Uncomfortable contexts

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.

Writing in real time

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.

Last month I read a few of the posts by fellow exile bloggers that Nate put up on our blogroll. In reading The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez blog by Emily Cruz, I became aware of some nasty comments that had been made about American women who marry foreigners, in response to an article entitled “American-born wives married to U.S. deported or banned spouses band together via online networks,” in which Cruz was quoted. One of the commenters stooped low enough to say that women could love anything, including a ham sandwich. As a response, Cruz responded with a post entitled, “25 Things I Love About My Ham Sandwich,” a sweet homage to her partner.

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.

Us at home in Queretaro

 

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.

 

Considerations for writing a love exile memoir, Part 1

One of the objectives of this blog is to “document the lengthy, emotional and complex process of writing a book about immigration.” With the exception of my undying urge to get our story out, the day-to-day landscape of actually writing it is in a constant state of evolution (at least on my end—Nathaniel can tell you himself how it’s going for him). The first chapter (my arrival/situation in Mexico) was surprisingly straightforward to write compared to the one I’m on now—about when Margarito and I first met. The collaborative editing of my first chapter was demanding, but it was the part I liked best about the developing co-author relationship with Nathaniel. This chapter is much harder to get started, although I’d thought it’d be the easiest—I mean, how complicated can a “how we met” story be to tell?

Fairly complicated, it appears. On the practical side of things, it is farther back in time and I must rely more on memory and journal entries (10 years ago vs. these last few years). Thus it requires a great deal of effort to transport myself sufficiently to deliver an authentic rendition of that time and place, although it’s a task I’m starting to get the hang of. Photos, music, meditation, and just plain dedicated time are helping with that.

When Margo and I first became pals, Cinco de Mayo 2001

Then there’s the emotional side of things. Revisiting what we “used to have” up in the States vs. “what we’re limited to now” in Mexico creates a nostalgic perception of the past that threatens an objective view of the past and the tenuous equilibrium I’ve forged in the present. It’s also a challenge to separate how I analyze current happenings from how I consider the past and its influence on the present. In light of this, I’m experimenting with alternative ways to manage my current “stuff.” I normally journal to process my thoughts, which you don’t really need to be an exile or a parent to relate to. Unfortunately, on top of the book writing, it’s turning out to be an inundation of verbiage that’s becoming overwhelming to organize, especially since in my case almost anything in my life can become material for this book. Since I’ve got to stay on top of the stuff that’s constantly cropping up in the present (I’ve long since learned the perils of repression), and thanks to the advice of a support person I’m working with, art will be the new medium for present-day processing while working on past-tense chapters.

Which brings me to another creative technique I’m a little more apprehensive about, although my gut tells me it’s OK to just go with the flow for now: finding my place in the current literature of my genre (I’m not even sure what to call it—The love exile memoir?—as it mostly exists on the blogosphere or third-person in the media). Although Nate and I are not newbies to the written word, this is our first book, and so we are both experimenting with what works for us. On that note, I’ve decided that instead of irrigating my years-long drought of contact with other immigration love exiles like me (I describe this circumstantial isolation more in the book), I’m going to keep mostly to myself and not inundate myself with the stories of other people who have had to live through the experience of having a spouse deported or forced to make the choice to self-deport.

When I shared this tactic with Nate, he responded that keeping abreast of all the stories and political landscape is important to him. In my opinion, as a journalist covering a large subject matter like immigration, it makes absolute sense for him to approach his subject with a great deal of familiarity. My own subject, on the other hand, is the journey my husband and I have made from getting together in the States, self-deporting, and resettling in his country of birth. Now that I’m involved with this project and Nate’s tipped me off to the abundance of fellow love exiles’ websites, I crave spending time reading up on them, or meeting the people he’s writing about, or getting to know the faces behind the cases that keep popping up to the public light who are living a similar hell as I. However, not only are there ethical concerns with us keeping our sides of the storytelling separate, but there are only 24 hours in the day and as Nate and I have both agreed, we need to keep the distractions to a minimum. So I’ve made a difficult decision to prioritize my precious (new parent) energies and just keep my nose to the writing grindstone. I am, however, making a local exception—a mutual friend is introducing me to another love exile couple recently arrived here to Queretaro. Ironically, the woman’s father found me through Amor and Exile’s Facebook page before I even met his daughter. I’m looking forward to meeting our new neighbors.

Once the manuscript’s done, however, I am eager to get more active in the wider activist community, more than just posting a few links and making a few alliances here and there. After all, the immigrant rights movement is really taking off and God knows many families really stand to be affected by what pans out in this next expected reform period.