In Memory of Recently Departed Members of the Amor and Exile Community

A well-known Mexican tradition worldwide on November 1st is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The custom is one of inviting dead loved ones back into families’ homes for remembrance, honoring and celebration of their lives, at a time when the earthly “veil” between the living and the dead is thinner than usual, and with the help of various mystical and natural items such as marigold flowers, butterflies, and multicolored spirit animals – alebrijes – which assist the deceased in their travels and passage back to the land of the living.

This year, Dia de los Muertos lasted longer than one day for my family. In October, my longtime friend and family supporter, Shelley Whittall, a longtime Canadian expat in Querétaro, lost her years-long battle with cancer. In early November, my suegra (my husband Margo’s mother Sirenia) passed, after years of disabling illness after suffering a stroke in 2010. Our family was forced to mourn from a distance – on one hand, we were all ill with Covid at the time Sirenia passed. Also travel is not financially possible yet as we’re still recovering the costs of our relocation in 2022 and at a time when threats to government funding has led to financial uncertainty for many federal workers, including myself. Thankfully, modern technology allowed us to join virtually in memorials for Margo’s mamá, and to be able to help say goodbye and honor her life and memory from afar. We decided that as soon as we’re able, we’ll travel to Mexico to say goodbye to Sirenia and join the rest of the family in the extended grieving process. 

While recovering from both our illness and the loss of Margo’s family matriarch, more sad news arrived for the Amor and Exile community. 

Word of the passing of Joseph W. Lown, San Miguel de Allende-based real estate attorney, and former mayor of San Angelo, Texas, came this past week. JW and his partner’s story is also told in Amor and Exile

My family and I had the honor of meeting and befriend both JW and his partner in Central Mexico, years after Nathaniel interviewed and wrote about them, in the year after the book’s publishing and early US/Mexico book tour. They had made their home in San Miguel de Allende, and with such a small distance between the families, it was natural to cultivate a friendship. I was always inspired by Joseph and his partner’s bravery for making such a major life change in order to stay together, and was so happy when they were finally married in Mexico City. I am forever grateful for his presence when I conducted one of my first book talks at the library in downtown San Miguel de Allende, and for his generosity in hosting the group that gathered afterward at the Rosewood Hotel. I also found JW’s capacity for self-reinvention incredibly impressive – he later became a student of Mexican real estate law and founded and grew a company with his partner. He was a unique kind of friend in that way that only those who have also experienced immigration exile can be – empowered individuals seeking to flip the script on what it means to be in exile, but who are also regularly humbled by the dehumanizing power of immigration systems that have indelibly impacted our and millions of other lives. Himself a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (he had previously served in Bolivia), JW was a strong supporter of in my work in Mexico and the importance of the mission of world peace and friendship.

It goes without saying that the passing of these important individuals in our lives occurred in distinctly different circumstances. Doña Sirenia had 14 children and lived a long life of 84 years, most of it in poverty and hardship in rural Querétaro or the barrio. JW´s contrasting upbringing is detailed in the book, and although he may have at times experienced greater agency, sadly, he was only 47 when he died this past week. Differing circumstances notwithstanding, both of them were deeply motivated by God, and the impact of both of their departures is felt in ripples across various different communities in both Mexico and the US. 

Doña Sirenia was our daughter’s Mexican abuelita, and she loved her dearly although a stroke she’d suffered the year she was born limited the extent of their interaction. My own family was lucky to spend some time with her in the years prior. When I published The Bajío’s Bounty, a collection of altiplano recipes and Mexican native food plant lore in 2009, I held a tamale-making workshop at our home that my suegra lent her expertise to. I shared a bit of her story and the significance that Margo’s return to Mexico had for her early in Amor and Exile. 

JW and his partner’s story is a unique, gripping, frustrating, but also inspiring tale of two men who also ultimately chose autonomy over alienation in charting their course together, vs separately, south of the border. 

In returning to the passages about them in the pages of the book, and in reflecting on our recent losses, we are compelled to note the unfortunate passing of yet another individual profiled in the book since its publication. Also earlier in 2023, David Miranda, partner to American journalist Glenn Greenwald, died at the tragically young age of 37, in Brazil. 

My instinct has been to try and glean some meaning from the loss of these important people, but it’s challenging. Each selflessly traded in their own personal comfort, well-being, even safety, in support of their partners / family members. Despite having lived circumstances that differed from a more “typical” outcome of separation and hardship, they weren’t completely free of the ongoing challenges that families impacted by immigration regularly face. In their passing, we’ve lost people who put others first, and lifted them up. By telling, and re-telling their stories, amplifying the lights that they shone so brightly, we can at minimum contribute to the honoring of their memories, to the celebration of their lives, and to cast their examples of the type of love we want so steadfastly to see more of in the world. 

To that end, below is a small patchwork of passages from Amor and Exile, in their memory. May they rest in peace, and power, and may their memories burn brightly into the future. Que descansen en paz y poder y que su memoria se ilumina en el futuro.   

In remembrance of Sirenia Lopez Vargas, d. November 6, 2023 (from Chapter 2, Welcome to Exile, by Nicole

One morning while sitting on the whitewashed, sloping roof scattered with stray cat scat, similar roofs all about me, I noticed a peculiar sight in the air—like a dangling little toy. It was a Monarch butterfly fluttering overheard. A light breeze would push it upward or downward, but then the delicate creature would keep surging forward. Another, and another appeared, and looking farther around I realized that thousands of Monarchs were flying over the city in their annual migration from the Great Lakes, over the Continental Divide and into Central Mexico. They were headed to the Santuarios Mariposa Monarca, butterfly reserves in the mountains of Michoacán only a few hours (by car) from where I sat. I wished I could follow them. What I really wanted, rather idealistically, was perfect communication with Margo and for my culture shock and frustrations to disappear. That, unfortunately, was not destined to happen overnight, if ever.


The only people in my new life in Mexico with whom I never got into a conflict were one sister-in-law, one brother-in-law and my mother-in-law. Mi suegra. I tried to emulate her endless optimism and endurance. 

I helped her water the cacti and geraniums she kept in old coffee cans and the chile pepper bushes in five-gallon paint buckets stacked precariously on the upstairs courtyard wall. I’d look at the picture of Jesus on the far wall of the drab front sitting room; the altars were the only places where she put vases of flowers. I’d listen to her chanting verses from the Bíblia after she’d argued with one of her drunk sons. 

I’d go in and sit next to her in her room while she complained of her high blood pressure and her knee pain. Part of me wanted a closer relationship, but apart from the fact that she had thirteen children of her own, we also had many divergent views. I was more like my own parents—“recovering Catholics”—and wouldn’t accompany her to her favorite activity, misa. Previous sermons I’d attended in Mexico were filled with messages about accepting poverty and women’s submission. Margo had been even more rebellious as a kid, even if it meant being pulled around by his ears and whipped with wires. 

But my suegra and I had much in common on the subjects of food, herbs and a love for the outdoors. It was harder for her to move around, but I could make tamales with her or pick things up from the market for her. 

Years later, after she had her stroke while I was away in New York, I came back to the sight of her lying on her bed, her entire left side paralyzed. She looked up at me, her face crumpled into tears and she said, “I don’t want to be like this.” So I put aside my rage about the failings of the Mexican government’s medical system and made Arnica massage oil for her from the flowers in my back yard. With Margo at my side, himself paralyzed by his own inability to convince his father to attend to his mother’s needs, I rubbed it into her dry, wrinkled arms and feet, covered with the sunspots of seventy decades in the hills, half wishing it was my own arthritic grandmother. 

Then she confessed to me: “I think I did this to myself, all those years of work.” And I responded, “No, it was not your fault, but please just let others take care of you now.” I remembered a story she’d told me about how her father hadn’t let the sisters take her to the convent although she’d wanted them to when she was a little girl. Her rigid Catholicism is now to me just a shared spirituality, just as we share our love for Margo. I think of her face when she saw Margo that first night after his five years of absence: “Dios mío, ya estás aquí.” And when things got bad enough, I let her best habit rub off on me. I started to do something my own mother long ago advised me to do, no matter the spirit I chose: I prayed.

In remembrance of David Miranda, d. May 2023 (from Ch. 10, Legal Strangers, by Nathaniel)

Glenn Greenwald, the popular civil liberties blogger at The Guardian and a former civil rights attorney, earned permanent residency in Brazil through his Brazilian partner David Michael Miranda. Greenwald met Miranda in 2004, during a vacation in Brazil, as he contemplated getting out of lawyering and getting into journalism. Miranda, who grew up in poverty, had never been to the United States and had very little chance of getting a visa. But Greenwald set up shop in Brazil, established his blog, and applied for same-sex partner immigration benefits. Brazil is, in many ways, quite conservative—it’s an overwhelmingly Catholic country that was run by a military dictatorship until 1985. But since 2003, Brazil has allowed permanent partners,

regardless of gender, to apply for immigration benefits. According to Greenwald, it was viewed as a humanitarian issue, not a gay rights issue. Denial of immigration benefits to certain Brazilian citizens was seen as discriminatory.

“Congress is not going to vote to even get close to issuing federal benefits to same-sex couples

because it has the stench of legalizing same-sex marriage in their eyes,” Greenwald said of the United States. In Brazil, immigration authorities just want to know if you have a legit partner or not. “You have to provide a ton of documentation to demonstrate that your relationship is the spousal equivalent of a married couple,” Greenwald said. 

Greenwald had to show that he and Miranda lived together, maintained joint bank accounts, appeared on one another’s wills and had to provide sworn affidavits from Brazilian citizens who knew them as a legitimate couple. They also had a home inspection by an immigration official. Greenwald was able to stay and work for three years, while their application was considered and then granted. 

In the meantime, Miranda is now in graduate school studying corporate communications, or “propaganda,” as it’s called in Brazil. He has obtained a tourist visa for the United States and can accompany Greenwald on short visits. Greenwald said that they would like to live in the United States at some point, as it would be convenient for his work as a frequent television and radio commentator. But they are also happy in Brazil. He also does not want to be a poster child for same-sex couples in exile, though he writes about it from time to time.

Greenwald, a frequent critic of President Obama’s continued War on Terror policies and other federal issues, says that the Obama administration’s refusal to defend DOMA is one of the best things the administration has done. The courts will overturn the law and immigration judges will be able to grant spousal benefits to same-sex couples, he says. But granting same-sex couples immigration benefits will also bring gay couples parity on the exile front. 

In remembrance of Joseph W. Lown, d. November 19, 2023 (from Chapters 1, Love in the Time of Deportation & 10,  Legal Strangers, by Nathaniel)

The relationship began as a class project of sorts. For Gabriel, it began a bit earlier. He first met J.W. Lown at a party for the international students at Angelo State. J.W., then in his third term as mayor of San Angelo, a mid-sized city in West Central Texas, was the guest of honor. Gabriel met J.W. briefly at the party and became good friends with the mayor’s assistant, a fellow student. Gabriel is not his real name and some details of this story will be left out to protect the privacy of his family. A semester later, in February 2009, Gabriel took a speech class and one of his assignments was to interview someone whose job he might like to have. He thought of J.W. and emailed the former mayoral assistant, who had since transferred to another university. Gabriel asked for a phone number for the mayor but got an email address instead. He emailed a request for the interview and within a few days, J.W. called him. “One day when I was walking to my room he called… and he’s like, ‘I can’t do a personal interview but we can have it over the phone.’ So I’m like, OK,” Gabriel recalled. Gabriel asked the mayor to give him a few minutes, ran up to his room and opened his notebook, where he had already outlined his questions. They got through the questions but it did not go that well. “Throughout the interview I felt that he was not very comfortable,” Gabriel said. Gabriel sent a thank you note to the mayor along with a photo from the party the semester prior, to remind J.W. that they had once met. J.W. wrote back thanking him for the thank you note. This exchange may seem very formal and awkward, but for Joseph “J.W.” Lown it was just the way things were done. 

J.W. grew up quickly in San Angelo, taking charge of his family estate as a teenager, after his mother got sick with cancer and died. He learned how to manage money and properties and other society skills as well: golf, how to sit on antique chairs, how to work a room. On the other hand, J.W.’s youth was not completely sheltered. His family experienced some hard times in the 1980s and he spent two and a half years in the Peace Corps, living in impoverished rural Bolivia. When he decided to become the mayor of his hometown at twenty-six years old, J.W. sought out constituents on both sides of the river in San Angelo. J.W. keeps a bank of file cabinets in the shop on his ranchito in Christoval, a small town twenty minutes south of San Angelo. The cabinets are full of correspondence from his six years as mayor. He saved every note from every gadfly, second grader, clergyman and critic who wrote to him. And he wrote back to every single one. J.W. maintained a mayoral calendar that took him to more than 1,500 civic events a year. And he was just a ceremonial mayor, with a salary of $600 a year. J.W. says he dislikes politics, but he is a natural-born politician. He liberally dispenses hugs and handshakes, remembers random anecdotes about his constituents and genuinely cares about his neighbors. 

And so when a Mexican student from the college asked for an interview, it was not strange in the least that J.W. agreed and then followed up with a note. The next weekend after the interview, when he called Gabriel again, he may have been pushing it, but J.W. insists it was still common courtesy or a form of Southern hospitality. He just wanted to know how the project had turned out, but Gabriel had yet to turn it in. J.W. recalls that it must have been on Sunday because someone had canceled a dinner date with him and he suggested that Gabriel join him at Cheddar’s, a Texas comfort food franchise, and ask a few more questions. J.W. picked him up at his apartment and they went to grab a bite—just to talk. “That wasn’t a date, that was just taking an interest in how his project unfolded,” J.W. said. Gabriel was interested in politics and had considered becoming a politician in Mexico. He asked J.W. a few more questions for his homework assignment. Then J.W. asked him what he was doing to help the community. Gabriel actually did a lot of community work, in part out of gratitude for the multiple scholarships that allowed him to go to Angelo State. He worked with a faith-based drug and alcohol abuse program and he volunteered at the multicultural center at the college. He also gave free salsa lessons and mentioned this as well. J.W. grew animated, talking about his time in Bolivia and his taste for Latin music. Gabriel thought the mayor was interesting and he was happy to get to know him a bit. J.W. and his sister Alicia showed up at the next salsa class and had a good time. They went out to eat again after that class and started spending more time together. 

J.W. told Gabriel that he was attracted to him and Gabriel took some time to think about it. He did not think about it very long. “It quickly became quite a pressure cooker,” J.W. said. “We probably spent two to three weeks together and really felt a relationship.” In some ways the relationship was a first for both of them. J.W. realized he was gay while in the Peace Corps and had dated men for a few years, though he never had a serious relationship. Gabriel was attracted to men but had always dated girls—he was struggling with his sexuality when he met J.W. “I didn’t see any reason to tell everyone, ‘Hey I’m gay,’” Gabriel said. But that was before he met J.W. “When I met Joseph and we started dating then I was like, ‘OK, so I won’t be lying to anyone about my sexuality,’” Gabriel said. He told his friends, mostly other international students, and they supported him.

As J.W. and Gabriel fell more deeply for one another, they were both fully immersed in their respective worlds as well. Gabriel was a serious student and athlete who had midterms coming up and lots of extracurricular activities. J.W. was in the midst of a re-election campaign. It was his fourth and he did not face any real opposition, but he took running for public office very seriously and had lots of work to do. A few weeks into their relationship, J.W. confided in his political mentor that he was dating someone, but gave few details. Gabriel had told J.W. that he was living in the United States illegally. He had crossed the border at fifteen years old in order to further his education—to finish high school in Texas and maybe go on to college. Texas is among a handful of states that allow undocumented students who graduate from state high schools to attend college at in-state tuition rates, so Gabriel went on to study at Angelo State.

J.W. knew this was a huge piece of information. He was a public figure, an official who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. He went back to his mentor, Mario Castillo, a San Angelo native who had introduced J.W.’s parents to one another and then went on to work on Capitol Hill. Castillo is now a very well-connected Washington, D.C., lobbyist and he made a few calls for J.W., including to an immigration attorney. They were told that J.W. could not do anything about Gabriel’s status and that the mayor could face charges for “harboring an illegal alien” or other offenses. 

“At that moment I realized I had to make a decision—politics or Gabriel,” J.W. said. He decided to break off the relationship before it became public. It was a week before the election. J.W. went to Gabriel’s apartment and told him they couldn’t see each other anymore. It felt like sticking a knife in his own heart, he said, but he did not see any other way. Gabriel was crushed as well. He called some friends from the city a few hours away where he had attended high school and they picked him up. He laid low for the weekend, read a good book and sent J.W. a text, congratulating him on his fourth win. When Gabriel got back to San Angelo, there was a letter waiting for him. J.W. wrote and told him that he wanted to be with him but that it was very complicated. In all, he mailed three letters that week between the election and his swearing in. “In the letters I said please work with me. I’m in the middle of a very difficult situation. I love you. I care about you deeply… I can’t be an official and be with you,” J.W. recalled. Gabriel wrote back and told J.W. he trusted him and that he knew he had to figure out what to do. “It’s his decision—just like when he broke up with me,” Gabriel said. “I cannot think for him. We each have to make our own decisions.” “It was like we were oceans apart, and we were in the same town,” J.W. said. 

By the third letter the two had hatched a plan. It was tentative but it was a plan. J.W. continued to make inquiries about getting a green card or student visa for Gabriel. He told his childhood friend what was going on but no one else. He did not see Gabriel, but Gabriel was the only thing on his mind that week, despite the headlines and the speeches and the post-campaign wrap-up. They would have to find a way to be together.


Even if DOMA is overturned or if the Uniting American Families Act passes Congress, couples like J.W. and Gabriel—with three and ten year bars—will still be kept out of the country, just as Nicole and Margo are. J.W. and Gabriel are not in a rush to move back to Texas, but they would like to go home to J.W.’s ranch and spend Christmas with his sister and many dear friends. J.W. is not in a rush to get back into politics either, but he would like the option and many of his former constituents would like him to return as well. “It would be nice to have the flexibility to make a life with Gabriel in the United States, but this is the second best option,” he said. In many ways, same-sex binational couples have made more progress on the immigration front than any other group of immigrant families. They will most likely win access to immigration benefits and all of the other federal benefits that DOMA denies them in the near future. But as long as the three-year, ten-year and permanent bars remain, it’s still a race to nowhere for Gabriel and Ottie and their American families.

A Journey North, Amidst the Rhizosphere

Girl pictured in pink circle, crowned by monarchs and flowers
I’ve had an announcement I’ve been trying to make for some time now, one of those once in a lifetime kind of bits of news that deserve a proper time, place, and style. BUT since this new reality is hurtling toward us with a seemingly daily accelerating pace, unforgivingly preventing me from doing things “as imagined” and obliging the precedence of a raw “get ‘er done” mindset, the time has come to reveal this new chapter:
Farewell cupcakes
Our little trio is simultaneously thrilled, terrified, and appreciative to announce that after 16 years of life south of the border, and almost 3 years since we finally became free to choose which of our two countries of origin we could all legally reside in, we will be departing our lovely home in querido Queretaro and heading northward in relocation to the DC/MD/VA area, where I have accepted and been cleared to take on a new role with my agency (Peace Corps) headquarters in our nation’s capital, starting early October.
The irony is not lost on us that we will be moving north in the same exact month as we first migrated south 16 years ago, we may even cross paths with some southbound Monarchs on the way. As much as I would like to write for hours about what this opportunity means and will mean to our family (immediate, extended, friends, colleagues, and collaborators, plants, and animals), the truth is that despite an initially slow burning process that began several months ago, the nature of the move has abruptly accelerated in a way that is already affecting the way we will be able to say hasta luego. I hope that our friends near and far can forgive us when I say that if there were another way we would, but our process of outbound transition may end up ongoing, remotely, once we’re settled safely in the northlands (as heard somewhere – winter is coming).
There are countless places and people to whom I/we are eternally grateful for their role in making Queretaro a home and safe haven for the last 16 years. From the sanctuary of our home, to the dry forests and sky islands of Amealco, Zamorano, and the Sierra Gorda, to the friends’ homes and communities that bejewel these lovely highland slopes, there were always endless new horizons to discover, foods to try, cultural traditions to learn, friendly faces and conversation, and those are the things that we will always keep close in our hearts. In fact, the necessary process of letting go in order to make way for the new has been particularly more challenging, than I ever, ever could have imagined, even at the time when I correctly predicted, over 17 years ago, that “if I could last 10 years in Mexico, perhaps by then I might not even need to go back.”
And the truth is, I was right after all. As a result of needing to make things work for at least the 10 years we had to reside here in order to apply for Margo’s U.S. legal residency, we found ways to be happy during most of that time. But now, for the first time, more than a need or an obligation, it’s a choice, which is what we were ultimately looking for. We can’t say yet if it it will be the right choice, or what the future will hold, but as we did back in 2006, we can say for sure that we are following our hearts.
In the last few weeks the “hasta luego” process has gotten underway, and despite how mixed my feelings still remain about it, yesterday in the company of my coworkers at Peace Corps Mexico, a place where I’ve been blessed with gifts of subsistence, shared mission, solidarity, and friendships, I was able to crystallize some thought around this process. It is hard to capture the level to which I have been both honored and humbled by the words, kindness, and experiences that have been afforded to me in the nearly 13 years that I have collaborated with the organization, which I hope to represent well in my new role at a global level.
Despite the challenge of putting these complex feelings and thoughts into words, I tried my hardest to invoke the spirit of what I want to convey, and this is what I said:

“The Rhizosphere” by Nicole Salgado, Sep 2, 2022

The Rhizosphere, Mex.

This past weekend’s mushroom walk in Xajay (led by a local ethnomycologist), gave me unexpected inspiration that still permeated my imagination for days after we returned from the several mile hike under the forested canopy of a communal property in the indigenous community of Amealco. The term that stuck with me and wove itself into my thoughts, much like the subterranean universe of threadlike roots and mycelia that it refers to, was “rizósfera,” or rhizosphere.
In the days since the walk, my mind’s been searching for a way to integrate the multitude of thoughts and feelings about our imminent new adventure we are embarking on in a matter of weeks, but was continually unable to do so. I had tried to follow the advice of a good friend who once said, “write what you want to know,” but when I asked myself that, I just drew blanks. The night before the “hasta luego activity,” I had written a whole speech, but as I was getting ready to leave for work, a new idea began to coalesce, not unlike rock candy, around an apt metaphor for the complex nature of our current situation. And by the time we were on our way to the office, it occurred to me why it had been so hard for me to wrap my head around and make sense of the conflicted feelings I’ve been having about “moving north.”
It’s the rhizosphere.
You see, the roots I’ve grown did not begin with Peace Corps Mexico, although they certainly flourished there. The roots did not begin with raising a child here in Querétaro, nor even with building a home by hand here, though those are certainly massive taproots that have sunk pretty deeply and have anchored us tightly. They didn’t begin back in the SF Bay Area in the early 2000s when I met and fell in love with my Querétaro born husband and began creating community with Mexican paisanos who were also living in “el extranjero.”
They didn’t begin when I traveled to Latin America during college, or had Chicano professors, or when I read bird books with maps detailing habitat ranges extending into Mexico, though that often inspired me to think southward. They didn’t even start when I was born, in NY, to a mom whose family had deep roots of their own – a long line of farmers of German-Irish ancestry, and to my Dad, a San Diego born Chicano northern forest transplant in his own right. My Mexican roots didn’t even start with my Mexican grandparents, from the northwest border region.
My roots, and a great deal of roots for those of us born or who’ve ever lived in North America, have at least some origin in the Mexican rhizosphere. The same earth that gave life to fungi under the ancestral oak and pine forests of Central Mexico, later gave rise to oaks radiating out into all of North America. These oaks formed part of the subsistence diet of future generations of many first peoples. The Mexican rhizosphere also gave rise to teosinte, which, along with the other two sisters calabaza y frijoles, also in the care of generations of first peoples, gave rise to maize, becoming the dietary center and veritable radiating sun of Mesoamerica and even south – a place once called Turtle Island, which we now call North America, or simply, home.
Mexico, and my country of origin, are now considered separate nations, but they were once one. And in a way, through the rhizosphere and all its brethren, they still are. I can share more of my Mexico and PCM story later, and I guarantee it will be filled with praise, admiration, and appreciation for the trust placed in me by colleagues, Volunteers and collaborating communities, with whom I’ve worked for the last 13 years. I have learned and shared so much.
But for now, I understand, and I can say out loud, why my soul struggles so fiercely with imminent departure. It’s because my deepest instincts, the ones that go beyond my five senses, have experienced and connected with the homeland of all homelands – the Mexican rhizosphere, the birthplace and center of North American civilization. So I will resolve to carry and tell the beauty of Mexico with me wherever I go, but in actuality, it won’t be too hard, because although I didn’t fully realize it, or how, it was always already a part of me.
Note: Views expressed are those of the author and not of the U.S. Peace Corps.

eCornell Keynote with Amor and Exile co-authors, 7/7

Cornell University Sage Hall

In a virtual homecoming of sorts, Nicole and Nathaniel, both ’99 Cornell alumni, will speak with Christopher Wofford, producer, in an eCornell Keynote, on July 7, 2021, at 2 pm EDT. They’ll address what compelled them to write and publish Amor and Exile in 2013, how very little has changed since then – aside from more affected families – and legislative reform opportunities on the table in 2021. 

Learn more and register early here.

Don’t miss this exciting event co-sponsored by eCornell, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Migrations Global Grand Challenge, the first of its kind at Cornell, and the College of Agriculture and Life Science. See you there!



Nicole to Speak at Democrats Abroad Immigration Reform Panel, 3/25

Nicole Salgado, co-author of Amor and Exile, will speak as part of a panel on immigration reform hosted by Democrats Abroad on Thursday, March 25, 2021, at 2:30-3:30pm Eastern Time (US & Canada). Nicole will talk about her experience in immigration exile, as well as the need to include mixed-status families like hers in immigration reform efforts, like the American Families United Act, the Citizenship Act of 2021, or the Senate versions of bills that just passed the House. Join us!

You can sign up to attend here:

The event livestream and recording is found on the Democrats Abroad Facebook page


In solidarity with event speakers, and in the spirit of building public awareness about the impact of immigration bans on families like Nicole and Margo’s in a time when it’s crucial to contact your legislators, we made the Kindle version of Amor and Exile available for free this week, from Thursday, March 25th until Saturday, March 27th. You can download the Kindle version at this link: The paperback version is available via our page on Amazon.


DA Event 3.25.21
Speaker Panel for Democrats Abroad Immigration Reform Webinar, 3/25/21

From the event website: The Immigration Reform package presented by President Biden can create a better and more stable future for millions of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, but it will require efforts from all of us. This month two key immigration bills are going through the House: the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Join us for a discussion on these two bills and topics related to them. We will take a closer look and discuss actions we could take with the help of our guest speakers. This event is hosted by the Global Hispanic Caucus, in partnership with the AAPI, LGBTQ and Youth Caucuses, DA Canada, DA Spain and DA Germany. 

Tell Your Elected Officials: Include Mixed Status Families in Immigration Reform

Last fall, the American Families United Act was sponsored by Congressional Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX). This March, although the AFU Act had not yet reached the House floor, the Dream and Promise Act and the Farmworker Modernization Act were passed in the House last week, both without amendments to include undocumented spouses of American citizens. While these bills are very helpful for millions of undocumented immigrants, it’s important for legislators to realize that many American families — if an undocumented spouse is subject to a 1996-era immigration ban — can be driven underground, separated, or forced into exile, much like Nicole and her husband were. In an effort to increase public awareness and demand Congress address this issue, affected U.S. citizens like Nicole are making their voices heard, so that their families are included in immigration reform.

Learn more about the American Families United Act at their website or Facebook page. 

Amor and Exile co-author to return from exile with family

QUERÉTARO, México | RALEIGH, N. Carolina

Nicole Salgado, co-author of the book Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, will travel to the United States next week for the first time with her whole family, including her American citizen daughter and her husband Margarito (Margo) Resendiz. Margo was finally granted an immigrant visa last October, 14 years after the pair voluntarily departed the U.S. together in 2006, to live in exile in his home state of Querétaro, México. 

“It’s hard to believe this day is finally here,” said Salgado, “When my husband and I got engaged over 18 years ago, I never would have believed that it would have taken this long for him to hold legal status alongside me.” 

Reséndiz stated simply, ”I’m ready to return with my family, and have been for a long time.” 

Amor and Exile, co-written with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman and published in 2013, tells of love that transcends borders—a story shared by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens. In it, Salgado gave a first-person account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her tortured decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile and starting over together in Mexico. Nathaniel Hoffman, the book’s co-author and communications  manager at Define American said: “It was shocking to me, even as an immigration reporter, and to many of our readers, that Nicole and Margo had to leave the U.S. if they wanted to be together, that there was no legal path for them as a couple. I’m thrilled that they can now return together as a family.”

In the six years since the book was published and delivered to every member of Congress, Salgado continued living in México with her husband and their 9 year-old daughter, and working as an environmental education specialist, occasionally giving book talks, and befriending fellow Americans in Mexico. Margo is a craftsman and shares in the care of their daughter “Bea” who is excited but also understandably nervous about traveling to the U.S. for the first time with her dad. Salgado’s parents, Ron and Deb, based in North Carolina, have also endured their daughter’s long exile and the fact that their only granddaughter has lived in Mexico since birth: “To say that we are excited that our family can finally be reunited in the U.S. would be an understatement. We are happy and relieved the wait is over and looking forward to spending more time with our granddaughter, daughter and son-in-law. It’s been a hardship for all of us in both countries to be separated for so long.”

Despite marrying Reséndiz in California in 2004, Salgado eventually learned that the only way to overcome her husband’s previous unauthorized entry to the U.S. was to leave the country for at least 10 years. And the only way to keep their marriage together was to go with him. After twelve years in Mexico, Margo applied for a waiver of ineligibility, which was approved in 2018. The pair then waited another year – until October of 2019 – for a shot at a visa interview in Ciudad Juarez, the only location in Mexico for permanent resident applicant interviews. 

The couple is represented by immigration lawyer Laura Fernandez, who, according to Nicole, “played a vital role in our case.” Fernandez, based in Milwaukee, WI, states: “Cases like Margo and Nicole’s that end “positively” are relatively rare because very few applicants make the big, difficult decision to depart the United States knowing they will spend more than 10 years waiting for a chance to apply for their green card. Others end up in this situation accidentally, due to receiving poor legal advice and departing without knowing how long they will be banned. Thus, similarly situated applicants end up splitting up or divorcing due to the strain on the relationship and the financial hardship this situation almost indefinitely creates. Nicole and Margo made the best of a difficult situation and then took all the proper, albeit complicated steps to resolve their situation once they were able to do so.”

Salgado and Reséndiz´s good news is tempered by the fact that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans are still driven underground in the U.S. or exiled out of the country with their undocumented immigrant spouses. Salgado is an active member of American Families United, an advocacy organization made up of and supporting American citizens like her, which has worked to introduce bills to Congress that would ease their legal predicaments. Through her book authorship, her AFU activity, and online forums, Salgado has met or virtually met many people in similar situations who are fighting to keep their families together or bring them back to the U.S. 

One good friend Nicole made in Querétaro soon after publishing Amor and Exile also recently returned to the U.S. – Heather Ruark and her family. Ruark, originally from Virginia, was also exiled after her own husband’s visa overstay from years ago. In 2019 her husband was finally granted his visa, after first being denied. “After an incredibly bittersweet goodbye last summer, the evening before flying into the USA, our family is relieved that Nicole and Margo will also be able to live in the United States as well,” Ruark stated, “and we look forward to remaining friends and fighting for other U.S. citizens to be with their families in the States.”

En route to Ciudad Juarez for Margo’s interview, they flew through Monterrey, Mexico, where they met an American woman from Chicago who, along with her two American children, is exiled permanently due to her husband’s lifetime ban for a childhood unauthorized entry. While in Ciudad Juarez, Salgado virtually met Edgar Falcon, fellow AFU member, El Paso native, and now resident-in-exile of Ciudad Juarez where he lives with his Mexican wife and dual citizen child. Randall Emery, President of AFU, had this to say about Nicole and Margo’s decades-long case: “We’re thrilled that Nicole is finally able to return home with her family. Her story is a testament to marriage and family, and an indictment of broken immigration law that strips U.S. citizens of their most fundamental rights.”     

For more information, please see “Amor and Exile in the Media” or visit the American Families United website

Juarez Serenade

On October 21st, 2019, our family experienced a thousand lives in one day, literally and vicariously. From where I sat at Pancake Paradise, for two hours from 7:45 to 10 am, I watched hundreds of families walk up and down the stairs leading to the pedestrian bridge over the boulevard along which lies the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, where my husband’s fate (and my, my daughter’s, and many other loved ones of people being interviewed that day) would be determined as a result of a 5 to 30 minute conversations along a bank-teller style counter with at least 20 would-be applicants lined up shoulder to shoulder at any given time, the culmination, for many, of decades-long waits, or perhaps a couple years’ bid after a routine marriage or other important family event Stateside.

The lead up to this event was nothing short of life changing, and seemingly lifelong. After 18 years together, 15 years married, 13 years living in Mexico, 5 years since we’d been approved for a spousal visa, and over a  year since my husband’s waiver had been approved, Margo finally stood at the consular window to answer questions and ultimately, defend his right to a permanent resident visa as my legal spouse. 

It was a complex and stressful preparation for the approach to Mexico’s northern border with the U.S., to say the least, that involved reams of paperwork, scans, lawyer texts, emails, affadavits, letters of support, almost too lengthy of a process to mention in detail. But throughout it all, I never allowed myself to stray too far from the present moment. To do so would be to fall into the chasm of anxiety in which I once found myself, but pulled myself out of, when Margo and I first approached the border in September 2006, that time to leave the U.S.

But in a way our bid to a journey north has had similar aspects to our journey south. We found and made many friends along the way. On separate occasions during our two trips to Mexico City and on a layover in Monterrey, we met up with 6 friends who helped to humanize our experience while our lives were being scrutinized under the governmental magnifying glass.

Amigos along the way
Amigos along the way




Preparing for both the best and the worst at the same time makes for an intense time for any family, and our experience was no exception. But we managed to eke out some moments of quality time in between medical and biometric appointments, whether in the company of friends, at free museums, trying out BBQ made by repatriates, or by sharing innumerable toasts to our good luck. 

Familia Time

I can’t speak for Margo, and I’m not a religious person, but I guess I must be somewhat spiritual because I did try to find a greater meaning in our journey at every turn, and even opened myself up to the possibility of help from a higher power in a few occasions – whether from the ancient sanctuary in Atotonilco or in a reading of the Tarot of the Spirit. I gathered strength from the four elements – special stones, my living totems, seeds, and colorful fruits of the prickly pears in the botanical garden not far from the hotel, all of which lifted our mood despite an otherwise drab setting.

For our three days in Juarez though, Margo and I would go it alone. While we were in our hotel, on the plane, in waiting rooms, and while I was waiting for Margo to come down off that bridge, I journaled and recorded my myriad thoughts and feelings about the experience. I have been hoping that I could share those words with our followers, or with folks who are new to our story, similar to how I shared the experience of waiting to cross the border in 2006, and how it impacted us. I haven’t found the time yet, but I hope it won’t be long before I do.  It was a unique experience, one that has been mostly disillusioning, but one that has also affirmed my belief in people’s freedom of movement. We are all or have been migrants at one time or another, and to try and stanch the movement of people is akin to trying to stop the flow of life. 

When I finally saw Margo coming down off that bridge, after a little over 2 hours that felt like 2 days, I ran out to the street, leaving my plate and purse behind in Pancake Paradise, calling out to the waiter that I’d be right back.  I’m sure it wasn’t the first time for him. But when Margo approached me, he wore a long face, and told me that “They almost didn’t give it to me.” The long story short is that Margo was granted his resident visa that day. It was a close call – after talking to the agent for 30 minutes she handed him a blue slip that meant he was denied – because for some reason they didn’t have a record of his waiver, and told him he needed one. Luckily, I had prepped Margo extensively the day before on the contents of his files, and he knew to ask them why they didn’t have his waiver, when he had been approved for that already. After disappearing for 10 long minutes, the agent came back, printed out a green slip, and told Margo he’d been approved. He can’t remember if there was an apology for the mixup. There was a small snafu with the package that was ultimately resolved, but a week after that fateful appointment, Margo finally held his long-awaited visa in his hand.

Visa in handBack in Pancake Paradise, for some reason, maybe to ground ourselves, the first place I said I wanted to go was to the border itself. We wandered through a park adjoining the international zone, where likely asylum applicants were camped out waiting their turn to apply for their turn.  After a couple dazed hours of recovering from the shock of the experience, celebratory imbibement started to flow.  My joy was quickly sobered by a stroll up onto the Paso del Norte International bridge, where the miles of chain link, razor wire, and the Rio Grande channeled into a concrete trickle immediately reminded me of the often insurmountable barrier that’s been built in the path of traditional movement of people, animals, plants, and water – life in general – in the name of security.

Just the day before, at the tamales festival in the local park, we had encountered a young man from the L’pai N’de community, whose people traversed these lands freely since prior to both American and Spanish colonial arrivals, in a time pre-dating international borders, where living things followed more permeable biogeographical boundaries. He talked of his his people’s struggles for recognition and for access rights to their ancestral lands, and acknowledged his own fears for their existence. It was yet another pause for reflection on the topic of land ownership, sovereign nations, and the collateral damage in between the contours. 

This may never happen, but until I’m convinced that our country is fighting for the safety of its own citizens and the worlds’ peoples, I will not cease to believe that a militarized border is a symbol of selfishness, hypocrisy, immeasurable privilege and mistrust. Despite the fact that every U.S. citizen is a de facto owner of such a system, most of us are still received with open arms in most other countries, who correctly intuit that a country’s people are more than their nation’s xenophobic symbols and representatives.

Considering that in the 13 years that it took for my husband to finally be granted an open door to his wife and daughter’s birthright, I am eternally grateful to Mexico for not having closed its doors on me and our daughter. We are also forever appreciative of the friends and family who have buoyed and tethered us on this vast intercontinental journey, and who will likely continue to do so, as the story isn’t over. My hope is that one day, every person who is seeking entry to a country where they want to make a contribution with their life can do so with liberty and respect. Until then, this song is for them.

The list: for a former sister-in-exile

In the going on 13 years I’ve been in Mexico, we’ve had to say “goodbye” to several good friends who have moved “back north” or elsewhere. In Amor and Exile, I wrote about a variety of different reasons that other expats end up down here in Querétaro and the solidarity we have being foreigners who’ve chosen to relocate here.

We hosted a reunion gathering of sorts last month when one of our dear friends who moved back to the States a few years ago finally was able to come back and visit. Kind of a big sister figure to a few of us, it was great to have her and her family here, reminisce about when our kids were toddlers and besties together, and that feeling of sisterhood while raising a family in a foreign country.

Around the same time we were hosting our good friends who were in town for the weekend, we were saying a different kind of goodbye to some other dear friends who had an immigration exile situation very similar to ours, but who finally got their break to return as a family this past summer.

Heather and Horacio (H2) met over a decade ago in Georgia, fell in love and decided to get married and start a family. As fate would have it, Horacio, also from Central Mexico (San Luis Potosí) experienced legal challenges to an adjustment of status due to having overstayed and working while on a tourist visa to the U.S. Heather ended up accompanying Horacio down to México as I had Margo. We both actually lived in Querétaro for several years without knowing it, but didn’t meet each other until we published Amor and Exile, Heather found the blog, and reached out to try and make contact.

To make a long story short, H2 didn’t have to apply for one but two waivers. Their first was an I-212, similar to ours that we applied for last June and got approved last September; and their second (an I-601) was precipitated by a torturous sort of double jeopardy penalty handed out late in his application process, at the end of his 2nd visa interview last year.

We had been waiting right alongside H2 , first for the visa interview, then for the results, for one, because that’s what friends are for, and secondly, because our paths have mirrored each other’s so closely over the last 12+ years. In fact, the things we two exiled ladies had in common in our journey are so downright uncanny we decided to keep a list of things we both have or have done:

  • Both are from the East Coast of the U.S.
  • Both are educators
  • Both have younger brothers
  • Both left the U.S. with our “inadmissible” husbands on a voluntary departure
  • Both stopped at the Grand Canyon on our last trips out of the U.S. with husbands
  • Both moved to Mexico in 2006 (3 weeks apart)
  • Both had a Nissan Platina car
  • Both lived in Querétaro (for 5 yrs w/o even knowing each other)
  • Both taught English in Mexico
  • Both had their first borns in Hospital Santa Cruz
  • Both first babies were born in the same room!
  • Same immigration lawyer (I referred them to ours)
  • Both had to apply for I-212 waivers for their husbands
  • Both had I-212 waivers approved

This running list of things in common became like a joke for us, with all of our uncanny similarities. It was one of many go-to sources of humor that our two families needed during so many months and years of darkness and despair, trying to hold out hope that we might be able to choose our destinies as a family and return to our homelands together with our families. H2 and their family did end up briefly separated for a short while while Heather worked as a schoolteacher close to family in Pennsylvania and took their two boys with her, a natural reaction to needing and wanting to command a better income to raise a family than one can in Central Mexico, and also based on the assumption that her husband would sail through his 2nd visa interview and have his green card that same calendar year. Unfortunately that plan got derailed when a consular agent decided that one waiver was not enough to clear Horacio’s name and that the family would need to prove dire hardship and greater deserving of returning together to the States than normal circumstances would dictate, and that Horacio’s overstay of his visa would jeopardize more than twelve years later.

The first and only time Heather and I finally decided to write down all our things in common was when our paths were finally about to diverge. It wasn’t when Horacio got the rejection at the consulate in Ciudad Juarez, which was earth shattering for their family, and which also shook us to the core. At their dinner table in their home a while later, Horacio related the depth of his sadness to me about when, after a series of unforgiving questioning at the bank-teller style booths in the consulate, he was shown a blue slip that invariably meant his visa application was being denied. Since we had the same lawyer (they got started on their process faster than we did), the first thought that went through my mind was “what did they do wrong?” The truth is more complex than can be described here. But beyond the facts of their case, which differ slightly from ours, on an emotional level we grieved that rejection with H2, and tears rolled right alongside them as Horacio recounted the interview and the hours that followed in the lonely hotel room in CDJ. We didn’t just know – we felt, we saw, we understood the letdown that it represented for them, and how easily that experience could be ours in a few short months.

Our two families’ shared trauma, a emotional and legal roller coaster that our children and extended families also ride, in all its grandparent-depriving, borderline bipolar parental mood highs and lows, results in a keen, unique bond uncommon to any other family friendships we’ve had. We actually led quite normal, ordinary lives here in Querétaro, both as teacher/trainers, bridging intercultural communities both at work and in our personal lives. Our WhatsApp conversations were filled with affirmative, humorous messages. Our families share a love for nature and we often had the privilege of enjoying outdoor adventures together. Then, when immigration woes invaded our consciences, there was only total, immediate, and unconditional support and understanding for each other. That is a rare privilege to share with a like-minded friend, much less in the same county two thousand miles south of home.

I write about these varying family “immigration autonomy” statuses, for lack of a better word, in Amor and Exile. Though most foreigners must apply for a U.S. visa (except those with visa waiver programs), most friends are not subject to the same level of scrutiny and decades-long processes that H2 and my family have had to endure – they also have the freedom to relocate where they so choose, whereas our family’s only real choice is to stay put if we want to stay together. H2 shared not only that same restriction with us, but also the singular drive to rail against it, and to keep trying, against all odds, to achieve familial autonomy in the eyes of the immigration system, and at its essence, an ability to relocate wherever they so choose.

The author at her first A&E reading in Querétaro, México. Heather is against the wall at far left.
The author at her first A&E reading in Querétaro, México, and Heather, at far left.

And so we weren’t surprised at all, in fact, we were impressed and delighted, to hear when H2 went ahead and applied for that second waiver (an I-601), right away, with our same lawyer. I do have to confess that I was surprised when their waiver was approved relatively rapidly, and they got their 3rd visa interview appointment in a matter of a few months the approval, while we are still waiting 10 months after our waiver was approved. But of course each case is subject to its own intricacies and order of events. We were unbelievably overjoyed when we heard that Horacio’s visa was finally approved, in the month of June this year. I was particularly happy for Heather because I knew a June approval meant she would be able to return to the school where she taught in Pennsylvania and also enroll her sons for next school year as well. The aftermath of a visa approval, when one has been out of the country for over a decade, can be complicated, as it could be for us, if Margo is granted one, due to the simultaneous timing of leaving current jobs, all the logistics associated with relocating a family, job hunting for the primary breadwinner(s), etc. But since H2 was banking on a visa relatively soon after the I-212 approval over a year ago, they were a few steps ahead in the game. I knew the relocation was to going to happen fast.

It did in fact snowball rapidly, as they had a vacation to Guatemala already planned, and that gave them a week to pack up their belongings from Horacio’s brother’s home where they had spent the last 10+ years, a week with family in the southern U.S. before school started for Heather and the boys. When we got the good news, I quickly realized that it might be my last chance to spend time with our friends before they’d be flying north, like migratory birds in springtime.

Our two families decided to go see Spiderman in a theater at a new mall that just opened not far from our home. The new fangled movie theater felt almost VIP for general admission prices, so we had a nice time. As we were leaving, I pitched stopping for drinks, milking the last private hours we would likely get with them. To my delight, they obliged, and while we sipped margaritas and the kids played, we got the skinny on Horacio’s most recent experience in CDJ, this time accompanied by both Heather and the boys. As probably only immigration/exile geeks like us would do, we replayed Horacio’s interview over chips and guacamole down to the questions and responses and what he wore. I found myself asking if my husband who has never worn a tie would have to don one – to my relief the suggestion was no. We got plenty of advice and tips from both of them, and my feelings teetered between elation and admiration for, and solidarity with them and their persistence, to fear of our own experience not working out, and selfish sadness at how much I would be missing them very soon. The night ended too soon, and was very airy and bubbly with promise and selfies, but I resolved to say goodbye with more pathos before they departed northward.

I think H2 knew how fast things were going to go with departure, but having been in similar situations myself, and knowing how the gravity of all the details and feelings associated with major events aren’t fully appreciated until you’re in the thick of them, or perhaps afterwards, I knew they would be “riding the wave” so to say and if I wanted to see them one more time I’d have to pay close attention. There was a tiny window where my impossibly packed work schedule and their own crazy schedule of getting back from their vacation and flying to Pennsylvania would cede a space of 2 hours, literally the night before they flew out. I debated whether I should add to their stress and try to see them one last time. But since I’m big on ritual in terms of life experiences, and considering how special H2 and their family have been to us in the last 5+ years, I wanted to try.

Sitting on Horacio’s brother’s couch, as she served salmon to his brother, sister, and their niece, I couldn’t help but feel like I was intruding on a solemn family goodbye dinner. They insisted it was no trouble, served us party mix, and Horacio sat on the couch with us, but I did feel like I was imposing. It was also after 7 pm and a school night for our daughter, so I resolved to be quick. I have gotten so good with not letting immigration matters get me down any more, so I didn’t expect tears. More likely, I am just internalizing and getting numbed by all the emotional horror carried by the stories from the border and the Interior under this current administration. But as Horacio began to talk about how Margo would certainly get his own visa, and as the four of us began to reminisce about the last several years, while the kids strayed in different directions, probably shell-shocked by the weirdness of the moment, my stoic facade quickly crumbled.

To present I’m still not quite sure what obsessive behavior compelled me to pull out my Notes app and ask Heather to help me write down the list of ours things in common that we’ve been compiling over the last six years since we published Amor and Exile and she found me through our book networks and showed up at our first public book talk in Querétaro. The list certainly wasn’t a priority thing she needed to do in that moment. I can’t come up with any better explanation than it was a coping mechanism, me playing journalist to my own life, knowing that the list has been important as many times to Heather as it was to me, that it helped keep her sane through all these years in exile in Mexico to know that someone else like her was surviving, even sometimes thriving; and that for both of us no matter what happened in our husbands’ immigration fates, there was someone else in the same boat, and that maybe, just maybe, if they were doing it, we could keep doing it too.

The more years you spend in exile, the more desensitized you become to the inhumane pressures of your life amounting to a ticker tape of immigration case readouts. The only thing that is keeping us whole, human, and alive with love is knowing the other faces, hearts, and hands that are swimming upstream against the waves, waterfalls, and hurricanes of hate, and persisting in the face of them all. Thank you Heather and Horacio for touching our lives, for sharing your humanity, your friendship, your generosity, your indefatigability with us. And congratulations on this huge win in the struggle to keep our families together. We will see you soon “al otro lado,” whichever “side” it may be.

The author and her friend Heather with their families over the holidays in Central Mexico.
The author and her friend Heather with their families over the holidays in Central Mexico.