Buried Faith

spool of thread

On Holy Saturday, April 14, 2001, I was baptized as a Catholic at St. Sylvester’s Church in Chicago, Illinois. I was 31. My husband Picasso was deported back to Mexico later on that same month.

When I moved to Mexico in August of 2001 to live with my husband,  I was exposed to a type of Catholicism that I had never experienced in the U.S.

It was a form of Catholicism where my mother-in-law confessed to the priest of her church that Picasso and I were living in her house, but we were not married by the church.

The priest told her that she was a serious sinner, the spiritual equivalent of aiding and abetting.

When my mother-in-law came home and told us what the priest said, Picasso and I went to find him after the Sunday evening mass. His name was Father John. My husband and I had been to mass a few times at that church with my mother-in-law.

The three of us walked outside. While Picasso was just as heated as I was, he grew up in Mexico, with a grandmother who ruled through the bible. He knew how this was going to go down and stood by me quietly.

I was still new to the team, one Resurrection Sunday as a baptized Catholic under my belt. I spit my anger at Father John, in Spanish and English.

“If you knew our story,” I hissed at him, “if you knew our story, you would see the miracle that exists here.”

The miracle of forgiveness between my husband and I. The miracle of living in the same country again. The miracle that my mother-in-law opened her home to us because her love and care overruled her fear that she was doing something wrong in the eyes of God.

I looked Father John in the eyes and said, “My mother-in-law is no sinner. She’s actually the embodiment of a good Catholic, literally giving us shelter when we had nowhere else to to go.”

Father John looked at me in the eyes and folded his arms. “You two are not married in the church. What your mother-in-law did is the same level of sin as murder.”

Murder.

Father John moved on to do his version of God’s work in the state of Guerrero. In April of 2014, he disappeared. During the initial search for the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students in November of 2014, gruesome clandestine graves seemed to turn up so many bodies, bodies that were not the Ayotzinapa students.

Father John’s body was found, a bullet to the head.

Murdered.

According to Borderland Beats, “It is believed that the priest was executed after he refused to baptize the daughter of a local narco leader.” 

On this Resurrection Sunday, I’m thinking about Father John. How his belief was deep and strong and unwavering.

And how mine hangs by a thread.

 

 

 

 

 

Spines Made of Steel

44 california

Today’s my birthday. I’m 44 years old. Closer to 50 than to 30 by this point. But overall, I’m cool about that fact. 

When Picasso and I were dating in New York, I turned 30 in 2000.We’d been together eight months. That New Year’s Eve, I drank so much and for so long that I practically pickled myself permanently.

My one strong memory from January 1, 2000 is our room that we rented in a house in Long Island City, in Queens, NY. While we had kitchen privileges, we didn’t really like to go downstairs to cook.

Picasso had an electric kettle plugged in on the opposite side of the room from where I was sprawled out on our mattress on the floor.

We had a fancy bag of some kind of pre-prepared organic soup. All you had to do was throw it into the electric kettle and heat the damn thing up.

My one strong memory from January 1, 2000 is of me waking up around four in the afternoon and crawling on my hands and knees across the room, from our mattress to the kettle, dragging the pre-prepared bag of organic soup behind me like a rag doll.

I crawled because I couldn’t stand up right just then.

After that year, I made a promise to myself that I didn’t want to continue meeting the new year and my birthday in an extremely pickled state.

So I don’t. Depending on the year, I’m anywhere from stone-cold sober to lightly buzzed, with my husband Picasso always and our cats Leche and Pixie Bella usually by my side.

This year was a little different. We needed funds for our upcoming move out of Mexico. Picasso took a temporary gig in another state that started on October 17th of last year and ends on January 10th of this year. Our cats are in Mexico, being taken care of by a good friend.

All that to say that my husband and I weren’t together for the holidays. And we aren’t together for my birthday today. After everything we’ve been through as a result of U.S. immigration laws, we’ve never been separated during this holiday/birthday period in all of our years as a couple.

However, this moment of holiday separation that I’ve never gone through before is one that so many of you have. Many of you are going through it right now. And many of you don’t have the huge privilege, as I do, to know that you’ll see your loved one soon.

That difference in our experiences is one that I carry in the center of my being.

So my good friends Mr. Vulcan and Heather Wilhelmina saw me through New Year’s Eve 2013 here in Oakland, California. I’m sitting here writing this as they’re preparing a lovely 2014 birthday breakfast. In my very happily sober and not hungover state, I’m also thankful for the magic of technology that keeps my heart connected to all of my loved ones on this doubly special day.

As my good friend, Ivan and Posey’s Mama wrote to me in a sweet birthday text this morning: You are surrounded by people who love you.

And she’s right on the money.

Today, as I reflect on my birthday as well as the year that passed and the year to come, one of the things that I’m thinking about is that those of us who’ve had justice restored to our loved one’s immigration cases, we have a particular responsibility to continue to fight for the rest of our communities affected by U.S. immigration laws that separate families.

Because those of us with justice restored can speak to the deep pain, fear, frustration, anger and loss. The financial toll. Our broken, betrayed hearts. The years, on the bad days, that felt like they were lost in an abyss.

But we can also speak to never giving up, love, humor, personal growth. Our spines made of steel. What we’ve gained. And what our post-permanent residency lives look like.

I didn’t know what I stood for in life on January 1, 2000.

Today? I know what I’ll stand for permanently ’til the day I die.

Family Album

Image

Long Island, New York, 1987. Saturday morning in my house, my house where our family had been through enough by that point to know that we were never going to be the family that poses together on a Christmas card by a decorated tree.

This is still the time of records. That Saturday morning, my Mexican mom slides a record out of a new sleeve and walks over to the record player. The woman, Linda Ronstadt, is singing what seems to be Mexican songs. In Spanish. My mother wasn’t as in touch with her Mexicanness back then. Neither was I. I jerk my head around to stare at my mother. What was this? What was my mother doing? What happened to her Donna Summer record that she usually liked to play Saturday mornings as she cleaned the house?

My Mom’s eyes go far away. She sits at the kitchen table, her cold hands wrapped around her warm cup of coffee.

And right on cue, my supposedly tone-deaf mother who has no sense of rhythm, perfectly belts out the mariachi’s grito, or shout of,”Ay ay ay.” She gives me a rare smile from that far-away place. Then she says no more and continues drinking her coffee.

Chicago, Illinois, 2000. Christmas Mass at St Sylvester’s’s church. The mass is in Spanish. Mariachis come out to play at the end of the service. I turn to my husband Picasso and notice he has tears in his eyes. I’ve never seen him with tears in his eyes before. He squeezes my hand to let me know that he’s O.K. He smiles at me lovingly from that far-away place. While Linda Ronstadt is not at the Christmas mass at St. Sylvester’s in Chicago, the music sounds similar to that Saturday morning record that my mom started to play on a weekly basis.

San Francisco, California, 2013. At my temp job, I listen to a moving interview with Linda Ronstadt on NPR and I remember that Saturday morning album, Canciones De Mi Padre.

I look it up on YouTube.

I hear this song.

The memory of those Saturday mornings, that St. Sylvester Christmas mass force me to stop my data entry temp work and simply listen.

The scent of my mom’s strong cup of coffee mix in with the almost overpowering scent of myrrh and pine from our first and last church Christmas in Chicago.

I discreetly wipe my tears away while “reviewing” a stack of papers.

And if someone passed by my cubicle right then?

I most certainly would’ve smiled at them from a far-away place.

Small Table, Big Love

proyecto 2006 064
Cardboard Doodles by R.C.O. but not our table 🙂

I met my husband Picasso in April of 1999. 

By Thanksgiving of 1999, we moved to what was our second room in New York, a house in Long Island City. The room was big, but the situation was rough.

We didn’t have any furniture, so Picasso piled two milk crates on top of each other and laid down a small cardboard square for a table. He covered it with designs using his calligraphy ink and pen. He put a layer of thick plastic on top and we now had a table. Execs at Ikea would have been jealous.

Thanksgiving rolled around, and while Picasso doesn’t have any emotional ties to the holiday because he grew up in Mexico, he could see that I was a little tender to the emotional touch.

My immediate family and myself were in a moment as rough as the room that we were living in, so visiting them was off the menu.

Picasso came home the night before Thanksgiving with two big plastic bags, a sweet smile on his face.

Inside was a Mexican Thanksgiving. A small spicy turkey, known in the mountains where my husband grew up as pipilo. Some side dishes that didn’t have names in English but smelled wonderful. I wasn’t as familiar with authentic Mexican food back then. Each styrofoam cup with the plastic cover was like nothing I had ever eaten at a Thanksgiving meal before.

Picasso kept reaching into the bag and I couldn’t stop gigling, not knowing what was going to come out next.

Picasso laid everything out with a big flourish on our little cardboard table. The thick layer of plastic fogged up from the weight and heat of the food. We ate by candlelight and I lovingly wiped down our table’s plastic cover after we were done.

To this day, it remains one of my favorite celebrations of this holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you sit at tables full of love, no matter how large or small.

Extreme Hardship

Climbing a Pile of Files

Every immigration lawyer that I spoke with about my husband Picasso’s immigration case always asked me two things right off the bat: 

1. Do you have kids?

2. Do you have any health issues?

We don’t have kids and I didn’t have any health issues for many years. Until I did, in September of 2011.

Why did the lawyers always ask these same two questions within the first five minutes of a phone call?

Because they were most definitely thinking about the 1-212 waiver application, our mandatory first step. If it was approved, then we’d be able to put in a U.S. permanent residency application and wait. Since my husband had a lifetime ban, a lot rode on that waiver.

The 1-212 waiver application is like a classic country song, full of apology, regret and woe – is – me. It has to be. It’s a mountain of papers that you must climb.

My husband Picasso had to formally apologize to the U.S. government for things like entering the U.S. without papers and a previous gun possession charge from when he was 19 years old.

And we both had to show how we were suffering. The technical term is that we had to show extreme hardship, particularly from me, the U.S. citizen of the equation.

In September, of 2011, I was diagnosed with Myeloproliferative Disease, subtype Essential Thrombocytosis, sometimes called Essential Thrombocythemia. The short version is that I’m at a much higher risk for blood clots and strokes. I have a 3% chance of this blowing up into leukemia. 97% that it doesn’t. No cure. No definitive cause for why I got it, why I now have this mutation that I didn’t have before.

My extreme hardship suddenly looked a lot sexier on paper.

Doctor’s letters, downloaded WebMD and Mayo Clinic articles made their way into the waiver application. Pretty much everyone who wrote a letter on my behalf talked about how they were concerned about what would happen if I stroked out and my husband wasn’t here.

I’m not saying that Picasso’s 1-212 waiver application was approved solely because of highlighting my illness. But I often think about what would’ve happened if I didn’t have it. While my husband and I were definitely experiencing extreme hardship, it was hard to prove without my illness in a way that U.S. immigration officials could hear it.

That’s why I’m supporting the proposed legislation H.R. 3431, sponsored by Congressmen Beto O’Rorke of Texas and Steve Pearce of New Mexico. From a Los Angeles Times article: 

The legislation would allow immigration officials to use discretion when granting waivers for those applying to be in the country with their American spouses, children and other family members.

One of the key elements of this legislation is to update the waiver language from “extreme hardship” to “hardship.”

The omission of one word can change open up a whole world in a waiver application.

This legislation will not help every U.S. citizen with an undocumented or deported spouse. My husband would not have benefited from the proposed legislation, because he would not have met the requirements.

But there are a lot of families in my community that do. So for them, I’m  asking to you directly to click here and voice your support for H.R. 3431.

It shouldn’t take the threat of a stroke to prove extreme hardship. The separation of families should be hardship enough.

Horns Tinged With Blue

A chinelo dancer from the state of Morelos.
A chinelo dancer from the state of Morelos.

This past Saturday, I hit the pause button on the movie I was watching. My mind was playing tricks on me.

I thought that I heard a brass band playing down the block in my neighborhood here in East Oakland. The kind of brass band that I’d hear regularly and only in Mexico.

That wail, that wail of the horns taking it right to the border of being off-key. The drums playing that bouncy and insistent beat that I only ever heard in the state where my husband grew up.

I popped off the sofa, changed out of my pajamas, and decided to go take a walk to investigate.

Right down the block, I could see a house overflowing with people. Silence for a minute and then the horns sailed out of the house with the drums joyfully skipping right behind then.

It sounded like this, the chinelo music that is particular to the state of Morelos, the state where I lived with my husband Picasso for over ten years.

I stood on that corner in the middle of East Oakland, my hair in sloppy ponytail, hot tears in my eyes.

However, in my neighborhood, if you stand just like that on a corner for too long, people are going to start peering out of the sides of the curtains of their front windows. I walked slowly back to the house, the music dancing playfully behind me.

I missed Mexico right then, with that ache and nostalgia of a first love.

The roots of one side of my family are from over there in Mexico, and the roots of the other side of my family are from here in the U.S.

That double strand of roots formed a big knot in my heart on a street corner in East Oakland.

Justice was restored to Picasso’s immigration case and there’s a deep joy with that comes with this transition. But there’s also the understanding, an awareness that washed over me for the first time standing on that street corner – my life as I knew it in Mexico is coming to a close, particularly once we do the permanent move in January.

Of course we will visit Mexico. We hope to own a house there someday as well.

But that first time, that very first time over twelve years ago when I heard those horns tinged with blue and those drums playing hop scotch?

That chapter of my life is closing. It’s time for me to face that fact and to let the tears fall.