Preparing for Juarez

I belong to a few groups on Facebook. I guess one might call them support groups–as they are made up of people like us trying to get visa approval for immigration to the United States of America.

It was there I first learned that my understanding of the process for Victors waivers was incorrect. It was there I learned of the change in processing time for waivers. (They used to be processed in 4-6 months. Now the processing time is officially 13.5-18 months.) It was in one of these groups that I read something welcomed: the calendar of appointments in Juarez was updated to included new appointments for April, May, and June.

We changed Victor’s appointment from July to the last days of April. Now we are preparing for his appointment.

Once the appointment is made, we can start really preparing. Victor will have to have several appointments prior to his actual visa appointment (in which we know he will be denied). He will have an in-depth medical appointment, which costs a couple hundred dollars. The price includes of they determine that he needs additional vaccinations, etc. Some people end up paying around $500 just for the medical appointment. We are going to try to get Victor’s immunizations here at the clinic to save us $250 or more…

Additionally, he has to get fingerprinted well ahead of his visa appointment. If we were like most people, we would also need to rent a hotel room for Victor for around a week. That’s an added expense we are hoping to avoid by staying with friends.

Of course, when it comes to expenses, Victor will still need to pay for the visa appointment ($320) and for the travelogue and from Juarez. Additionally, he will need money for food, etc.

You’ve heard me tell you before this isn’t an easy process–now let me tell you that this is also not a cheap process. We will be lucky if we spend less than $1,000 USD for this step. And this isn’t even our complicated step…

Once he is denied, he will be notified of the waivers that he can file. Together, to file those papers will cost just shy of $2,000 USD. Oh, and you must pay for all of these items in advance. The payment isn’t upon approval–you pay, and really hope you get approved, because who can afford to do it all again?

The money is secondary to the stress that I feel preparing for the visa appointment. There are so many papers required, it feels like a struggle to get them together. Additionally, all documents in Spanish must be translated. That costs around $12-15 per page. Copies of the documents are to be made and labeled for quick access. The originals must accompany Victor–as they might also be requested.

Remember when I mentioned how hard it is to immigrate? I’ve said this before: I am an intelligent, literate, educated citizen…and I struggle. Now, let’s think of all the people who cross the border from a place of desperation. This isn’t easy. It isn’t quick. There is nothing about it that makes this an enjoyable experience for any of us. The only comfort Victor and I have is knowing that we serve a God who has good things planned for us.

On that note I will sign off for now.

Immigration Costs (in USD): I-130 $420+travel costs $300+translations $100+photographs $10=$830 total

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El Otro Lado and My American Dream

My every waking moment (and many of my sleeping moments) are filled with thoughts about immigration. So here I am, lying beside my youngest, who for the first time in four nights is sleeping peacefully, and I am thinking of our big move.

You know, I feel like a stranger in our country. Sometimes people ask if I am from the US, and I always say, “Yes, but I am Mexican in my heart.” It’s true. This country has been good to me. Teaching here is a dream. Raising a family here is almost perfect. Mexico is IN me now…

But…

I know there are things that are good for us in el otro lado too. The other side has my family. It has the fellowship that I’ve craved spiritually for six years. In the other side, my husband can be paid for his labor. En el otro lado, our family will be able to set up a good life…

But…

On this side, my girls won’t have the same temptations I faced as a teen. On this side, our family isn’t judged harshly for being “mixed.” In Mexico, eating fresh is a normal part of life–even fast food is freshly prepared! In this side, I can work for schools that provide housing and private school education for my girls.

But…

You get the point, right? This is the hard part. We go back and forth between the good and bad of both of our countries. At the end of the day, I find myself chasing the ever familiar, yet ever-elusive American dream. It is easier for me to think of how much more money we will make in the U.S. It is easier to think of the home we can build, and the family we can raise. That’s easier than making a pro/con list in my mind with ever conscious thought.

I think of our family–nestled on the porch of Granny’s cabin, surrounded by the mating songs of crickets. I think of that sweet breeze blowing away any lingering sticky of the day’s humidity. I think of waking up early, making a coffee on my fancy new espresso machine, and sitting down to read my bible before the girls wake. I think of Saturday mornings, and tables full of biscuits and gravy. I think of summer evenings, the faint smell of cows and freshly cut grass, while listening to the ring of laughter as the girls play. I think of planting a garden, harvesting tomatoes, and making salsa on demand. I think of milking cows, laying hens, and daily chores. I think of hosting family dinners, and having sleepovers with cousins. I think of porch swings, barbecue grills, and magnolia trees. I think of convention and gospel meetings with the people that I grew up with. I think of crisp curtains and open windows–listening to the rain on a tin roof.

My American dream is what keeps me going. Just like all the other immigrants who’ve crossed that border before us–risking their lives and their freedom for a dream of something better for their families.

(I let myself be deceived right now–it’s way easier than noticing how the con side outweighs the pro side.)

I focus on my American dream…not just for me, but my family. And I hope that we find it waiting for us en el otro lado.

A Matter of Heart (The Immigration Version)

You guys should know that all my immigration news has led me down to a sad place.  Last week I felt like a heavy weight of worry and doubt was hanging over my heart.  When my inside is a mess, I make my outside very tidy!  I clean.  I organize.  I create order.

This is a pretty good method–and it tends to work well for me.  That’s what I did this weekend.  I tackled one bedroom (our summer bedroom that has the air conditioner and most of our clothes).  I did laundry, and then I sorted the laundry: clothes we can still wear went in the closet.  Clothes that are winter clothes went to a missionary here in Coahuila or to my friends with small children.  And I began my first box of things to move.  Right now it contains the girls’ baby blankets and our winter items that we bought in Chiapas during Christmas vacation.

I also made a conscious effort to settle myself spiritually.  Saturday morning I worked through this question: What is different between my life now and my life six years ago?  Six years ago, I had no problem leaving it all in God’s hands and trusting his guidance.  What I realized is that I am not taking the time to read and pray like I used to.  When I wake up, I am usually followed by a couple munchkins, and then my day gets busy.  I have to make an effort to read and pray!

I am recommitting my purpose to trusting God.  There is no way any of us will make it the next year (month? week? day?) without trusting God.  I KNOW he has good things planned for us.  I KNOW there is a reason he is bringing us back to East Tennessee.  I KNOW that without trust I will continue to feel sad and hopeless.

I believe in his plan…although I don’t know what it is.  Until it all comes to light, I will continue to make a daily effort to communicate with my heavenly father.  We heard recently that our time of prayer can’t just be us talking, talking, talking.  There has to be time for us to listen to what God has to say.

Are you there, God? It’s me, Jania.  I am listening…

P.S. The literary reference came naturally…

11 “…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…  (Jeremiah 29)

Good Times Are Coming

It’s easy to get discouraged and depressed right now. I feel a bit in limbo, and that’s not a great feeling at all!

The future is so unknown. To be fair, the future is always unknown–but we don’t admit that to ourselves. We plan our lives with comfort, scheduling vacations, parties, and general business as if those days are really guaranteed.

Nothing feels more uncomfortable than half-plans. “We will do this, but we don’t know the outcome…” Normally when we make plans, we do it with security–not taking too big of a risk. Risk is scary.

That’s what makes Victor’s paperwork so difficult. We don’t know how it will work. We don’t know when he will get to cross la frontera. There’s a lot of risk in us filing thousands of dollars worth of applications with no guarantee.

Here’s a fun fact for you: did you know it is possible to be approved on a visa, but still denied access to the United States? True story.

Last week was rough–one setback after another. Sometime late last week I though of something my husband said on the night we met. He said, “I believe that God sends us hard times because he is preparing us for the good times that are coming. And maybe we wouldn’t appreciate it if we didn’t have the hard time first.” A wise man, my husband.

So this is my comfort again:

Precious thought, my Father knoweth; In His love I rest,
For whate’er my Father doeth
Must be always best.

Well I know the Heart that planneth Naught but good for me;
Joy and sorrow interwoven–
Love in all I see.

It’s so easy to get discouraged, but I know that is why I have to keep pressing forward! The good things are never easy. And although I feel scared and nervous, I also try to keep my eyes forward. God has a plan for us, or this situation wouldn’t be the one we are facing. We just have to wait for it to be revealed.

Are You Kidding Me? (Immigrating Sucks)

“Are you kidding me?”  I literally just said this.  Today Victor went to go get his new passport so that we (I) can fill out his application for a visa to our wonderful country.  (Sarcasm intended…)

So, let me tell you a little something about the application for a visa:

You can’t just fill out an application for a visa like you might other applications.  I have filed in the past for the girls’ American papers (i.e. the report of birth abroad).  I have printed the other applications that Victor needs to be able to join us in the U.S.  That’s the key in many applications.  You can print them.  You can see what they require.  You can work on them, then return to them.

Not this lovely application.

First of all, you have to ask if you can even file the visa application.  I literally had to prove that Victor and I are married enough.  I spent the fall preparing that paperwork (asking for affidavits from friends who have spent time with us, making a photo timeline of our lives as one, compiling a PILE of papers that are requested by my country, etc.).  THEN, I scheduled an appointment in Monterrey to present my paperwork and file the i-130 (Petition for Alien Relative).  The man we met with (an agent from Homeland Security) was the best part of that visit.  He was a gentleman–and a very kind and helpful person.  I imagine that by the time people get to him, they need someone kind and helpful…

My process for this was much quicker than most applications, because I am filing from Mexico.  The application was approved and the case was sent directly to Juarez.  For many applicants in the U.S. they wait on this first step for MONTHS.  I received notice two weeks later that our petition was approved.

So, my friends… at this point, I began waiting.  Because even though our application was approved, I still needed the official letter in order to begin the application for the visa.  So I thought.

Nope.  Victor needed a new passport.  More waiting.

Today he got his passport, so I continued the application.  Another roadblock.

Let me tell you: you can’t even preview the application to see what you need online.  You receive access page by page.  So, I get to the page that asks for address.  Not just the address for where we live now.  Not just the address for the last five years.  No, they want all the addresses from the time Victor was 16.

16 YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!

How many people keep up with all of their addresses for 20 years?

Oh, and to make this application SO much fun: the website logged me out twice, and neither time would it save what I had added.  AND it won’t let me save the addresses that I have access to, then add the others later.

Guys, you need to know this: Our country does not make it easy for people to immigrate.  It doesn’t even make it easy for an American citizen to register their own children as Americans.

Do me a favor?  Stop saying, “It’s okay for people to come to the country, as long as they do it legally.”  Unless you have been through this process, you. have. no. idea.

I am ready to toss my teaching license down the shithole (a proper use for the word–as I am not referring to anyone’s country, but rather the commode that you shit in), and chill as an expat for the rest of our lives.

Thankfulness

My babies are upstairs asleep, with Victor snoozing alongside them.  We’re sleeping as close as we can get, because the nights have been chilly!  It’s been getting down into the 40’s–which is super cold in the desert when the days are still reaching into the upper 80’s / lower 90’s.

I’ve had an eventful Thanksgiving week:

  • We went for our first appointment in the paperwork process for Victor’s visa.  Ale heard me talking about working on Daddy’s “papers” last weekend, and she make him some.  There was a picture of us together (we have to prove we are married enough), and some writing.  She brought them to me proudly, as she had also recruited her sis to help.  I packed them with our real documents, and took them to the appointment.

    Ale’s “Papers for Daddy”

  • Thanksgiving Day was my fifth Thanksgiving in Mexico (the first Thanksgiving, I flew home for a baby shower).  We hosted our fourth Thanksgiving–and this one was the easiest, by far!  The turkey was PERFECT.  The dressing was moist and tasted just like I remember.  The rolls rose in record time due to all the cooking going on, and Ale and I shared a couple while we waiting for the guest to arrive.
  • We celebrated a second Thanksgiving with the workers the following night.  We saved some turkey, but I also made potato salad, more rolls, and fresh gravy.  I had turkey broth bubbling away, so the house smelled like Thanksgiving all over again!  This was a treat–as I have always wanted to have the workers for Thanksgiving.  One of our workers is from Texas, so he also appreciates southern cooking and sweet tea.  That always makes my day.  We also enjoyed great conversation, a good study of the last chapter of Revelations, and the peace that comes on the feet of those that carry the gospel!
  • We have chili in the crock pot simmering overnight–as tomorrow we will have potluck after meeting.  This is traditionally what we do when the workers are in town.  It’s our way of everyone getting a little extra fellowship.  I offered to make tamales, but that idea was rejected.  Then I offered to make mole to go with the tamales that someone else is making.  That was also rejected.  When I offered to make chili, I had to follow it up with the explanation, “You know, the beans that I made before…”  haha! They love my “beans.”

I am looking forward to the rest of this year.  Victor and I will have a six years in Mexico anniversary, followed shortly there after with our actual six year anniversary.  I am still hoping that we will be able to make it to Chiapas during winter break to visit with the abuelitos and primos!  Ale is at the perfect age for a visit to see her family.  She speaks amazing Spanish, and loves to hear all about Chiapas.  She asks questions like, “Mom, do they have cars in Chiapas?”  Tonight I told her that when we go to Chiapas, it is kind of like camping.  That we will probably sleep together on the floor.  She was unfazed, and started talking about roasting marshmallows (we have never done this…) with her cousins over the campfire.

Jojo is talking quite a lot!  She loves to play a game where we say words and she repeats us.  Tonight we were naming all of the family members, and when we got to abuelito, she said “popo.”  Ale died laughing, “Mom! She said ‘popo.’  That means poop!”  Speaking of poop, Victor explains gross things to Jojo, by saying, “Ewww! poo-poo!”  This is so she won’t touch things that are icky on the street, but she has adopted it for anything gross.  She also waves to the toilet overtime it flushes, and says, “Bye-bye, poo-poo!”  This kid…  She brings me so much joy and so much stress all at the same time.  She loves her sis, and has begun to demand equal treatment, by saying, “Me too.”  Sometimes all she says is “too,” but she makes sure that you know what she means!

A selfie with my little booger…

Victor and I are trying to stay encouraged about his paperwork process.  Sometimes it is difficult, as the requirements are overwhelming, and the process rather costly.  Americans have no clue how difficult it is for honest, hard-working people to get permission to work in the U.S.  The people who easily get accepted are people with loads of money, and unfortunately, loads of money doesn’t always equal honest+hardworking.  It’s really an intimidating process, and even more so when you give it a go without a lawyer’s help.  I trust that my friends and family have us in their thoughts and prayers–and I also pray for “the peace of a perfect trust.”

This post has turned out to be more of an update than anything else… If you’re still reading, you must love us!  😉

Backwards Plan

Yesterday afternoon, before I left for the day, I sent an email to my colleagues letting them know I would be moving on next year.  I explained that my state license for education requires that I teach there in order to keep it, and that if I fail to do so, I will lose my teaching license.

When I found out that I needed to return to Tennessee, it came as a surprise.  To say that I was disappointed is a huge understatement.

But today I started thinking of something my mentor and friend asked me last year around this time.  She asked, “Jania, what is your ultimate goal for your family?”  I told her that it was to eventually settle in the United States.  Then she said, “Well, now you can ‘backwards plan’ to see what steps you need to take before that happens.”

My list of steps soon became the countries we were interested in moving to–and schools that I could teach at that would pay a lot of money while providing housing.  All the while I prayed the same prayer from six years ago–that God would put me (us) in a place where we can be helpful.  That he would open doors that should be opened and close doors that should be closed.  I wrote to the workers in the middle east, and they responded letting us know about the area, the work opportunities for Victor, and of whom the meetings were composed.

That didn’t work out for us.  Neither did Asia.  But I still would like to teach internationally again someday.

Until then…

Here I am.  Moving straight through my backwards plan to the ultimate goal part.  Life has a way of sending little twists and turns our way.  I find myself hoping and praying for guidance and peace again, and trusting that God has our best in his plan.

When Life in Mexico Just Becomes Life

When I quit my job (six years ago) and moved home to Tennessee, it was with the plan that I would spend a few months with friends in Mexico.  That plan went quickly from spending a few months to actually getting a job in Chiapas–but still with the plan to return to the United States in July of 2012.

You know that trite saying that if you want God to laugh you should tell him your plans?

My six months in Mexico has turned into (nearly) six years in Mexico.  My sabbatical-of-sorts has given me an amazing husband who serves the Lord and two little girls who keep the laughter and love bubbling in our home.  My trip-turned-life has allowed me to grow in my professional life as well, although that is perhaps the less important of these three gifts.

Somewhere along the way, Mexico stopped being funny writing material, and just became normal.  Now it’s the United States and their customs, way of thinking, and lifestyle that seem so foreign to me!!!  The people in the United States live to work and the people in Mexico work to live.  The people in the United States fill up their time with screens and activities that keep them away from their families–and even when they are with their families, the screen is a buffer of distraction.  The people in Mexico have family at the core, and everything else is secondary.

Our life in Mexico is peaceful, which is ironic considering my state is on a restricted travel list for government employees.  Our days are spent with my girls playing with their babies, the rooster crowing at all times of day, and the smell of something yummy wafting through the house.  During the week we buzz to school and daycare, but the evenings are our time–and we aren’t too tired to enjoy them!

When I write, the core is usually a place of great emotion.  When I have emotion that I can’t quite process, it’s hard to put that down into words.  This summer was full of surprise for us, as I found out that I will have to return to Tennessee to teach in order to keep my license.  As I prepare for my final year in Mexico, I no longer am experiencing Mexico firsts, but rather my lasts.  My last conventions. My last first day of school.  My last Independence Day. My last…

And so I find myself coming to this place again to write with a different lens: Yes, life in Mexico is just life, but it is coming to an end as our future unfolds before us.  I am trying to stay positive, as I know that God has good things planned for us.  (And how fitting that the same message that comforted me when I came here is comforting me as I prepare to leave here…)  I know that there are opportunities in the United States that will be good for our family, and that God is taking us back in his time.  I know that there will be ups and downs as we face the challenges of this year.  I know that someday, we will look back on this time as if it were a minor series of events.

Ah, well, what is life if it isn’t “a fine mingling of holding on and letting go?”

My, oh My!

Where to start, dear readers…

Life is daily: Ale and Jojo are loving school/daycare.  They love being with other children…and each other!  They greet one another almost every day with a smile and a hug.  It’s just a question of who will wake up the other sis!

Victor is growing his clientele, and has a job or two each day.  He’s also learning who the good customers are–and who he should stay away from!  There’s been a couple times he has needed some help, and eventually I see him growing this into a crew.  We are saving for a little work truck to increase his work area, and hopefully we will register him soon with the government in order to give receipts for tax purposes.

And I am still learning and struggling as a literacy coach!  There’s so much to learn and sometimes it is a bit disconcerting.  I feel so dumb and at the same time, it is incredibly empowering!  Learning what you don’t know and teaching it to others is a pretty cool thing!  I miss being in the classroom, and I would love to be back with kids someday.  I also really want to try out the things I learn!

We are planning a trip home this summer for the first time in two years, and I look forward to seeing my friends and family!  It’s strange and a little scary: the longer you are away from home, the easier it gets to be away from home…

Eek

We are excited for the weekend and family time/adventures.  (Although to be honest a trip to Starbucks is an “adventure” for us!)  We were FINALLY able to visit Parras, the magical pueblo with the oldest wineries in the Americas!  We also took off for a day trip to a local dam/river.  The water in the river was deep enough to allow us to wade and swim.  Jojo, ever the tremenda, walked straight into the river and plopped down on her bottom to play!  Ale is getting confident in her puddle-jumper, but is still rather cautious.
My little family looks forward to the years to come with great anticipation.  The current political climate in the United States isn’t something we wish to return to anytime soon.  We are exploring our options and thinking about what will be best for us–and where we might be able to go while the girls are still young and rootless.  I am not being coy, by hinting of adventures without telling exactly what they are–we truly don’t know what they are!   More than anything, we want to be in a place where we can be helpful for God’s work, be secure financially (Mama still has school loans…), and hopefully learn a new language!  On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out and we stay here for another few years, we are okay with that too!
We will see what God has in store for us–and we know we have to approach each day new and open to opportunities!

A Lesson on Mourning and Empathy Following a Trump Win  

I deleted Facebook on purpose: your posts about the election always upset me.  Rather than engage in social media arguments with you, I chose silence and distance.  But I opened Facebook the day after the election.

Big mistake.

I, not only saw the Fox News rhetoric, but saw a complete and utter lack of empathy for those of us who are hurting due to the election results.  This explanation is for you: my white friends.

I call you my white friends because that is what you are.  None of my Latino friends say the things you do.  None of my black friends are posting begging us to “give Trump a chance.”  None of my gay and lesbian friends (albeit white) have asked us to move on.  

Only you: my white friends.

I am going to tell you what the Black Lives Matter movement told you, but you didn’t hear.  Your white privilege (yes, this is a real thing) protects you in ways that you don’t understand.  I understand why you don’t understand.  I didn’t “get it” either.  And then I began to think of my Mexican children.  I began to think of my African students.  I began to think of my non-Christian friends.

See, that’s what empathy is: empathy is stepping out of your own shoes and trying on another pair.  Then empathy requires you to say, “Wow! Yeah, the world looks at me differently here. What a bummer!”  Empathy allows you to return to your zapatitos and still remember, feel for, and understand the way someone else feels.

I haven’t seen that from you.  Instead there are posts about giving Trump a chance.  Posts about respecting our commander in chief no matter who he is.  Posts about how Trump’s voting population wasn’t created from hateful people.  Posts about how we all need to move on and get over it.  Posts about how Trump wants to bring us together.

And that tells me you don’t get it.

I don’t understand: we could see with each speech how Trump belittled those who didn’t look like him.  We heard story after story about him encouraging violence against anyone who believed differently and dared to say so.  In fact, they weren’t merely stories:  we saw video evidence!   We heard his “plan” for deportation of Latinos, elimination of equal rights to marry, and registration of Muslims.

So why don’t you understand the fear those people have?

It isn’t unjust fear!  They were told, as were you and I, that life would be different for them if Trump was elected.  Of course they are afraid! and sad! and worried!

Giving Trump “a chance” is a little hard when he’s told you your time is up.  Respecting a man who has so little respect for others in near impossible if you are the others.  Believing that you, his voters, aren’t hateful or ignorant is difficult when his entire campaign was built on a solid foundation of hate: beginning with hate and ending with hate.  Moving on and getting over it isn’t an option–as the next four years we are bound to this joke of a “leader.”  And trusting him to bring us together is equally laughable (except none of this is laughable) because he has done his best to drive a wedge between us: painting a picture of what American should be from the eyes of a privileged white man.

This isn’t about Hillary Clinton and her loss.  This isn’t about Bernie Sanders and his revolution. This is about one man who has caused hurt and fear in millions of people–not just Americans, but all over the world.  This is real.  This is scary.  Try to understand that, would you?