Laura Lopez, Wisconsin, District 8
Maria Ferreira, Pennsylvania, District 13
Edgar Falcon, Texas, District 16
Allyson Batista, Pennsylvania, District 1
Kim Repp, Virginia, District 3
Raquel Warsing, Pennsylvania, District 3
Lana Janelle Heath Martinez, Virginia, District 7
Curt Clawson, Florida, District 19
Dawn Naveja, Illinois, District 5
Pamela Deligiannis Monroy, Virginia, District 7
Shirah Cahill, New York, District 22
Diana Cahill, New York, District 25
Moshe Cahill, New York, District 25
Ilana Stevenson, New York, District 25
Sonia Estrada, Oregon, District 5
Heather Ruark, Georgia, District 5
Joanna Eros, Pennsylvania, District 16
William Ruark, Virginia, District 7
Dana Cawthorn Bautista, Florida, District 19

Auspicious Coincidences and the Widening Circle

Sharing my story and my opinions about immigration and reform has always created a haphazard mix of cynicism and optimism. Cynicism due to the lack of political will in Washington for so many years to create humane immigration policies. Optimism because no matter how many people I talk to, I always meet people who are outraged to hear our story and what happened to us as a result of draconian immigration laws.

My experience during our two most recent events in Mexico — in Patzcuaro, Michoacan and in Guanajuato, GTO — were no exception. Given the fact that Amor and Exile was a moonlighting project for both of us authors, we have limited amount of time to devote to its promotion, beyond social media. And being an individual affected by the “broken immigration system,” I take the lack of forward progress in these affairs particularly personally. So as invitations started to come during 2014 to give talks in different parts of Mexico, I was super delighted to know that this issue is important to others beside my immediate family and allies.

The trip to Patzcuaro was sponsored by the Patzcuaro and neighboring Morelia book clubs, hosted by Victoria Ryan of Hotel Casa Encantada, with Dara Stillman organizing. Although the list of incidental benefits to anyone in exile is short, for me, this trip ranked high on the list — 3 nights in an incredibly gorgeous B & B in the heart of a quaint Mexican mountain town known for its Dia de los Muertos celebrations on Isla Janitzio in Lago Patzcuaro. In addition to the official event on May 9th, Margo and I spent countless hours discussing the issue with dozens of expats who were extremely interested in the issue and our story. Many people expressed a lot of disgust and frustration with U.S. immigration policies for their inflexibility and inhumanity. The event with this crowd was seminal for me in a way because both individually and collectively, they encouraged me to “let loose” a little more in my political opinions on the issue. In the past, when in the public eye, I tend to make a lot of effort to frame things diplomatically, for fear of being considered inflammatory or controversial. But at the Patzcuaro event, since the people in our audience asked me to, I felt free to express my true feelings about a specific issue without worrying about how I said it.

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Nicole and family with Dara Stillman and Victoria Ryan in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

A few uncanny coincidences also occurred in Patzcuaro. The first was that we were taken to a place that my family and I had stayed in the year before our daughter was born. We had the opportunity to converse at length with the owner, a Mexico City born intellectual who is an artist in his own right. Next, I found out that the Buddhist monk/author who had greatly helped me during my first years in Mexico had stayed across town while writing one of his books. I was invited to visit the retreat center, Casa Werma, and its amazingly beautiful grounds the day before we left. My hosts, Rine and Kai, direct the center and also offer workshops on meditation. After receiving a private session on meditation, I couldn’t help but wonder what forces were at work in the universe to introduce me to my husband 15 years ago, to the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche 13 years ago, to relocate to Mexico, struggle with relocation and more deeply understand the meaning of Buddhist wisdom as a direct result of the exile 8 years ago, begin to write of my own journey in exile 3 years ago, and then walk the same grounds where Rinpoche had written about the wisdom of “groundlessness” on Mexican soil this year. Rine called them “auspicious coincidences.” I fancy that something is going on beyond what I’ve directly perceived, and this kind of knowledge fuels my resolve to continue with this path.

In Guanajuato this past weekend and yesterday, although the events were less coincidental than Patzcuaro, they were no less auspicious. It was our first invitation to speak to a law class, and we were pleased to discover that the professor, Beth Caldwell, had found out about our book from the ImmigrationProfBlog last year and assigned parts of our book as reading. Caldwell is an Associate Professor at Southwestern University and is teaching a class in the Summer Law Institute at the University of Guanajuato during June attended by law students from the U.S. and Mexico. Upon meeting this past weekend, I was delighted to find out our families have some things in common, and appreciated how proactive Caldwell, who also has a background in social work, was about exposing her students to real-life stories that potential clients grapple with as a result of U.S. immigration policies.

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Nicole and family with Prof. Caldwell at University of Guanajuato Summer Law Institute, June 16, 2014

During the talk, one of the students asked whether I thought that wider awareness or better access to information would have somehow impacted our life choices in the past. It was a really hard question to answer because it can be analyzed on so many levels — the personal for both Margo and I, the political (in terms of whether greater public awareness could influence policy). Looking back, I think my answer was more cynical than I would have liked. But then many questions later I continued to make optimistic comments, especially regarding the importance of outreach. I explained that the issue is often painful, but that sharing our story was ultimately therapeutic because it ceased to become just our own personal cross to bear. By externalizing the issue, it becomes available for others to take up — or not — and I am eternally appreciative of the compassionate souls out there who righteously recognize this issue as one of universal concern and worth shouldering along with those of us who are directly affected.

Exploring the many sides of this issue reminds me of discourse regarding evolving scientific matters — when something can be spun so many ways, and affects individuals, families and societies in so many ways, there aren’t really any simple answers. Discussion of the many facets of an issue can sometimes slow forward progress toward consensus. But one thing that is clear, and I knew this since before we even started writing the book, is that as long as so many people are in the dark about the very nature of our country’s immigration policies, and with so many people wanting to know the truth about the direction our country is headed in and how to steer it in a more humane and just direction, my moral obligation to speak out on the issue continues. I may not have the resources to bankroll political candidate’s campaigns in order to enact policies that are convenient to me, but I can keep participating in this discussion until I am unable, with whoever wants to join me.

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Stained glass window at University of Guanajuato

Perhaps auspiciously, a message in a stained glass window at the University of Guanajuato states, “La verdad os hará libres.” The truth will set you free. A mantra for us all.

The Sunday Rumpus Feature |Amor and Exile Reviewed in The Rumpus

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.

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Amor and exile in the eyes of a fourth-grader

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.

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Report on Amor and Exile from fourth-graders at ITJ Queretaro. c. 2014 by the report authors

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.

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Another report on Amor and Exile from fourth-graders at ITJ Queretaro. c. 2014 by the report authors

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!

Amor and Exile goes to Nayarit, Mexico

Nicole Salgado will present Amor and Exile on Tuesday, February 4, at 11 am in La Penita de Jaltemba, Nayarit. Nathaniel Hoffman will Skype into the conversation. 

The reading/discussion is sponsored by Writers Who Love Mexico, and will be held at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery in La Penita de Jaltemba, near Rincon de Guayabitos, Nayarit. Hoffman will be available for questions via Skype. Books will be available for sale or to be signed. We hope you will join us! For inquiries about the event, please email Susan Cobb at susan@susanjcobb.com. Visit the Writers Who Love Mexico Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writers-Who-Love-Mexico/176439342391052 for more information.

For attendees who would like to obtain a Kindle version of the book prior to the event, visit http://amzn.to/11dNDPd

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Migration Talk at ITJ Campus, Querétaro

Margo and I visited the Instituto Thomas Jefferson, an American school in Querétaro, on Monday, January 27th. We went to discuss our experiences migrating between the United States and Mexico and the Amor and Exile project. Our talk was part of a bigger cross-curricular unit for the fourth graders at ITJ, headed up by my friend and colleague Heather Ruark.

Some stats on the talk:

  • 104  4th grade students
  • Throughout the migration unit, students are asked the following driving question: What is it like to move to another country?
  • The unit includes the following topics:
    • Geography, specifically Mexicans who move to the States, and human migration in general;
    • Writing – non fiction, biographical essays;
    • Reading – The Circuit, a juvenile autobiography by a former migrant worker in the fields of California.
  • At the end of the unit, students create a final project consisting of a photo essay gallery of Migration Stories to and from Querétaro

Margo and I had given a similar talk to high school students at the PrepaTec de Monterrey (ITESM Campus Queretaro) prior to the publication of Amor and Exile. But I was particularly impressed by these young students’ level of interest and thoughtful reflection on the topic, particularly considering their age—ten and eleven years old. The kids really enjoyed the book trailer, and had dozens of questions for us, ranging from what our favorite foods and colors are, to what the name of the law that prevented Margo from legalizing in the U.S. was—we had a field day spelling out the IIRIRA of 1996. 🙂

Heather commented that it was a really great experience to be able to get into the subject in such depth. By inviting many speakers from different countries who live in Querétaro and by allowing the students to explore both sides of the issue, they enable students to analyze the complex reasons for illegal immigration and the societal impact of migration in both directions. She also mentioned that the unit is well received by parents, even to a extent greater than she imagines it might be received in the United States.

We were glad to have this opportunity to share our story on a personal level with the students at ITJ, and help foster awareness of this complex issues amidst our next generation of global leaders.

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Nicole and family after ITJ Talk, January 2014

Where Exile Grows

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.

Nicole and Krystal
Nicole and Krystal

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.

Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.
Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.

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.

Krystal and her family on their way to their new home in exile

So thanks for stopping by, Krystal. Blessed be your journey.