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

Waiting it out[side]

Everyone is waiting with baited breath for the much-anticipated executive action to be announced by President Obama this evening at 8 pm. Everyone who sees immigration as an important issue, that is. My coauthor Nathaniel Hoffman described how most of immigration is a waiting game in Chapter 3 of Amor and Exile, The Binational Labryinth:

“Immigration to the United States, whether legal or illegal, is a waiting game. You wait to be eligible for a visa and then for your visa to be approved. Sometimes you wait five years or sixteen or twenty-three years for that visa. You wait three days to get deported or you wait a year for the immigration courts to clear their backlog before you get your hearing. You wait for your brother or your father to fill out the paperwork for you, for a letter back from the National Visa Center. You press two for Spanish and wait, on hold. You wait for a pardon. You wait and watch as Congress takes up immigration reform and drops it and takes it up again. You wait up at night for your loved ones to return home from work. You wait for dark to fall, for the floodlights to pass and then you run across the line and wait for transport. You wait for another mule with trunk space.”

Even if I were waiting, I wouldn’t even be able to listen in to the announcement, because I’ll be teaching English (I currently work nights) while it happens.

Part of me it not really waiting at all though. I was, for a few months. I wrote and circulated an open letter to President Obama in August when it became clear the plan for executive action was in the works. I spoke with  Center for Public Integrity reporter Susan Ferriss about my thin hopes for inclusion earlier this week for her piece, “U.S. spouses of ousted immigrants await Obama plan.” However, when recent reports began to point to a probable emphasis on relief for parents of U.S. citizen children, I knew we’d probably be waiting this one out. There will likely also be the perfunctory nod to “highly-skilled” workers. There *might* be a bone thrown in for spouses of U.S. citizens via extended “Parole in Place,” but whether that will happen or not is yet to be seen, and even if it were, it probably would not extend to any of those undocumented spouses of those U.S. citizens who happen to be outside of the country.

No matter what happens, we will have to be clear about what this executive action is and what it’s not. The run-up to this executive action is being billed by some as “fixing the broken immigration system,” but please.  You can’t possibly argue that giving tenuous relief to a small fraction of the individuals who need reform is a fix of a broken system. As immigration lawyer and advocate Prerna Lal puts it, she’s “still concerned about the millions left out by the plan specifics.” So this executive action is a Band-Aid, at best. Of course, human rights advocates like Ellin Jimmerson, Director of The Second Cooler, a documentary about the wide human rights offenses committed by the immigration system, narrated by Martin Sheen, have been saying it all along: if widespread human rights aren’t advanced by immigration reform, in the end, it’s not net progress. Sure, it’s a step, albeit small one. Even Obama knows that. Advocates and legislators alike believe that no matter the reach of this executive action, it’s no substitute for Congressional reform.

So no, this executive announcement probably won’t make a lick of difference for my family, especially because we are currently in Mexico. If we had decided to stay in the U.S. and wait it out under the radar as millions of others have done, there might be a slight chance we’d get relief from this. That remains to be seen, as it’s uncertain whether the action will extend to all individuals with 9(c) inadmissibilities. So yes, if it were that 9(c) cases could get relief from this, then yes, we would be left behind for having left the country to try and “get in line.”

‘Course, I won’t be alone in this, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of us will get left out. But this seems to be a recurring pattern, one that I’m not sure will ever be entirely rectified, even by a bill as large as HR15, for reasons which activists like Jimmerson expand on amply.

Which is why, for the moment, I am boycotting the waiting game. In my final chapters in Amor and Exile, I describe how I’ve toyed with the idea of pulling out of the waiting game entirely, not willing anymore to pin my life hopes on an act of Congress or an executive action such as the one on November 20th, 2014.

Ironically, November 20th is the Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. I wonder if that was just coincidental? Most everyone down here is working today because we already celebrated the occasion on Monday (they do long weekends early), but instead of going to the downtown parade or to a party, I spent it with the editorial team for Amor y Exilio—the Spanish translation of Amor and Exile that is currently underway.

Even with the question of “did we miss out?” potentially shadowing over me during the aftermath of executive action, I would rather take the bull by the horns when it comes to the possibility of arrepentimiento. Rather than regret or question any of my past decisions to move to Mexico, to make this leap of faith, pasa lo que pasa, I would say no, I have no regrets. I prefer to embrace the fact that my husband was duly safe, at no risk of detention in these last 8 years. I am grateful for the freedom to have built our own home, in a lovely climate, and to have made lovely friends and to be making a life for ourselves.

Sure, it’s nice to think of what the future could hold when and if my husband is permitted to travel and/or reside alongside my daughter and I to my home country. Yes, I will be frustrated if the system once again fails to reward people who are trying to do the right thing. And there will still be that glaring recollection that Congress’s failure to move forward on a real fix is what’s brought us to this point.

But our time has not yet arrived. And so in the meantime, I see no reason to wait—just every reason to keep trying to move forward.

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We’ll also try to keep smiling, because if we don’t laugh about this, we’ll cry. Photo of the author and her husband from 2009 in San Mateo, California.

P.S. Today’s featured image was chosen for no other reason than it’s throwback Thursday, and it’s our 10-year wedding anniversary in just under one month.

 

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.

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

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

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

The Final Countdown

Less than three days to go until we are on Capitol Hill delivering copies of Amor and Exile to our nation’s elected officials. The level of preparation anxiety and nervousness that everything will work out is indicating that the reality of our trip has finally sunk in.

Insofar as that we were able to successfully underwrite our “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign by a diverse number of contributors nationwide, I feel very optimistic and confident that our project has the right kind of support from the public. And in terms of the two public readings we will be having, the first in our nation’s capital at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) headquarters in D.C., and the second in Baltimore at Ukazoo Books, I’m very excited about starting to gain wider exposure for our book.

On the other hand, I’m naturally nervous about how well our message will be received by legislators and how successfully we will execute our goal. I’m not a professional lobbyist and much of this will be new for me. In my role as author/activist, I hope that we are able to carry out what we set out to accomplish.

Publishing a book gives you a sense of unparalleled accomplishment and getting great feedback for the project is very affirming. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to travel to D.C. to deliver our book to our government as a result of the goodwill of so many others—both friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, those in similar situations—even people who don’t know us but who share our vision.

This author-activism thing is pretty exciting, but it’s not that glamourous. Personal sacrifice is required to fulfill this trip. We go into debt to initially order books, we leave our families and our day jobs behind to do this. In a rare splurge to augment my ratty 2006 or older wardrobe, I got some expensive new clothes to wear in D.C. I had to use my credit card, something I *never* use for shopping, because it just so happened that this very same week, I couldn’t use my U.S. debit card because my bank suddenly thought that I was fraudulently using my card in Mexico, until I explained I have a residence down here.

I am blogging in between dropping off my husband off at work and going to the passport office for 2 hours this morning. I will head out again this afternoon to pick him and the passport up before I dash off to work for the afternoon. Can’t forget the Mexican document that will allow me to leave the country without issue on Wednesday morning en route to the U.S.—I even managed to not forget to take my vitamins.

Even though it’s been twelves years of boarding flights without my life partner and the very reason why I’m taking part in this trip is because of him, I NEVER get used to traveling without him, have never stopped resenting having to leave him at home. But of course I am not alone in that. Just invoking the thought of why is enough to steel me for the hectic and stressful, albeit exciting days ahead. In just this past week, 3 friends will have major life upheavals due to the laws that we go to appeal to in Washington.

Nicole Salgado San Miguel 2013
The author and her family | Photo by F.R. Salgado

One friend had to leave her husband in Mexico while she returned to the states with their daughter. I thank her for alerting me to the need for a dual citizen to have both country’s passports to leave the country without problems. Another friend will leave the U.S. with her two sons to go be with her fiancee in El Salvador. Yet another will relocate with her daughter and infant son to be with their father, her husband, in rural Brazil soon. Their travels will be much more heartwrenching than mine. It is because of them and many more like us that I’ll happily incur the personal sacrifices to go to our nation’s capital to make good on the vision to make our stories known to the American government and public.

It’s why on Wednesday morning I will kiss my daughter and husband goodbye, leaving them with about $50 in our Mexican bank account, putting our fate into other hands now. The optimistic side of me, the one who knows how far we’ve come, agreed wholeheartedly with my Mexican brother-in-law last night when we were talking about what we were going to do this week, vetting every last misgiving down to the fear that our book could someday be used for some ill will. He said, “every good deed can be used for bad or for good, but you will never regret doing what you’ve done.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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.