I have known many fears in my life, but none more prominent than the fear of coming home to no parents. The fear that they will get taken away and that I will never see them again. These are the fears of a child with immigrant parents.
Mi papi was born in a pueblo close to San Vicente, El Salvador and mami was born in Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico. Pops started working at a very young age and left El Salvador to escape his war-torn country. Mami worked through her youth and came to El Norte at age 20 to find a better life and landed in Los Angeles.
They created a little family in ’91 in the concrete jungle of South Central Los Angeles. As I grew, I quickly began to see a fear over my parents that I didn't understand but did not question. The way their eyes would dilate when they saw a cop car pull up behind them, the way my mom’s hands would shake if there were police officers at a bus station, the way my dad would pace until mom was home from work.
The first time I can remember being scared of losing my mom I may have been 6 or 7. My mom and I were on our way back home from free museum day at LACMA. We were on the bus on Wilshire Blvd. Waking me from my drowsiness a man ran onto the bus and started yelling “RETEN, HAY RETEN, BAJENSE!!”
Panic engulfed a majority of the passengers. My mom sat paralyzed. The bus driver stopped the bus and started yelling for the man to jump off and a sea of anxious passengers got off with him. We got off at the next stop and slowly started walking backwards to where we had come from. There was a payphone and my mom tried to get a hold of my dad; he came to get us and we waited at the McDonalds. We did not eat, I did not play, we did not talk. We sat there petrified for what could be and then, then I knew, we would never feel a sense of security.
This emotion became a permanent part of our daily lives. It was never talked about, never acknowledged and mainly just stayed there dormant unless it had a reason for it to surface at full force. I learned to use this fear and anxiety to become a megaphone for immigrant’s rights, to yell what my mom kept silent out of fear.
Four years ago, I reached out to my best friend, whose brother worked at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. I reached out to her for a recommendation for an immigration attorney. Her brother strongly recommended someone and naturally, I called and asked a dozen or so questions before I even let my mom know my plans. She was scared and did not want to call back. She was angry at me for reaching out, perhaps imagining that I had alerted someone to her existence after being invisible for so long. After weeks of talking about it and bringing it up we went in for a consultation, no strings attached, no payments, just a meet and greet. That meeting changed our lives.
Mom thought about it for a few weeks and then we agreed that we would proceed to work on her immigration status. For the next four years we submitted all kinds of data to our attorney: declarations, medical notes, fees, questionnaires, fingerprints, TB Tests, Polaroid pictures, and everything in between. Then one day in the mail we got a notice from United States Citizen and Immigration Services, USCIS . Her pardon had been approved, meaning she could go to Mexico for her interview and an appointment will be coming shortly after.
Three months later, a letter from USCIS confirmed her appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, Mexico. This was the end. We would know soon, and even though we were excited to be almost done, this letter came after the inauguration. After the rhetoric portraying immigrants as “drug dealers, murders and rapists,” a new fear arose within us. This fear was deeper and darker than the one we had become so accustomed to through the years. There was a chance at her interview that they deny her application and she would have to stay in Mexico, never to return to the U.S., and we would board planes going in different directions. There was nothing to do at this point, we could not go back, we could not not show up, they knew she existed now, they knew where she worked, lived, ate, and who her people were. We could not go back, we could only push through.
I booked us a flight into El Paso, arranged for our hosts to pick us up and drive us into Juarez, Mexico, only a thirty minute drive. It was desert hot, desert dry and desert poor. Mom and I were petrified and could only run multiple horrible scenarios in our heads quietly and to ourselves. We settled in to our temporary apartment, got groceries and hooked up the TV to my Chromecast to pass the time. She went to her pre-scheduled biometrics and medical appointments.
The morning of her interview arrived. We rose at dawn to get ready; only she would go into her appointment. This was the end. Fear consumed us but we did not speak it, we did not give it strength. I only spoke positivity to my mother, trying to feed her hope that I myself could not swallow. I watched her walk into the consulate and lingered until an officer told me to leave. I left, nervous and wanting to vomit.
There were hundreds of people outside, in that line and waiting for their loved ones to return, all with the same anxious face. A face that encompassed all of our hopes and dreams and fears at the same time. I saw men with babies awaiting for their wives to return, aged men and women awaiting their spouses of more than thirty years to return. We all waited outside, some sitting, some eating. And me, I paced.
I paced for two hours. I could not sit or eat or play on my phone. I paced with my physical body but raced circles in my mind. Someone had told us if we get approved we will get a green slip giving us general congratulations and vague instructions to pick up our package. This was all the information we had at the time. Then I saw my mother walk out, her face straight with no visible emotion, like she just saw a ghost. I looked to her hands like I did of the others leaving, some happy and jumping in their groups of loved ones and some immediately weeping with out their green slip and melting in the shoulders of their supporters. I looked to her hand and she did not have a green slip in her hands. I melted in her shoulders with the tears of years streaming down my face uncontrollably, “que paso mami? QUE PASO?”
Tears streaming down her face, a strange sight to see because I had never seen her cry, she looked up and met my gaze “dijieron que si, me dieron esto.” She opened her folder and there it was: the green slip of paper. She was approved. She was approved. She was APPROVED! We went to IHOP across the street to eat and I asked my mom to tell me everything and we processed. She explained what happened when she went in and all I could think was how good it felt to have this tremendous weight lifted and how happy I was to see her smiling across from me.
The following days consisted of waiting for an email from DHL letting us know our package was ready to be picked up. The package was her visa and passport which once we had it needed to be sealed by the U.S. So upon finally picking up the package we were dropped off at the bridge and walked to the El Paso Immigration Services office and check point to get her passport stamped. Once stamped I booked us a first class flights out of El Paso to LAX closing the book to this two week long, emotional draining, trip.
On the flight back we each had two celebratory bloody marys and watched Guardians of the Galaxy on my phone, excited and grateful to be going home, and for the first time in twenty-six years she could call it her HOME.
Our first stop the day after returning was to take a wine basket to our kickass attorney, paralegal and assistant who worked so hard for us over the course of four years.
Mami is now a permanent resident and papi became a Citizen when I was little. I have both of them with me and together and I could not ask anything more of the universe. I thank the heavens everyday for keeping us a hair out of the darkness and forcing us to see light, hope and possibility.
If you share these feelings or also have an appointment coming up please reach out to me. You are not alone. I want to help in any way that I can.
This post is dedicated to Miguel Huitzil who worked hard for immigrant’s rights every day of his life and whose actions I will always see the fruits to. May you rest in eternal paradise. You will always have a place in my heart and your legacy will live on forever.
Stephanie Ponce Valladares
Themes: Historic Blog, Migration, Community, Anxieties, Family, Empowerment.