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.
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.
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.
Back 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.