Six years ago, ten years felt like an eternity. Our waiting period. Ten years, and then a request for a “pardon” and a shot at a visa application for my husband. Every year I returned to the States, alone, every time, feeling so sad about having to leave my husband in Mexico. Our hopes are about so much more than a visa. Our hopes are about keeping our family together. For me, having to travel alone for 6 years meant it started to affect me a little less every year than the first time.
Now, on this seventh trip back (one year I went twice), my husband’s the one with tears in his eyes. For the record, I’ve seen Margo with tears in his eyes maybe three times in the eleven years I’ve known him. This time, it was at dinner. Tomorrow, he bids me and his toddler goodbye for three weeks while she accompanies me as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in CA, and my grandmother’s 90th birthday in NY. It’s perhaps not as traumatic a separation as some families experiences when a parent is deported or jailed, but it hurts all the same. I tried to reassure him that we’d call twice a day, and we’d be in good hands, and I’d be as patient as possible with our daughter in his absence (he’s the good cop), but that wasn’t what was upsetting him. “I know, but it’s just frustrating,” Margo said “it’s difficult.”
I started to tear up myself in realizing just how rough this was going to feel for my husband this time around. But then he remembered the one beer I bought him earlier and the mini bottle of wine I got myself a couple days ago. “I want to be able to celebrate the night before we go,” I had said. “Se me estaba pasando,” Margo said, almost forgetting. We poured a glass and I reminded him of the possibility that when 2016 comes we might actually get lucky. “The first lawyer was a lying optimist, the second and third lawyers were truth-telling pessimists, so maybe this fourth lawyer is a truth-telling optimist,” I said, regarding some recent encouraging legal advice we’d heard about our case.
He managed a half-smile, and we toasted. “To 6 down, and 4 to go,” I said. Que sera asi.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it’s not for lack of interest…this past month I’ve been writing my last chapter furiously in the hopes of completing my part of the manuscript by the end of the month—a paragraph here, a paragraph there, an edit for Nate here and there, squeezed in during my daughter’s naptimes and before I rush off to work in the afternoons.
It hasn’t been quite as hard a task as previous chapters, only in that a chunk of the writing was already started for me, a part that I did earlier that got carved off of my first chapter. The hardest parts have been integrating all the things that have happened in the six years since I’ve moved here, how they’ve changed me, and how they affect my outlook on the future.
Then it dawned on me. The real reason why it’s been so hard to find time to write is because of a recent spate of the subject I’m working to encapsulate in this very chapter: “hardships” (as they call them in the immigration annals); little things that make life here in Mexico particularly hard to deal with and have got us struggling to keep our heads above water.
It started in the end of May, when Margo cut his finger on a table saw and had to take himself to the ER (I was out and he didn’t want me to worry). You might say that accidents can happen anywhere, and I agree, but in this case I counter that it occurred because we don’t have enough resources to get an appropriate table saw with safety measures…this was Margo’s improvisational setup of a radial saw upside down clamped to a piece of plywood with an open slot for the blade. In his own words, “I am very careful…but some accidents are impossible to avoid.”
Then, the three of us had giardiasis. For those of you who don’t know, that’s hiker’s diarrhea. Except we haven’t been hiking since January. Giardia is a protozoan found in contaminated water. A Mexico specialty for its higher incidence in the population and lower hygiene standards. We spent Margo’s 38th birthday on Metronidazol (Flagyl), hence not a drop of celebratory spirits, except cake, which probably made us sicker.
Not more than two weeks later, I did imbibe at a quinceañera. I also got food poisoning that night. Probably Salmonella.
Three days later, I got a viral stomach flu. OK so that might also be pretty standard U.S. fare too but I threw it in because of its chronological order here, and also because I thought it might have been a relapse of the Giardia.
Then yesterday, less than a month after he went to the ER for his finger, I had to take Margo to the ER, yet again. This time, it was one of our trademark local arthropods—scorpion sting. Ironically enough, we’d attended a first aid course that morning and I’d asked the specific question, “If someone needed treatment for a scorpion, spider, or snake bite, where would I take them?”
The response was “Hospital General o Hospital del Niño y la Mujer.” So that’s where I sat yesterday at 6 pm, less than an hour after the babysitter had arrived to watch our daughter while we used the backhoe to transplant our banana tree to the other side of our yard. In preparing, Margo had to move a few cinder blocks out of the path of the backhoe, whereupon the scorpion had stung him.
“I even flipped it twice to check for scorpions—damn scorpion.” He was more upset about having our gardening project delayed for the second time.
I was just worried about getting him to the hospital fast—he’s allergic to their venom, and so when he was 4 years old the only reason they took him to the hospital was because he’d begun salivating—they hadn’t seen him get stung. When he was a teenager in la secundaria, he’d gotten stung at home but they took him to the local clinic instead of straight to the hospital, and patiently waited their turn. When the doctor saw them, Margo’s throat was already closing and he said, “What the hell are you doing here and not at the hospital?”
Needless to say I was determined for that to not happen, and by the time we found parking, made our way in to Urgencias, and I found the right person to talk to (no one was at the ER desk), the numbness had only reached his mid-forearm. Margo was laidback, since things move at a snail’s pace in Mexican institutions, and he knows he has a New Yorker now to sic on the attendants. I was proud of my ability to get him seen immediately. After years of stumbling practice, I can finally make biting but polite phrases in perfect Spanish, like “this is the ER, right?” in order to catch the attention of the young nurse who seemed more interested in flirting than receiving patients.
He was waved right in, where he received anti-venom, IV fluids, and was prescribed painkillers and antihistamines, which he’ll take for three days. I considered the trip practice for a real emergency, and feel grateful we have federal insurance (Seguro Popular) that covers these sort of catastrophes.
It’s not as grave as a snakebite, or a black widow sting, but they live nearby too (I’ve come in face to face contact with both), and I live in eternal fear/respect of them. But the point is it’s not quite the same neighborhood I grew up in, where the most I had to worry about were mosquito bites and poison ivy, or the next one I chose, that features poison oak and earthquakes. This is the home we have no choice but to be in. But it’s still home all the same, like it or not, at least for now.
Nathaniel and I have been away for a few months hunkering down on our next chapters in the book. But I’ve come up for air for the few days before we enter collaborative editing mode again (hooray!) this Thursday, when we’ll swap chapters and then tear them to pieces. It was a new thing for me, writing a chapter in between work days (I now teach at an English school as well) and at naptimes (previously, I hadn’t honed the fine art of only writing for a couple hours at a time while my daughter napped). Although I’m fairly content with the final product, I’m a little nervous about the collaborative editing process for this one. Not that Nate and I haven’t honed our process (we actually have come a long way in that, and think our way of doing things now brings out the better writer in each of us), but because this chapter felt like more of a doozy for me than my first two.
This chapter (unnamed for now) is centered on my husband and my departure together from the U.S. in mid-2006. It was fairly straightforward to write but mined innumerable emotions, the kind felt as we waffled back and forth on the decision as to whether we’d leave the U.S. to move together back to Margo’s hometown, and if so, when. I obviously get into it in much more detail in the book but suffice it to say that making the intentional leap to leave your friends, family, profession, and economic well-being is no small task. Going back through everything I thought, felt, and experienced along the way of making that decision and then going through with it (I draw heavily on my journals for my chapters) was emotionally intense, to say the least.
And what was weirder for me this time is that it wasn’t so tough while I was writing it, but got tougher when I was almost done. I’d written quite a bit of the last part of the chapter (which is basically our border crossing story) years ago, but went back and carved it up and rewrote it for Amor and Exile. In doing so, and in rereading the chapter to my husband, I relived the whole experience, which brought up a lot of feelings I thought I’d put to bed a long time ago (guess again).
Leaving behind friends, family, and familiar places were tough, but I still have contact with them and I can still visit. What stirred up the most distressing feelings for me upon revisiting them were the parts about leaving my job, and the actual border crossing itself. I don’t feel like I ever quite got back on track after derailing my professional trajectory (although I have undertaken a number of satisfying projects), and so that’s probably why I feel unsettled about that piece still.
The move south in its entirety was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, even though the actual border crossing itself was one the most stressful things I’ve ever done. I’m not sure why, but I got the notion to take another look at our route on Google maps. Below are a few images that I came up with. They virtually brought me back down memory lane.
This was the route we took from the San Francisco Bay Area to Margo’s hometown of Queretaro, Mexico. We stopped off in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon because we don’t know if Margo will ever be back in the United States again someday, and well, those are two places you’ve just got to visit before you die.
This is a zoomed-in view of more or less where we crossed in Nogales, AZ to Nogales, Mex. Marker A shows where we had to stop unexpectedly, throwing a bit of a wrench into our plans.
It was precisely in this lot/parking lot that we had to sit sweating it out (literally) for a few hours while our truck’s legal paperwork was being done (none for my husband, unfortunately).
I couldn’t find imagery for the Homeland Security Department building that we passed when were almost out of the United States (maybe for security reasons). But it was quite a cathartic feeling to both finally be in Mexico and be done with rereading that part of the chapter to my husband. As much as it tears me up what we had to do, and how much I have to retell the tale in order to carry out my vision of telling our story, I’m comforted by the following quote from Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa:
‘We wear out the shoe of samsara by walking on it through the practice of meditation…so meditation practice or spiritual development depend on samsaras.”
I see my story of leaving the U.S. and coming to Mexico as part of my own personal samsara—kind of like an emotional roller coaster ride. And so the trauma of having done so will eventually fade as I “wear it out” by telling the story over and over again. But in order to tell the story, I must have experienced it in the first place.
Now that all the hype has died down from the proposed changes to immigration rules by the Obama administration, immigration has returned to its normal back burner location in the media. And those of us in exile, whose lives aren’t yet affected (or won’t ever be) by these small, potential policy alterations, simply go on with the daily reality of being detached from our home countries for an indeterminate amount of time. Not that I got too excited about the announcement in the first place. Sure, I think it would be great for the immigration process to be easier for families, but with the exception of the latest Keystone announcement, and especially demonstrated by the indefinite detention bill, Obama hasn’t had the greatest track-record at promise-keeping. The fact that this announcement was made in an election year, when he’s had the last four years to do it (or more, like not be the top deportation president) also makes me wonder if this is a popularity ploy.
But my point here is not to single out Obama as the cause of our immigration woes. The origin of that problem goes back way beyond him and also isn’t the point of this post. The dialogue that the rule-changes generated was good news to me, but I must confess I wasn’t inspired by the announcement, so I wasn’t compelled to comment on it. That was a good thing because I didn’t have the chance to do so. In fact it was probably a really good thing I was so busy training at my new job, because that way I didn’t have time to get too bummed out that the new rules would have zero effect on my husband’s and my case.
At the end of 2012, some personal situations developed, including a medical problem, that forced my hand economically and led me to take on part-time work that unfortunately means a temporary break from writing my piece for Amor and Exile. Since the beginning of this month, I’ve just been assisting Nathaniel with editing his chapters, hoping for moments like today to get back on our blog, but with sustained optimism that it won’t be too long before I can get back to finishing my chapters.
One of the only things that’s good about being so busy that you don’t have much time to think (much less write) is that disturbing thoughts, well, disturb you less. The prospect of a regular income also does enough for your panorama that it helps distract you from negativity that might otherwise cloud your focus. But that doesn’t mean that the disappointing fact that the proposed rule changes won’t help us didn’t get discussed. In fact, last night it came up in the kitchen, in the context of an edit I did of Nathaniel’s chapter on waivers. I’d mentioned to Margo that not one, not two, but three of the individuals profiled in the book are from the state we live in, Queretaro, and what a small world it is. He mulled this over and wondered aloud about another couple we know who’s in exile, spefically how their prospects for legalization compare to our own. I acknowledged that they had a long road ahead of them, and we chatted a bit about the arbitrary nature of immigration agents’ decisions on individual cases, and how when it comes down to it, your future fate in the U.S. has a lot to do with luck. Then we had dinner and put the topic out of our heads.
But some things are too disturbing to ignore, elbowing their way into your consciousness without even saying “excuse me.” That same night, perhaps inspired by chapter editing, I made time to pen a short post on my own blog as an update to my evolving personal situation. I mentioned the same friend whose fate we’d been contemplating while cooking dinner, and how we’d recently learned she was expecting and how I felt lucky to be able to provide her with some guidance and advice about impending motherhood in a foreign country. Right as I finished my post, though, that same friend messaged me: they’d just received some damning feedback about their immigration case, that they’d just gotten their FOIA back, that their attorney hadn’t represented them in the way they would have liked, that they’d have to stay here longer than they’d hoped, etc. She was completely distraught.
I tried to console her in the best way I knew how, drawing on the years that I’d lived in my own personal hell of being mentally consumed by not being able to live where I wanted to due to my husband’s legal immigration situation. But she was just so down that she was practically inconsolable, and I knew she just had to go through it herself. In the end it’s a deeply personal journey to the other side of accepting that, if you want to stay with your partner, you might have to live the rest of your life in a country that you never chose to live in. Going to bed, I thought about how much our situation has strained our relationship, how much I wish I had had someone in my shoes to talk to when I went through those worst moments of losing hope and my way. How people who observe our situation might think I am especially strong to be able to withstand the last 5 years of my life in a less than ideal professional and social situation, but how vulnerable I still feel.
I can sit back and watch the hype rise and fall when it comes to politically motivated legislative proposals. But when individual tragedies plague my mind, like those of our friend, who ultimately reminded me of the aspects of our own situation that I prefer not to think of daily, I feel driven to speak out. Knowing that the handful of compelling stories I’m personally acquainted with are so few, but so emblematic of a continent-wide problem (I might go so far as to even say tragedy—my friend graduated at the top of her class in her graduate school), it outrages me. So little of this comes out in the national dialogue on immigration. It deepens my commitment to share our story, to not let it get swept under the rug as yet another piece of collateral damage (read: deportations) in the war on culture, drugs, bilateral trade agreements, or whatever we deem as the root cause(s) of our broken immigration system. I don’t disagree that Mexico has a lot of its own responsibility, or that some deportation cases involve unsavory individuals that don’t deserve to stay in the U.S. But the vast majority of individuals seeking adjustment of status are just hard-working people who, like all immigrants who’ve built America, want a chance to continue contributing to society, legitimately. Further, how can we ignore that yes, immigrants, both undocumented and legal, do make a positive impact on our economy, especially at a time when that push is so needed?
Halfway into my period of de facto exile before we can apply to re-enter the U.S. as a family, I can’t say I am much clearer on how or why this system works the way it does. Or what it means for my life, like where I’ll be in five years. Like my friend, I’ve felt this uncomfortable context one too many times in the past, one in which our emotions, our lives, are at the mercy of politically-rooted government proposals and decisions, that appear and fade as arbitrarily as the wind blows. Also, like my friend, I want nothing more than to have a shred of control over our destiny. Ironically, this leads me closer to a point where I cease to allow my expectations about our case’s final outcome to have the power to determine my quality of life. I wish it could be the same for everyone in my situation, but I’m afraid we can’t depend on the politicians to take care of that problem for us.
One of the most difficult things about writing my part of Amor and Exile is that I live it every day.
Before I joined this project with Nathaniel, I primarily wrote in my journal about my experience of living with my husband in the U.S. when he was an undocumented immigrant there, or the aftermath of moving with him here to Mexico. For ten years, I wrote in my black covered notebooks, profusely but randomly—when events led me to need to record what was happening. Now that we’re collaborating, even though we don’t have a strict schedule, we have an endpoint in sight. As far as the book is concerned, that requires staying on top of regular writing, toward the eventual finish line of completing our manuscript. As far as my life is concerned, that is a more open-ended proposition.
Currently, I have only two days—Tuesdays and Thursdays—to get in the right frame of mind for writing my chapters. Those are the days that my husband has agreed to stay home with our daughter while I think and type. The precious hours available to me are whittled down by everything else that I do in order to get ready to write. Scan the news online, write in my journal, meditate. Then there’s responsibilities like nursing my daughter, eating, using the bathroom. Or the dreaded procrastination, a.k.a. social media networks. All of this is no big news to anyone who writes. It’s part of the game, and you either figure out a way to deal with it or get a different job. In reality, none of this is really that big of a deal to me either. Modern professionals learn to multi-task and juggle activities.
But one of the things that most gets in the way of my writing for this book is the very relationship I am writing about. Ha, ha. Yes, my relationship with my husband. Hey—I’m not ashamed to say things aren’t always perfectly harmonious. On any given day we are prone to bicker about something, but if that happens on the day I am supposed to write about my life for this book, it poses somewhat of a challenge of objectivity to me.
I know damn well that even though my husband and I have our differences that it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, or that I shouldn’t write this book. We’re new parents, we’re a bicultural and binational partnership (read: culture gap to bridge), and we’re both severely underemployed. Which is to say we have strains on our moods. Just that sometimes it can be a little distracting to argue right before I’m supposed to perfect, for example, a section of a chapter about how we met. If I were writing a book about the Berries of North America (perhaps my next book topic), I really doubt that whether or not Margo interrupted me 7 times in the preceeding 7 hours would affect my portrayal of the geographic distribution of the cloudberry. So I have to try really hard to almost dissociate myself from my own relationship while writing about my relationship. That can be an exercise in absurdity.
If I had been personally targeted, I probably would have been fuming. In fact, I might have even cried. But I am not sure if I would have responded in the same way. Don’t get me wrong: in the book I do talk about all the reasons why I fell in love with my husband—if I didn’t, our story wouldn’t be complete. But I feel very uncomfortable about the idea that I need to somehow prove the value of my relationship with my husband, just because he was at one time undocumented. No one, under any circumstances, should be forced to explain why they love their partner. That’s a dehumanizing situation. I’m concerned that if I respond in that way to attackers, I’ll validate their claims.
I’m writing this post because writing as candidly as possible about our story is something I’ve struggled with since deciding to go public with it. I had second thoughts about what some might consider “airing my dirty laundry.” I’ve done battle with the illusion that, in order to qualify as a worthy subject, our relationship ought to be flawless. But I’m realizing the folly in that viewpoint. I want to be as clear as possible about the pressures our relationship has endured over the years as a result of the legal situation he found himself in, and I found myself in by association. It’s not that we had a perfect relationship and illegal immigration destroyed it. It’s that we have a loving marriage with perfectly normal ups and downs, and immigration law as it’s currently written has strained it to a point that is liable to break up any family. Relationships are hard enough to keep together without having to stretch them indefinitely across international borders and pelt them with the callous comments of haters who have no idea what it’s like.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my husband just made lunch, and the tortillas might get cold. And then I’ve got a chapter to get back to.
As Nathaniel can probably also attest, it’s a juggling act to have two blogs at the same time. I tend to write deeply personal posts, often about motherhood, culture shock, and conservation issues on my personal blog. But when it comes to how my life is affected by the political circumstances we write about in Amor and Exile (that also affects many other couples), these subjects overlap.
This is an excerpt from my most recent post on my blog The Succulent Seer. It’s about me getting Mexican citizenship and celebrating my daughter’s first birthday within a few days of each other:
The possibility of running out of money hasn’t occurred to me for at least 10 years, back when I was struggling to get on my feet as a recent college graduate. But when they turned me away at the SRE doors and I sat down on the bench outside with the baby, after 5 years of underemployment, and contemplating the possibility that my application for citizenship had been for naught, I wondered if heartless bureaucrats would continue to empty my pockets until I failed to even qualify for either a visa OR citizenship—and then how would my husband and I be together? I broke down in tears. So as to not get stuck in the paperless limbo land that my husband lived in the U.S., I decided to go ahead and reapply for the visa at the eleventh hour, on September 15th, the day before Mexican Independence Day. It was the last day I could submit my papers.
We were down in the commercial district making our way to the bank to transfer money to the INM coffers for the right to be here another year with my family when I got a phone call from my contact at SRE. Only that I couldn’t answer because I’d just dropped my cell phone on the ground and I could hear nothing on the other end. I ran outside to get my husband’s cell phone, ran into the grocery store to put credit on the phone, and ran back out to call my contact. “Is Syracuse spelled with a ‘Y’?” he asked. I stammered yes, wondering if this really meant my wait was over.
I’ve included the link to the full post if you want to read it there.
The Exploring Amor and Exile Last Thursday Series, in partnership with Boise City Arts and History Department Artists in Residence Program at 8th Street Marketplace, presents A Slice of Life in Exile at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday August 25, 2011 at the Cole/Marr Coffee and Photography Workshop.
Amor and Exile coauthor and native New Yorker Nicole Salgado will share a slice of her life in exile in Queretaro, Mexico, where she’s lived for the past 5 years with her husband Margarito and their daughter, who was born last fall. Along with Salgado’s slice of life in exile, you will hear readings from popular blogs by other Americans in exile because of their partners’ immigration woes. Salgado will narrate a photo slideshow, share a recipe from her cookbook, The Bajio’s Bounty, and field Q&A from the audience. Join us!
Thursday, August 25, 7:30pm – 9:00pm
The Cole/Marr Photography Workshops
404 S. 8th Street, Lower Level
FREE (beverages and snacks available for purchase from our lovely hosts)