Category Archives: Immigration

My Culture Event speech

Here is my speech from the culture event in Elk River.

“Ethnically, I am of European descent, mostly Scandinavian with a little German and Irish thrown in. Even though the last of my ancestors immigrated to the US in the late 1880’s, I still prefer to quote the percentages of my heritage rather than simply saying “I’m American.” I was raised on a large farm in central Minnesota, an expansion of the farmstead my great-grandparents purchased in 1886 after arriving from Sweden.

With so many generations here in the United States, it is hard for me to know which of our family traditions have to do with our ethnic heritage and which are just “the way we do things.” There are obvious connectors to the past like the  Swedish meatballs, lefse, and kroom kaka served at Christmas dinner when I was a child. Now as my grandmother enters her 100th year of life and can no longer cook on her own, the lefse comes from the super market, always purchased as an afterthought, and the kroom kaka has disappeared altogether.

In 2001, in the spirit of my Norwegian grandmother who was brave enough to marry a Swede, I started a bicultural relationship of my own. My husband is from Mexico. Our relationship started like every other one. The awkward getting to know you questions, speaking about our childhood, learning each other’s likes and dislikes. There were obstacles we expected to encounter such as occasional language barriers, battling our personal expectations of what a “Mexican” and an “American” act like, and the awkwardness we would each feel around each others friends and family.

Then there were the unexpected things. The way servers in restaurants seemed to always ask me for both of our orders, only glancing briefly at him, assuming he spoke little English. There were the not so subtle stares as we held hands going through the mall. The most shocking thing for me was the intense and completely brazen curiosity of almost every person who found out my boyfriend (and later, my husband) was from Mexico. Once I mentioned that fact, the very next question out of 2/3s of people was “Is he illegal?”

The first time someone asked me that I could not stop my mouth from dropping wide open in shock. Each time I was asked that, the person would look at me expectantly not realizing how completely offensive and hurtful that question and assumption are to both me and my husband. To us, it feels like an intrusion into our deepest personal lives and a dismissal of our love. For my husband, it makes him feel like people wanted to know his status so they could judge him before even knowing what kind of person he is. To me, it felt like they were telling me I was not worthy of love, just a means to an end for this man from Mexico. He did not want me to visit him at work because his American and Latino co-workers would immediately start harassing him about having an American wife and ask “why” we got married. I still do not understand why anyone would assume that just because he is from Mexico and I am from the United States that our motive for marriage would be anything other than love, just like every other couple who makes the commitment.

I never answered the question of his immigration status. Not once. Once I was able to contain my shocked expression, I would simply look at the individual and say “I’ve never asked. Should that be important?”

We have been married for three years now and are over most of the cultural hurdles. We are both eager and open to new experiences and patient with each other, which I believe are the keys to success in a cross-cultural relationship. Our different upbringings in small towns 2500 miles apart shaped who we were when we met. Now our understanding, frequent compromises and desire to evenly balance both our cultures into one family will shape who we will be together.”

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Marital Issues, Minnesota, Minnesotan/American culture

Different status, same reaction

Tired and a little freaked out by all the news coverage of America’s “crashing economy” and the “next depression” and how my Roth IRA, although fairly minimal, is probably plummeting lower and lower as I type this, Mex and I flipped, first to BBC News and then to Univision so we could find out a little bit about what is going on in the rest of the world. Immediately on Univision I saw the common picture of Police with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement?) on their back conducting raids. What I found surprising is my stomach clenched in the same way it has for almost 7 years. From the time I got to know Mex (Oct 2001) first as a friend, then falling in love (not sure exactly when that part happened), I have had a knot in my stomach at the mere mention of Immigration Raids.

There was a point in our relationship where we both had to make a conscious decision to move forward, knowing the difficulties that would be ahead due to his status (although we didn’t really understand them until a year before our marriage when we met with an attorney). I knew before our first date his situation but I refused to let that bother me since he was a nice guy, always polite and respectful with a big smile. My friend Conchie confirmed that he was a good guy, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t have lots of girls…. he broke from my stereo type of a Mexican man (which, unfortunately, was always fairly negative).

I honestly cannot say enough good things about the type of person Mex is… He is so generous with his time, loving to volunteer at Ronald McDonald house or with church. He always makes me feel loved and beautiful and never criticizes me (except the occasional complaints about my nasty habit of leaving dirty Kleenex around). He strives to succeed and worked hard at his English classes, even before he met me. He worries about my family as if they are his own. He feels a responsibility to take care of his dad and my parents as well as they age. He is honest, loving, a great cook… A hard worker, sometimes having 3 jobs and working over 100 hours a week. yes, he’s also incredibly stubborn, getting a little sassy, and a picky eater but nobody is perfect.

I suppose you are wondering what my point is with this rambling about Mex’s good qualities. Every time in the past 7 years that I have heard of an Immigration raid I panic. My stomach would clench so tight I felt nauseous and my mind would race trying to figure out where Mex was if I wasn’t with him at the time. I would cry as the news caster would interview the spouse and children of those arrested. I would get angry by the unfairness of it all. Usually people were arrested at work, trying to make money for their families, having no previous criminal history. To be fair, I completely understand the argument that “they came here illegally so they are all criminals.” I do see the point. It is true in the literal sense I suppose. However, as a spouse who knows what an incredible person her husband is, how he helps others, pays taxes, learned English… I just don’t see how we can put any group of people in a box and have a blanket way of dealing with them.

It frustrated and angered me that I knew, even though Mex’s spouse was a US citizen, even though he is an honest guy, etc., if he was ever caught in the middle of a raid it wouldn’t matter… They wouldn’t take that into consideration. They would rip him out of my life, maybe without even allowing him to call me. That fear was constant in our lives. It was especially terrible during the beginning of our relationship when I respected Mex’s wishes and didn’t divulge his status to anyone (or almost anyone). I had no one to share my fears with. The nights I laid awake after the raids at Swift and in southern MN in sheer panic, I had no one to call. Acid burned in the back of my throat as I listened to anti-immigrant people call in to radio shows and make ignorant comments about how “all” illegals abuse welfare, don’t know English, don’t pay taxes. These are the same people who would assume they knew a person’s story just by the color of their skin. That assume all Latinos are Mexican and all Mexicans are illegal.

 Mex never wanted me to tell anyone about his status because he didn’t want to be judged by it, and I knew he was right. It made my heart hurt to think people could hate Mex without even getting to know him at all… Without even caring about the type of person he is… Those people think the only thing that matters is how he got to the US. I just will never be able to agree to that. Never. I believe there is such a thing as forgiveness, and if you can show that, even though you may not have got into the US the correct way, you have done nothing but good things since you’ve been here, you deserve some. Thankfully, the government did grant forgiveness to Mex on April 17th, 2008. I hope some of those ultra-radical anti-immigrant activists can open their minds to the idea of forgiveness and close their minds to some of the hatred that they seem to emit from their pores.

Even though I know Mex’s status is now pretty iron clad (unless he commits a felony worthy of having his green card stripped) I still feel panic when I see the ICE people on TV kicking in doors and holding guns. I still feel violated in a way. Unsafe. Like my family is in danger. I do still know many people who are in danger from those raids and maybe that is why my gut tightens. I don’t know exactly. I do know that I hugged Mex tightly last night, long after he fell asleep and thanked everyone I could think of who supported us in our trip this spring for making his forgiveness possible. Everyone who wrote letters, read our blog, sent encouraging emails, prayed, thought good thoughts, towed our PT…. All of you are blessings in our lives and I think every day how you all helped Mex and I take away some of our daily fear of forceful separation. You all showed us how much we are loved and encouraged from our family’s, friends, co-workers of family =), Trinity members…. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and the pit of my stomach.

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Filed under Immigration, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card, Undocumented Worker

8’s are lucky

Well, somebody says 8’s are lucky. I guess I always thought of 7 as a lucky number…  Although 8 is the month I was born so it was very lucky for my parents and big sister (they may agree on somedays and not agree on others). Two of my sister’s kids were born in the 8th month also. My brother-in-law was born in the 8th month. I would consider that lucky for my sis and for me since he’s been around since I was 3 and I got an automatic big brother. My grandmother was born on 8-18-08 and is celebrating her 100th birthday TODAY! The same date 8-18-08 but a whole century later. Amazing! I told my dad he’s got good genes and I look forward to his 100th in 31.5 years but he doesn’t seem as excited as I am about that. Apparently living to 100 isn’t a goal of his although I’m trying to convince him to make it one.

Today also marks four months since Mex and I crossed back in to the US. Now only two years and eight months until he can become a citizen. You better believe I am counting the days… probably more than he is! Though it means more money and we are still reeling a little bit from the fees and 4.5 months of him not working. I certainly understand the process of legalization is not one to take lightly or a decision to be made quickly. With $4500 for the attorney (worth every penny!) $2500 in fees to the US Immigration Service, $9600 in Mex’s lost wages from not working, and over $6000 in travel expenses it is not a process for the faint of heart. True, we could have saved $3000 by having me stay home but I would have had to probably spend that much on phone bills and ulcer treatment from all my worries.

I have heard news reports recently criticizing undocumented workers for not coming forward and trying to do things the right way. In my experience, the people I know send almost all of there extra income back to their families in Mexico to support them. They do not have the luxury of being able to save over $20,000 to then go to Mexico and take the risk that they may never come back. That is every penny of a years work for many of them. This is not to brag about how frugal Mex and I are or how much money we were able to save. We worked very, very hard and had to do it over more than 3 years. He worked two full time jobs starting at 6am and finishing at 11pm Mon – Fri for the first year of our marriage. I am writing these figures because if you know anyone going through a process similar to ours it is important for them to understand the real costs before they get started. While that $9600 of lost work is not a number we had to PAY someone it was a lot bigger loss of income than we had predicted. People starting the process should be given accurate numbers by their attorneys so they are not blind-sided by the cost of legalization.

Alright, enough pontificating (I’ve been wanting to use that word for weeks!)

My final call for 8’s being lucky is the fact that today, 8-18-08, Mex is starting his new job with a great company, where he has been trying to get a job since coming back. They are a corporate food service company with excellent benefits and an excellent track record of employee treatment. He starts today. They also provides food for Medtronic, Target, St. Olaf College (Um Ya Ya), and Cue at the Guthrie to name a few.

All right- I gotta run and check on a house but everyone send out a birthday wish for my grandma Dorothy.

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Filed under Immigration

8-8-08, New beginnings

Someone told me that 8-8-08 is considered a lucky date by the Chinese, a symbol of new beginnings. It is one of the reasons why the opening of the Olympics was chosen to be today. I wouldn’t say this week was full of new beginnings but it was definitely interesting.

To just add one more thing about the previously mentioned horrible one-day boss of Mex’s… He went to get his check for one day’s work since the guy wouldn’t give it to him the day he went to quit. Once he was there the boss argued with Mex and said “I already paid you, why are you here?” Mex said, “You didn’t pay me you told me to come back.” After a few more minutes of arguing with the “boss” Mex said “Do you think I’m an idiot?” and the guy finally gave him a check for the day. The one day Mex had worked he was told by co-workers that Latinos usually only last a week at the restaurant. I found that surprising since, in my experience, Latinos are hard workers and would rarely quit a job with good pay (which it was). I guess I now understand why they don’t stay! Did I mention the owner himself is an immigrant from Europe?

Anyway, enough about that guy. Shameful that an immigrant would treat a fellow immigrant so poorly but Mex will hopefully never have to see him again and we CERTAINLY will never go to the restaurant to eat.

This past Sunday, one of my Mexican nieces turned 6. To celebrate the day Mex and I went with some of his family to Prescott, Wisconsin to a park near the river. I must say his family always has the most amazing food! Even at a picnic they bring guacamole (which never seems to turn brown like mine), tomato and cilantro salad, Mexican rice… we grilled corn and cecina, which is thinly sliced, salted flank steak. Absolutely delicious! Very lean and sooooo good. They also put the tortillas on the grill to warm them up, because one would never be able to eat with a cold tortilla!! =)

We were celebrating and eating at one picnic table and there were many other tables of Americans around (pale ones like me =). After lunch Mex and his family were playing beach volleyball. I was sitting at the picnic table with his niece Eugenia’s neighbor chatting and I saw the group of American’s start tossing around a volleyball and look over at the net. One of the guys, in his 40’s or so, volunteered to go over to the Mexicans and see if they could use the net. As he went over and started talking to Mex and Chencho (his nephew-in-law), the people at the picnic table exclaimed “he’s talking to them!” like it was some sort of miracle. They repeated it a few times until I looked at them and said “they do speak English and they don’t bite very hard.” The Americans laughed and actually challenged Mex’s family to a volleyball match.

They played three games against each other and everyone on both teams had a great time. Then after they all shook hands and congratulated the winners (the Mexicans!) we each went back to our picnic tables. It turns out they were also celebrating a birthday and sang the Happy Birthday song almost at the same time we did. Each table cheered for the other after they sang.

It was a moment I needed to see after the sourness of Mex’s work experience. A moment of Americans, though skeptical at first, becoming open to the Mexicans. Not afraid. Enjoying their company, even experiencing some comraderee (not sure how to spell that). The American’s fear and hesitation disappeared once they opened themselves up to my Mexican family. I hope more people will do this. Truly open their minds and hearts to another culture. Put aside their preconceived notions and play together. It seems very possible as I sit here watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games. Dozens of countries joining together for 17 days, putting aside most political disagreements and just enjoying the event, striving to do their best.

Are my ideas of America’s subcultures truly joining together idealistic? Maybe. Impossible? I hope not.

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Filed under Family, Food, Immigration, Minnesota vs. Mexico

A restaurant I will never visit

Well, I haven’t posted anything for a long time and thought I should get one more in by the end of the month. These last couple weeks have been crazy. Mex is working at his old job but he also worked at a German restaurant in NE Minneapolis for a day. While he was at work the owner asked him about his wife, if she was American, and had he married me to get his visa. He asked these questions multiple times and in front of other employees. Now let me just vent for a little while…

First of all, clearly if he had met me he would quickly realize Mex married me for my charm, humor, intelligence, good looks and all that other stuff… =) What really pisses me off is that because I am American and he is Mexican, people belittle our entire relationship and think Mex had a motive for marrying me (other than the above mentioned wonderful qualities). Never mind the fact that I was the one bringing up the marriage issue after 5 years of dating and he was content to continue our relationship as it was. His parents were together for over 20 years and had 12 kids and were never married. Marriage is for the “rich” in Mexico, Mex says. The person you love and are with is your husband/wife with or without the ceremony.

Another thing that I find completely offensive is when I say my husband/boyfriend is from Mexico 80% of people respond with the question “Is he legal?” What kind of question is that? What about “How did you meet?” “How does he treat you?” “What does he do for a living?” “How old is he?” Even complete strangers will ask me that question. Doesn’t anyone else think that is offensive? Is legality or illegality all a Mexican citizen has to offer for an identity? I feel like the people who ask me that question are waiting for an answer from me and, based on that answer, they will already have their opinions about Mex formed without even setting eyes on him or starting up a conversation. For me that question is as personal as asking to see someone’s tax returns from the previous year, or quizing them about details in their bedroom affairs.

One of my other favorites is “How did he get here?” People ask that question and it seems like they are waiting to hear of a harrowing trek through the desert dodging bullets and almost dying of thirst. It seems like such a morbid question. Why not ask him “Why he came to the US?” “When did he come?” No one asks “How.” ummm… a plane, bus, car, taxi…. really… “How” is about transportation and I wouldn’t ask someone from England or Australia to tell me “How” they got to the US.

I realize I’m ranting so I will stop at this point. I just have been very upset by that boss of Mex’s. Mex came home feeling like absolute crap. Like he was worthless. Like his 8 years of cooking skills didn’t matter. His 13 years of learning English didn’t matter. We both felt dirty, sick, sad, like our love didn’t matter. Like all the challenges we’ve overcome these past eight years and especially past six months were for nothing.

All because some jerk decided to put us in a box and judge us by our nationality. That’s the power of a “pendejo,” pardon my Spanish.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Marital Issues, Minnesota vs. Mexico, Minnesotan/American culture, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card

How important is YOUR name?

I guess neither Mex nor I knew how hard it would be to find a job after he returned. Ironically, employment seemed to come much easier before he got his permanent residency. I guess it could be a sign of the economy. Of course I have started to get suspicious because we’ll see a new job posting online for a restaurant and it says to apply in person and he’ll go the very next day and when he walks in they say “sorry, we aren’t hiring.” I don’t know the proper term for my suspicions… it’s not pessimism… I can’t think of the word… not really skeptism either. ugh! whatever the word is it is FRUSTRATING.

I hate the assumption people make about him from his appearance or voice or name. He has told me repeatedly that he wants our kids (when and if we have them… don’t get excited, I’m NOT pregnant!) to have my last name which makes me a little bit sad. We discuss it very seriously because I think his family would think that it was my fault and absolutely horrible to not take on their father’s name. I feel like we would be denying their Mexican heritage and teaching them a very bad lesson in balancing their bi-culturalness from the start. Mex’s arguement is that he doesn’t want people to judge them immediately from seeing their name on paper. That is what he has always dealt with and is feeling it rather painfully now. Of course if they have an American first name like Fred or William (FYI- neither of those are ones we’d consider) instead of Frederico or Guillermo it might balance out the Latin last name.

It makes me ponder why I decided not to change my name. I mostly did it for business reasons but also, out of sheer laziness. The thought of contacting all the places my name is and changing it just exhausted me. Plus, Mex was begging me to keep it. I still don’t fully understand why. I could have done in the “Mexican” way and become combined our names with his name first and my name last so in the US I would have the same name but in Mexico I would have his name. But again, out of laziness I did not. Contrary to what some people may think, my maintaining my last name had absolutely no feminist undertones. I didn’t do it to “maintain my identity as a woman” or anything like that. I have never been much of a traditionalist on marriage as far as dreaming of my wedding day, big family, etc. I always wanted to be married, maybe have kids, be happy, etc, but never focused much time on it. However, as we talk of children this last name thing does become and issue. Luckily we still have plenty of time to discuss it and come to a decision before any kids are on the horizon…

This issue does remind me of why I was going to start the blog in the first place, before this whole visa process turned us upside down. The title is “Minnesota & Mexico mix” and was supposed to be about cross-cultural bumps between the two of us. Names are apparently one large “tope” around our house (that’s a “speedbump” for those of you who don’t remember my irate typings from the road in Mexico).

Anyway, that’s all for the evening. Best of our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends Amber and Alberto as they start this process this upcoming week! We’re thinking of you!

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Filed under Immigration

Flooding memories

Mex and I have some friends that are going throught the same exact process we went through. She just called last night to tell me her husband got his interview notice for July 1st. When she said that I felt sympathy knots in my stomach and the memories of that first week of February flooded back to me…

The mixture of fear and joy when we actually had the date in our hands. The intense panic because we didn’t feel prepared and had so much information to gather. The anxiety over how in the world it was possible to get everything done in a month while still working and squeeking out every last penny you can. The excitement to see Mexico with my husband and meet the family I had heard about for so long. The gut-twisting terror that things wouldn’t work out as we had planned and he may have to stay there.

Those feelings begin tossing us around like a canoe in the ocean from the minute we saw the deadline in black and white on the paper. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had every single paper in order and all of our travel plans made… Just like it didn’t matter that we had been planning to do this before we were even engaged… Over three years of knowing what was necessary to have my husband become a Permanent Legal Resident. I’ve decided that even though it is possible to prepare financially or physically for this, or any challenge in life, it is impossible to completely prepare yourself emotionally.

It reminds me of what another friend told me when she talked about having a child… “I don’t feel ready, but I didn’t last year either. I could keep waiting but, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel ready so we just decided to do it.” Now she is the proud mother of the cutest twin baby girls ever and is comfortable in her new role. I bet she can’t imagine the world without her girls now and those pre-pregnancy worries seem far away. We weren’t “ready” for my husband’s interview notice either but now we can’t believe we dragged out the process for so long. Looking back, it was easy to “wait” before we got his interview date… It was stressful and exhausting from the point of our notice until his actual second interview… But now, we can enjoy life and each other without the shadow that followed us for our entire relationship. We can tour Europe if we want to or hop on a plane to Mexico at any time… Mex can open a retirement account and I can finally make him the beneficiary on all of mine. The little things we didn’t even realize we worried about are now gone… of course we still get to have all the fun ‘discussions’ like “who left the toilet seat up?” “whose turn is it to clean the bathroom?” “you drive like a crazy person!” oh the joys of being together!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to our friends and we look forward to helping them prepare for this exciting (but highly stressful) time.

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Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Immigration, Permanent Resident Visa/Green card