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.

Amor and Exile Year-In-Review 2013

An Amor and Exile Year-In-Review, 2013 timeline

2013 was a big year for Amor and Exile and for the pro-immigration movement. Brush up on the issues of the past year with this Amor and Exile Year-In-Review for 2013.

January

Obama administration announces stateside waiver processing, creates relief for some families (Take Two, Southern California Public Radio)

February

Action for Family Unity collage of photos of families separated or in exile due to immigration law
Action for Family Unity collage of photos of families separated or in exile due to immigration law

March

April

May

June

  • “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
  • A&E featured on the News and Politics section of BlogHer (BlogHer.com)
  • Nicole and Nathaniel launch A&E on the East Coast with the first public readings at AILA D.C. headquarters and Ukazoo Books in Baltimore, MD
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) calls for relief for exiled/separated families with colleague letter supporting Amor and Exile (amorandexile.com)
  • Nathaniel launches A&E in Boise at Hyde Park Books, with Nicole skyping in from Querétaro (facebook.com)
  • SB 744 passed in the Senate (New York Times)
  • A&E discussed in “All About Family” (Baltimore Jewish Times)
  • Nathaniel’s work as Idaho journalist and A&E highlighted (Idaho Press-Tribune)
June collage
Clockwise from bottom L: Constituent letters to Congressional reps; Nicole and Nate meet with Rep. Luis Gutierrez; Nicole and Nate after hand-delivering over 100 copies of A&E; Nicole on Capitol Hill; Nicole at Ukazoo reading in Baltimore; Nicole, cover designer Gilad Foss and Nate in Baltimore; Nate and Margi Hoffman mailing books to D.C. officials; and the audience at the A&E launch at Hyde Park Books in Boise, ID.

July

  • Nicole launches A&E in Mexico with Nathaniel skyping in, starting in Querétaro at the Casa del Atrio (amorandexile.com)
  • A&E and Nicole’s story covered in Boulder, Colorado (Boulder Weekly)
  • Nathaniel hosts reading at the American Friends Service Committee in Denver with a call-in by Nicole
Top: Nicole at La Casa del Atrio reading, Querétaro, México; Nicole and friends of A&E at the Querétaro reading
Top: Nicole at La Casa del Atrio reading, Querétaro, México. Bottom: Nicole and friends of A&E at the Querétaro reading

August

  • Reading in San Miguel de Allende, home of J.W. Lown, profiled in A&E
  • Edgar Falcon marries on the border in highly publicized wedding on the El Paso/Mexico border (Texas Tribune)
August collage
Clockwise from top: San Miguel de Allende reading, Nicole with supporter at SMA reading, U.S. citizen Edgar Falcon marries Mexican citizen Maricruz Valtierra at U.S./Mexico border in August.

September

October

  • HR 15, a comprehensive immigration reform bill largely based on SB 744, is introduced in the House of Representatives (ImmigrationImpact.com)
  • Nathaniel shares A&E at the International Institute of the Bay Area on October 24th
  • A&E and Nicole and Margo’s story featured on PRI The World (PRI The World)
  • Rift surfacing between some immigration reform activist groups (prernalal.com)
  • House Reps Pearce (R-NM) and O’Rourke (D-TX) sponsor the American Families United Act (AFU website)
Amor and Exile in October 2013
Nathaniel signs copies of Amor and Exile at reading at the International Institute of the Bay Area in October.

November

  • Nicole and Margo’s story featured alongside series of profiles of SF Bay Area immigration activists (SF Bay Guardian)
  • Town-hall discussion of A&E and immigration issues at Rediscovered Books in Boise and Baltimore event co-hosted by Chizuk Amuno and Beth-El congregations (amorandexile.com)
  • Illegal Immigration and Marriage,” discussion of A&E with Nathaniel and Nicole on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” (WYPR.org)
  • Pre-Thanksgiving Reading of A&E in (Nicole’s hometown of Syracuse, NY (Post-Standard | Syracuse.com)
Amor and Exile in November 2013
Clockwise from upper L: Nate on the air with Nicole on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show; Nicole skyping in from Mexico with Deyanira and Ben at Rediscovered Books reading; the audience at the RD Books reading in Boise; the audience at the reading at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in Syracuse, NY; Nicole and her grandmother, Thelma Kinney, at the Syracuse reading, the day before Thanksgiving.

December

  • Immigration reform officially “dead” for 2013 (Hispanic News Network)
  • Fight for comprehensive immigration reform shaping up for 2014 (Grand Island Independent)
  • A&E available on Kindle in the Amazon Prime Lending Library
  • A&E has sold over 1,000 copies and hosted 14 public readings in the U.S. and Mexico in its first six months.
  • Giveaway days planned in January to coincide with the start of the Congressional session, to help elevate the debate on immigration reform—stay tuned!

House Reps: Who’s Responsible for Immigration Reform?

In a transcript of an appearance on Univision’s “Al Punto con Jorge Ramos,” House Representative Steve King claimed that, “it isn’t [his] responsibility to solve that problem,” in reference to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. This is the same Rep. King (R-IA) who has compared undocumented immigrants to dogs and asserted that he’s picked up immigrants with calves the size of cantaloupes, a remark that’s earning him the distancing of fellow House Republicans John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Raul Labrador.

But on the subject of responsibility, it raises a good point as to whose role it is to deal with the issue of immigration reform. King asserts that the full responsibility for their illegal status lies with the immigrant him or herself, because they step into the situation willingly. One could assume that the next logical assumption is that undocumented immigrants want to alleviate themselves of that responsibility, i.e. through amnesty. However, I’d be hard pressed to think of an undocumented immigrant that I know who is asking someone else to take responsibility for them. Far from it, actually, especially given how hard workers most of the undocumented immigrants I have ever known are. They are usually the ones who are taking responsibility for many others—their American citizen children, their American citizen spouses, their family and extended family members back home. Without even wanting to, millions of undocumented immigrants shoulder economic responsibility for American citizens. They pay taxes into the IRS coffers and into a Social Security system that they will never see a dime from—to the tune of $11.2 billion dollars in 2010—which, when compared to giant American corporations who pay little to nothing, makes you wonder, why the misdirected vilification?

Beyond those who have citizen or permanent resident spouses or children, it’d be difficult to name an undocumented immigrant who hasn’t contributed in some responsible way to American society by contributing to the economy, producing crops, building homes, caring for young children, preparing food, working in virtually all aspects of American industry, in some way adding their daily bread to the fabric of American society, whether seen or unseen. Denying their contributions does not make them or their contributions disappear.

The undocumented immigrant whose level of responsibility I knew best was the one who I lived with in the U.S. until 2006—my husband. We moved to his home country of Mexico in 2006 because, despite being legally married and seeking avenues for legalization for several years, I could not assume the legal responsibility of adjusting his status, although we were legally married.  Ironically, in the end, it was my husband the undocumented immigrant, who was the one who took primary financial responsibility for our family, in that he was making better income despite our disparate educational backgrounds, and allowed me to pay off my car loan, as well as my college loan, five years early.

But the panorama never looked better than bleak for obtaining legal status for my husband, despite several trips to lawyers. In 2006, I was working as a science teacher and finishing up my Masters. That same year, House Rep. James Sensenbrenner proposed laws that would have made it a felony for me to even drive in the same vehicle as my husband. One state after another passed laws that treated undocumented immigrants more and more harshly. I doubted the political will of Congress to finally live up to its country’s immigrant legacy and make good on its debt to the millions of individuals who have contributed for decades to American society, regardless of the piece of paper they did not hold.

Almost a decade after we’d married in California, I ended up in Mexico with my husband, we had a daughter, and I’d almost given up hope that I’d ever get back to the United States with him. I’d made my peace that maybe we might never go back because the political climate in Washington is as fickle as the wind that blows. But then that spark of political will stirred this past January, as we were finishing the manuscript of Amor and Exile. Those who’d been hopeless for so long suddenly were taken with optimism once again. We organized, we rallied, we lobbied, our messages were well received.

Many people didn’t want to engage in the rollercoaster ride of hope, fear, optimism, and pessimism. They’d been let down too many times before. They didn’t want to be let down again. But many felt it was different this time, that we were reaching a critical mass of support for immigration reform, and that we really had a chance at progress. Now many of us are questioning again.

It’s partially because there are some politicians who are bound and determined to make sure our hopes are ignored, that our demands go unanswered, that societal justice continues to go unserved. Another part is that we who are living this struggle on a daily basis are tired. We have lives, we can not go on fighting indefinitely. We also wonder when our fellow citizens will care enough to go to bat for us with their elected officials and help drive the support for this effort home—essentially, to bring our families home.

I may have found the way to survive, I’ve got my Plan B’s, and I might still thrive in the long run. But I have counterparts whose lifelines are much thinner. So much work has been put in by thousands of activists, lobbyists and legislators toward immigration reform.

So whereas some legislators may not see 11 million undocumented people’s fate as their responsibility, let me take a stab at a response to King’s assertion. They don’t want to be your responsibility, Rep. King. They want to be officially recognized for the responsibilities they’ve already taken on and met in a way that often exceeds the level of responsibility that many Americans will ever know.

And to go a step further, I’d assert that yes, it is the role of legislators to deal with immigration law—which is, in fact, the reason why undocumented immigrants have the illegal status that they do. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) changed the rules of the game in a drastic way in 1996, criminalizing undocumented immigration to an unprecedented extent that has had far-reaching effects not just on the lives of 11 million undocumented immigrants, but also in the fates of hundreds of thousands of their U.S. citizen family members, and members of their communities. An extent that some might say, changed the face of immigration in a country founded by immigrants.

Thankfully, many legislators still see it as their role to assume responsibility for fixing a broken immigration system that is currently causing more harm than it should. Even Speaker of the House John Boehner, who appeared wholly unsupportive of SB 744 just last month, has conceded the “need to educate members about the hundreds of issues involved in fixing our legal immigration system and the problem of those who are here in an undocumented fashion.”

I have an important reminder for House representatives. Even if you don’t see undocumented immigrants’ fate as your responsibility, surely you would agree it is your responsibility to answer to American citizen constituents. And in the very least, you should read your mail. So I very respectfully ask you to please read the piece of mail that arrived in your Washington offices last month. That was when you received a copy of my book Amor and Exile, which I coauthored with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman. It describes the stories of more than 12 different Americans like myself who have had their families split up or who’ve had to move abroad because of the fall out from laws like IIRIRA—which, being a set of laws passed by Congress, are indeed the purview of Congress. Kill a few responsibilities with one stone: read Amor and Exile.

d.c. tripMAIL
Constituent letters from supporters who sent Amor and Exile to Washington, D.C.

Mexico readings of Amor and Exile | Lecturas de Amor and Exile en México

In the next two weeks, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders will be presented for the first time in Central Mexico, with readings in Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende, hosted by Nicole Salgado. At both events, co-authors Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman will read excerpts of the book with a short summary in Spanish, and answer questions from the audience. Hoffman will attend virtually, via the Internet. Both events are free and open to the public. Copies of Amor and Exile will be available for sale at the events.

The Querétaro reading will be this Wednesday, July 24th, at 7 pm, at the Casa del Atrio, Allende Sur 15, in Querétaro´s historic downtown. The San Miguel de Allende reading will be Saturday, August 3rd at the San Miguel Public Library in the Sala Quetzal, entry from Relox-50, San Miguel Centro Historico.

In Amor and Exile, Salgado details her inability to legalize her Mexican husband because of a permanent bar that he incurred due to a previous illegal entry, and how they arrived together to Querétaro in 2006 to wait out the 10 years before he can apply for legal entry. In addition to providing the backdrop of U.S. immigration policy history, journalist Hoffman tells the stories of more than 12 couples torn apart or displaced by current immigration law, including the experience of former San Angelo, Texas mayor and current San Miguel resident, J.W. Lown.

Amor and Exile offers a new perspective on a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families. As U.S. legislators debated immigration reform in June, Hoffman and Salgado raised more than $12,000 dollars to publish their book, travel to Washington, D.C., and deliver 550 books, to each of the members of Congress, the President and Vice-President, the Supreme Court, and other officials, along with letters from constituent supporters. Amor and Exile provides important perspective for the current immigration reform debate going on in Congress and demonstrates why millions of people need a more humane immigration policy that reestablishes families’ autonomy.

We hope you will join us! You can obtain more information about the local events by contacting nicole@amorandexile.com

101-queretaro-casa-atrio
Casa del Atrio, site of upcoming Amor and Exile reading in Querétaro, México

En las siguientes dos semanas, las primeras dos lecturas de Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders serán en México Central, por coautora Nicole Salgado. En los dos eventos, los coautores, Salgado y Nathaniel Hoffman, leyerán excerptos del libro y estarán dispuestos para contestar preguntas de la audiencia. Hoffman estará presente por medio de internet. En las dos ocasiones, la entrada es abierta al público y gratuito y libros estarán a la venta.

La lectura en Querétaro será este miercoles, 24 de julio, a las 7 pm, en la Casa del Atrio, Allende Sur 15, en el Centro Histórico de Querétaro. La lectura en San Miguel será en la Sala Quetzal de la Biblioteca Publica de San Miguel de Allende, entrada por Relox 50-A, Centro Histórico.

En Amor and Exile, Salgado detalla la imposibilidad de legalizar su esposo mexicano debido a una barra permanente que él tuvo por una entrada ilegal previa, y como llegaron a Querétaro juntos en 2006 para esperar 10 años antes de que él puede solicitar una entrada legal. Coautor y periodista Hoffman relata la historia de la política migratoria en los Estado Unidos y las experiencias de mas de 12 parejas con situaciones como Nicole, que han sido afectados negativamente de parte de leyes migratorios actuales de Estadosunidos.

Amor and Exile ofrece una nueva perspectiva sobre un problema que afecta cientos de miles de Americanos y sus familias. Mientras legisladores Estadounidenses debatieron reforma migratoria en junio, Hoffman y Salgado recaudaron mas de $12,000 dólares para publicar su libro, viajar a Washington, D.C. y entregar 550 libros, a cada uno de los miembros de Congress, el presidente y vicepresidente, la Suprema Corte y otros oficiales. Amor and Exile provee importante perspectiva para el actual debate en Congress de Estadounidos, y demuestra porque millones de personas necesitan una política migratoria mas justa que restablece la autonomía de las familias.

Esperamos que nos acompañen. Se puede conseguir más información acerca de los eventos locales al escribir nicole@amorandexile.com

sala quetzal mural
Sala Quetzal, San Miguel Public Library, site of August 3rd reading of Amor and Exile

 

 

 

Dear Colleague, Re: Amor and Exile, From The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez

We are honored that Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Chicago) is recommending Amor and Exile to his colleagues in the House, all of whom received a copy within the last week… copied below is a memo that went out to members of the House this morning:

Subject: Immigration, Judiciary: Dear Colleague: Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

From: The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez
Date: 6/21/2013

This week, a remarkable book was delivered to your office that I hope you will read, share, and learn from.  Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, tells the story of U.S. citizens who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by our nation’s immigration laws.

Journalist Nathaniel Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of couples split apart by borders or exiled from America.  His coauthor, Nicole Salgado, provides her firstperson account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile together in Mexico.

I had the opportunity to visit with Nathaniel and Nicole in my office earlier this week and have found the stories they write about — and the story Nicole still lives — very powerful in conveying what is at stake in our nation’s immigration debate.  They raised the funds from supporters in 28 states to be able to provide copies of their book to every Member of the House and Senate so that we come to know and understand the American citizens whose lives we are talking about when we discuss immigration, deportation, and efforts to reunite families.

I hope you will take a look.

For more information, see http://amorandexile.com, http://facebook.com/amorandexile or http://twitter.com/amorandexile

Sincerely,

Luis V. Gutiérrez

Member of Congress

authors with rep. gutierrez 6.13
Nicole Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman, coauthors of Amor and Exile, with Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, June 2013

Countdown to D.C.

Seven days until we go to Washington to deliver Amor and Exile to Congress. Even though we’ve already bought plane tickets and are thick into planning trip logistics, part of me still “no le ha caido el veinte.” That’s what they say here when something still hasn’t hit you yet.

Maybe it’s because I’m still so far away, in Mexico. I haven’t been to Washington in decades, but its policies affect me daily.

Maybe it’s because I’m still incredulous—and not only that we surpassed our campaign goal to raise $11,000 to send a copy of our book to every member of Congress. It’s still sinking in that we are finally done with our book, something that took over 3 years to complete and that’s required some serious trials of endurance to accomplish as a team.

There are times when this whole ride still seems somewhat dream-like (sometimes nightmarish). I got on this roller coaster nearly 12 years ago, when I met my husband, who is Mexican, in San Francisco in 2001. That’s when everything began to change for me. I discovered that our country has an undocumented class. I discovered that in many cases, marriage makes no difference any more. I had to decide whether to leave my country to keep my marriage together. I had to say goodbye to my friends, my family, my career as a science teacher. I moved to Mexico.

I’m currently sitting in the office of the Secretary of Exterior Relations. I took the bus here in the scorching, pre-rainy season Querétaro heat to get a Mexican passport. I need it in addition to my U.S. passport because I’ve been naturalized here since 2011. Becoming a Mexican citizen isn’t something I set out in life to do, but it was something that made economic and practical sense since my husband and I have to be here at least 10 years until he is eligible to apply for an I-212 waiver of his permanent bar from legally immigrating to the U.S. I am getting a Mexican passport so I can legally leave this country to go to my home country’s capital next week to ask that my husband, my family and millions of others like us might someday have a chance at getting a passport too.

They are very kind to me here, but of course, they are just as much about the rules as they are in the U.S. When I had to pay an unexpected $90 for a passport that I would really prefer to not purchase given my bank account’s precipitously low level, I tried to remember why I am doing this. It’s all for the long run—for my family’s well-being, to travel in good international stead, so I can claim my rightful spot among the many voices asking for legislative redress of a decades-long difficult situation—in person—no longer from afar.

n and m sf march 2006
Nicole Salgado and her husband in San Francisco in 2006

When I was 23 and fell in love with my husband, I soon found out how much we were up against, and my world turned upside down. A long-time activist, I became silenced by fear, by disempowerment, for many more years than I could have imagined. I came close to losing faith in the system. But little by little, once in Mexico, as my cynicism about returning someday converted to self-reliance and survival (and sometimes thriving) in a developing country, I very slowly began to find my voice again. And then came Amor and Exile, after several years in it. I’ve regained some guarded hope in 2013—not just because of my own strength, but also with the support of others. I didn’t know it when I was 23, but I know now that I was never alone—that millions would experience my fate. Their stories, their struggles, are part of what propels me forward.

Perhaps what’s become clearer than ever as a result of this labor of bringing light to the very dark debate over immigration is the following: for every negative commentary or political prediction I hear about this issue, I observe something really positive. Not only is every single one of us who’s separated from our spouses, in exile, or living undocumented in the U.S. not alone—there are millions—but we all have families and friends who want us back safe in our communities. And they have friends too. We have friends and family who are willing to close the distance on thousands of miles and the seemingly similar distances in political rhetoric between where we are and where we want to be. That is the difference between what I knew at 23 and what I know now, and that is what I will try to remember every moment that I’m making it known while in Washington, D.C. next week.

Waiting and demonstrating

We’re rewriting part of Amor and Exile‘s conclusion and epilogue this week to reflect the rapid movement on immigration reform so far this year. “Finishing” is tough, especially since things are developing so fast.

Our book is one of multiple narratives—many stories. Nathaniel and I have kept that structure intentionally, and we happen to like it that way. We could have each chosen to write separate stories, follow a single narrative of a life torn apart by family separation or exile, but that would not entirely reflect reality. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author of “Half of a Yellow Sun,” writes: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” And so we continue with our crazy vision of telling many stories at once.

That isn’t to say that we don’t have common threads throughout the stories in our book. Quite the contrary—there are several themes that tie the stories together.  One is the idea of waiting. It’s what all the people whose stories are told in Amor and Exile‘s tale have had to do, for years. It’s what thousands of Americans in exile or separated from their families by immigration law are doing. It’s what I’m doing at this very minute. The waiting could be described as nested at different levels, some common to others in my situation, other bits of waiting my own. Waiting for my opportunity to go to Congress and tell them why my family needs to be included in immigration reform. Waiting for word from a publisher. Waiting to get our message to enough people that it will actually make a significant difference.

Luckily, life in Mexico itself is one of carving deep reserves of personal patience—due to the uniquely different pace of life and bureacracy here as compared to U.S. culture. It prepares me well for the exhausting patience required of having half a life on hold, the American half of my life. It’s also allowed me to practice patience while getting a leg up on making the desired results happen.

Action for Family Unity brochure
Click to download copy of our flier.

Now, the personal and political have to a large degree become indistinguishable, and the waiting is infused with action. One group I’ve become active with, Action for Family Unity, is hoping that the reform plans being unveiled in the House and Senate will include families like ours. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of groups that represent interests like ours in Washington, like American Families United, some plans come close, but so far, we have no guarantees. Demonstrations are coming up next week. I won’t be able to attend—many of us exiled in a foreign country will be unable—but I made a flier for Act4Fams members in attendance to copy and hand out.

We need coverage of the upcoming demonstrations that will call attention to the plight of those of us—American citizen families—who have for too long slipped through the cracks of immigration legislation. We need to shift public opinion and influence reform plans. Those of us who can will hit the streets this weekend and next week to make sure our stories are known, to help advance our group’s interests. If you support our mission and want to attend a rally and take a copy of our flier, join us on Facebook and visit actionforfamilyunity.org.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep demonstrating my resolve, and continuing to carve my patience, from thousands of miles away. I’ll wait for the day that all this becomes unnecessary.

Welcome: Action for Family Unity

Action for Family Unity collage of photos of families separated or in exile due to immigration law

Our stories just keep coming out, and out, and out. The farther we come out, the more scary it feels, but it also feels so wonderful to read and hear the words of our supporters as they join the call to legislators to help bring us home.

These past two weeks have been really amazing. Just last month, I was thinking it would be hard to get families like ours (in exile or facing exile due to immigration laws) organized into a cohesive political force to be dealt with. But then I put out a call asking if anyone knew of specific organizations dedicated to lobbying for our issues. There aren’t many—our presence on the media map is very sparse, despite our large numbers. There are a wide variety of organizations doing great advocacy work and coming up with exciting solutions, too many to list here. But if you’re interested, Prerna Lal, one of my favorite immigration bloggers, suggested a list of sites to start with here.

One thing happened after another. A fellow exile blogger, Raquel Magaña, got back to me with a few ideas of people to be in touch with. The first was Ellin Jimmerson, director and producer of The Second Cooler, a moving documentary that focuses on how immigration is a human rights and workers’ rights issue (Thank you Ellin).

Next thing I knew, I was messaging like crazy with other women in exile—in the U.S., South America, Mexico, South Korea. This was nothing new for many of them—they’ve been in touch with each other for a while—a long time for some, and attracting press to put our issues on the map. But my efforts on activism have been isolated to advocacy back in 2006 (the SF marches) and getting my memoir out over the last 2 years, with the occasional petition signature, and I hadn’t been a part of any online forum before.

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But I also got the sense that the call for action was burning really bright for some women. We’re supportive of the broad movements, we’re supportive of the more specific ones, like those of the DREAMers. But we’re also afraid of getting left out of upcoming reform (Some might say we’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell, but we’re going to try anyways). So suddenly, we formed a group. It has a name and plans for action and collaboration and everything. It all happened so fast. We submitted our pictures and a beautiful mosaic image of them was made. We shared our stories, some intensely personal and not for public eyes. We began building trust in the best way possible without having met our colleagues before, while making up your own rules. We did a petition.

Raquel summed it up well with this comment:

“You will find that every one of these women has a story to be told… and those stories will be told, with heart, with passion, and with the truth of how their individual rights have been overlooked. These ladies will conquer the truth in this history made in their pens and that should promote a government official to execute some relief NOW. When threatened to be overlooked, there is organization. Family unity…there are too many to ignore.”

I am totally floored by how we’re managing to collectively surf this wave of energy we all have, to DO SOMETHING on behalf of our families and others like ours. I have no idea where all this will lead. This is purely voluntary, we all have day jobs, and no financial base to grow from. But I do know that I am feeling a hell of a lot more inspired than I was a month ago, when I wasn’t sure of what I could do beyond writing my story.

I believe in the power of the critical mass. And I wouldn’t be ashamed if we didn’t “make it” this time. As I’ve said before, I’m in this for the long haul.

Most importantly, we’re coming together. For action. Which brings me back to the petition. I wrote it with the help of others and I think it’s very powerful. It sums up our goals pretty well. All the comments I’ve read by my friends, family members, people I don’t even know, bring tears of joy to my eyes. And we hope it will continue to get signed like crazy. Help our group out with that, would you? And stay posted, as this probably won’t be the last thing you’ll hear about it.

Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-and-congress-bring-home-american-families-in-exile#