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.

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A Letter to My Baby-No-More

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Dear Sweet Little Girl,

When did you become such a big girl?  One minute, you’re my little baby looking up at me with a big smile and twinkling eyes…I turn around for a second and that baby is gone.  Now, in her place is a big girl who is always running, laughing, and talking.

“I lub ew, Mama.”

“I love you too, Jojo.”

“Gra-chias… Gra-chias, Mama.”

IMG_3062Ahh, my little Jojo… the little rainbow of our family.  I hope you know how much you are loved by us all.  Your sissy couldn’t wait for you to stop nursing.  I think it was partially because she wanted to be the one to take care of you.  She told me the other day of how you hug her when you get upset.  She’s your lighthouse, isn’t she, Sweet Pea?  She’ll be there for you forever–showing you the way to keep from crashing into the rocks.

“Qué es? Qué es, Mama?” you ask me all the time.  What is it? What is it?  You want to know about everything.  I see that curiosity, and I know it will keep you searching for more and more knowledge.  (Just go into some other field, please, my dear…don’t choose education!)  Maybe you’ll be a scientist…an inventor…a discover of new cultures…  I can’t wait to see what you become, little luz mia.

My favorite thing about you is the way you steal the show.  Your sister doesn’t even mind.  You march into a room, command the attention of everyone, and make them fall in love with you.  You shake hands at meeting, as you twist the ladies around your little finger.  You wave to the guards and say, “Gra-chias! Adiós!” as we walk out of stores…and their gruff expressions melt away to show something tender.  You grab ahold of us SO tight with the biggest squeeze around the neck, and we all just hold on.

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You are the morning light in our family.  Ale is more like a sunset…She’s quietly beautiful.  She’s the calm after the storm.  You are the storm.  You aren’t the kind of storm you hide from–more like the storm that you snuggle under blankets on the front porch to watch.  And oh! how you love to snuggle!

You, my baby, are just what our family needed.  You make us laugh.  You make us love bigger.  You keep us guessing…keep us smiling…  You make us “un poco loco,” and we love it (just as you love to sing it!).

You’re asleep now.  Snuggled onto the bench of the double rocker after falling asleep in my arms.  The room is quiet, which gives me a minute to write my love letter to you.  In a few minutes, you’ll wake up.  You’ll kick up the dust and get everyone hopping.  I love you like that, but I love you like this too.

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You’re are our sunshine, baby.   I am starting to see the light peeking around the edge of the mountains.  The sky isn’t quite lit up yet… you are the glorious light.  You light up our lives, and we are happy to have you as our center.  And aren’t you our center?  We all revolve around you…

Mami loves you.  Papi loves you.  Sissy loves you.

Gracias, baby, Gracias…
Love,
Mama

 

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)

Immigrant Visa Update

So, you know how I mentioned the ups and downs of the visa process?

I waited for Victor’s passport so I could progress with the visa application.  He got his passport.

THEN

I had to compile a list of all his addresses for the last twenty years…  I progressed through the addresses in a mad rush–because I knew from previous experience that one error could keep me from being able to save all the work for a future time.

THEN

I had to figure out all the addresses and a timeline for all the places that he worked for the last 10 years.  (Remember, Victor was a laborer in the States.  Those guys work wherever they can get a job!)  We compiled the list of all the places, addresses, etc. of where he worked.

THEN

I finished his application!  “Hooray!” I thought, “Now we can finish his application so that we can make his visa appointment!  My friend made her visa appointment in January, and she was able to be scheduled in February.  So, I didn’t think it would be too difficult.

Now, this is where we stand: Victor’s visa appointment isn’t until late July.  The girls and I are leaving Mexico at the end of June.  Why is this important? you may be asking…

Well, in order for Victor to be able to file his waivers, he has to have his visa appointment.  An appointment that is basically a big waste of money, time, and effort.  He has to pay the money to travel Juarez, pay for the medical appointments, get fingerprinted, etc.  (All the normal visa business…)  Here’s where we are different:  we know that Victor will be denied the visa due to his deportation.  We can’t file the waiver(s) until he is denied.  The waivers take 4-6 months for processing (if we’re lucky…)

Basically, this means that best case scenario is I will be without my husband, and the girls will be without their dad from the end of June until December.

This is why we needed that appointment sooner than later.

Nothing about this process is easy–least of all on my emotional well-being.  I hate hearing and seeing all the ignorant posts that people put on Facebook regarding immigration.  It puts me in a fury.

I will continue to check the calendar.  Apparently it is possible that other appointments show up before July.  Here’s to hoping that is our case…

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.

A Random Saturday Night Thought

Tonight, as I drank root beer (diet) and made tuna salad, I had a flashback.  It was this moment many years ago as a teen, when my dad made a salad and then dumped a can of tuna on it.

I thought it was the most disgusting and weird thing I’ve ever seen.

Guys… let this be a lesson: we become our parents.  I will give in to tuna salad and root beer, but that’s where I draw the line.

Now, let me go move the car, because Victor didn’t park it straight enough…

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.

The Long Road Home

I have avoided writing.

At one time, this blog was therapeutic to me, and it really helped me get through a rough transition period in my life.  There was also the added benefit that I could share my experiences in another country with my loved ones at home.

But I have avoided telling a story that isn’t quite mine to tell.

And I have avoided taking the risk of sharing our story with many of my friends and family who have an oppositional view on immigration.

I really think stories like our story should be told.  It’s through stories that people can learn empathy and compassion for ideas that they don’t understand.  We teach children, through stories, how to embrace new siblings, deal with “enemies” or “bullies,” and learn social skills.

So, I am going to begin to tell our story… our story of immigrating to the United States.  I am hoping, that in the process, it will also help me to deal with these new changes in our lives.

This time around, it isn’t a single 27 year old off on an adventure of finding her place in the world.  This time, it’s a family: a honest, humble, loving father… A scared, strong, forward thinking mother.  A little girl who looks forward to a life in a new place, with a lack of understanding about all that will be left behind.  And the final person: a pichita–lively, funny, and just coming into her personality…unaware of changes at hand.

These are the characters of our story.  This is us.

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Our family this January in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.  (The place that Victor and I met, six years ago…)

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.