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.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

One Tomorrow

People have been asking me if I saw Obama’s inaugural speech. I probably should, just to be “informed.” My not having seen it has less to do with me being a cynic than my not wanting to be let down again. Ever since his victory speech in 2008, I’ve been riding a hot air balloon with a slow leak.

Today, idealistic feet planted fully on the ground, even with rumors of impending immigration reform, I prefer not to entertain illusions of quick fixes to my family’s problem of a 10-year exile in Central Mexico. Even so, I just don’t have the heart to reveal the full extent of my reservations to my 90-year old grandmother. Her grandparents were immigrants from Germany, settling to farm in Central New York, much in the same way my father’s side of the family immigrated from Mexico a couple generations ago.

Last week my grandmother told me she really wanted to read our book. I wish I could snap my fingers and a publisher would pick it up this week. More than giving her the satisfaction of reading her favorite granddaughter’s story, it would help explain the tangled tale of why whatever immigration reform the administration is plotting probably won’t benefit my family and me.

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The author and her grandmother “GG”

Last night, she asked me about the inaugural speech. Did I see it? It was great. I told her no, that I’d rather just hear about the new laws getting passed than getting my hopes dashed again. That I wish he would stand up to corporations trying to milk our country dry of every last taxpayer dollar. I’d much prefer to hear about new initiatives passed investing in solar power than hear that Keystone XL is getting new rein in the Lower 48. But when she told me she wanted to send a letter to our senator, Chuck Schumer, I thought to myself, what could Chuck do at this point? We’re not a Dreamer in a university town with several thousand signatures behind us. We’re an unlikely unit of three: one Mexican man with a junior-high education who just wants to have meaningful work, one Ivy-League educated thirty-something, years away from her career and a toddler who might never go to school in her second country of citizenship. But I kept silent, because who am I to knock a great-grandmother’s undying optimism?

I share my grandmother’s hope, and the hope of millions: I want meaningful immigration laws passed, the kind that would allow my husband, daughter and me to return home to the U.S. together as a family. I’d rather see this happen than hearing for the umpteenth time that immigration reform is in the news, or surmise that Latinos are simply pawns in another political game. Our story is a part of the book Amor and Exile because I wanted to share our voice and illustrate an incredibly complex subject in that way that only a personal tale can. In the event that we cannot get our book to the public before the immigration reform debate happens, I’ll need to find another way to contribute to this debate.

But I’ll admit, I’m struggling to figure out how to do more than what I’ve already done. Championing immigration reform is a bittersweet battle for me. Although millions of youth and families like ours—and the U.S. economy—stand to benefit from immigration reform, because our family is suffering from a draconian time bar, the likelihood that we will benefit is very slim.

Of course I do allow opportunities for inspiration. I listened to part of that speech today, to Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem. His message of unity, of vision beyond the things that separate us struck a chord of kinship in me, even released some tears to cleanse my eyes that are frankly too young to be so chronically pessimistic. With this choice of poet, with this message of hope, I look forward to some choice actions taking the place of choice words on Capitol Hill this year. And in listening to this poet’s work, I am inspired to rise to the challenge of communicating exactly why it is that I can’t go home, and how, in an ideal world, my fellow citizens could help get me back there. I’ve always been a willing soldier of idealism, and I know there is a lot of work to do.

Maybe if I get to go back home to the U.S. with my family as a result of this next presidential term, I will watch that inaugural speech after all.

One tangle after another (with the native fauna)

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.

A Mexican Scorpion (from http://desert-scorpions.com/blog/)

“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.

Virtual Memory Lane (and border crossing)

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.

Our route south to Mexico

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.

The border crossing in Nogales

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.

THE dreaded parking lot in nogales

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.

Mazatlan (third night in Mexico after crossing the border)

Or something like that.