Mar 18, 2016

Déjà Vu



Dear Reader, 

I don’t want to turn this blog into a political one, I am sure what I am doing with it now that my struggles as an immigrant are over. At least, the legal struggles are over.

I can’t sit by anymore, though and not comment on the clusterfuck this campaign has been. I voted for the first time in my life on Tuesday. For the FIRST TIME EVER. When I lived in Venezuela I was Colombian and a Permanent Resident but not allowed to vote, I left Colombia when I was 3 years old so not quite old enough to vote. During the Colombian elections of 2002, I was old enough to vote but it was a month after I moved to the US and I was not in a mental frame of mind to give a fuck. In later years, it seemed too odd to cast a vote that in theory would affect how lives are lived in a country I had never lived in. 

Needless to say, this is the first time in my life where my vote would count in a country I live in and where that vote would affect change in my day to day basis. I know how the electoral college works, I know the delegate thing pretty much takes actual democracy out of the voter’s hand, I know all dad, Adam Ruins Everything already ruined that for me a few months ago https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90RajY2nrgk     
 
Be that as it may, I cannot help but hold a shred of hope that we, the people can affect change, positive change in the way things are done, in how legislations are written, in how the law can work for us.

Look at Seaworld! Less than three years after the movie Blackfish, which documents the plight of captives whales, (specially Tilikum, the whale who caused the dead of trainer Dawn Brancheau) came out and brutally opened the eyes of everyone to the pain and suffering of Orca whales in captivity, the park has decided to cave to pressure and end their breeding and captivity program. There won’t be any more ‘circus like’ shows, there won’t be any more kidnapping or trading of whales between parks, no more breeding animals that should roam free to the unnatural habitat of a tank and performing like clowns. These 28 (the actual number varies between 24 and 58) whales will be the last whales used by Seaworld. They will educate the future generations on marine mammals without the circus act, without torturing those majestic creatures.

How did it happen? Because of the people, because of you and me and everyone else who complained and hashtagged the shit out of #emptythetanks and #blackfish and #seaworldsucks. People who boycotted, and protested outside the parks, complained, wrote emails and letters, called their representatives and senators, shared links on Facebook and Instragram and Twiter, talked to their friends and coworkers, educated strangers. Because of those small steps, little by little it changed the law. By law the trainers couldn’t get in the water or even close to the whales, which makes it harder for the show to go on, interaction, I believe it’s the key to training them.

Then came the California Coastal Commission who agreed to let Seaworld expand their park in San Diego only if they ended the breeding program. And so the breeding program is done, over with. Why? Because they had to, because the people won. The whales won too, the ones not to be born into captivity anymore, the ones who could’ve been snatched from their pods in the future.  This is THE biggest victory in animal advocacy in decades.

When I see stuff like that happens it quiets down the cynic in my that wants to rears its ugly head every time I watch a Republican debate, or hear someone say Muslims will have to be tracked (I don’t even understand how logistically speaking that would be possible)  every time I see a Trump rally full of spewing hate.  I refuse to give myself up to the dark side and become a cynic. I refuse to say I don’t care and stop being informed, I refuse to be charmed by ‘refreshing’ clowns that spout bigotry and racism and hatred and want to disguise it under the mask of patriotism. It hurts to care, but I refuse to become desensitized and swallow that pill that everyone has seems to have swallow and take pride on remaining ignorant because “all politicians are the same” or “my vote won’t count” or “they are all bought by wall street anyway” I won’t be suck down by this wave of anti-intellectualism where is cooler and somehow better to be ignorant, misinformed and uncaring.

I already saw this happening. I saw this exact same development in Venezuela. When Chavez ran for President, speaking about certain groups of people as if they were not Venezuelans, running a divisive campaign, with his polo t-shirts and his booming voice and his uber colloquialism, his ‘refreshing’ tell-it-like-it-is, isn’t it shocking but oh so funny persona.  He won them over, the ones who were looking for entertainment when they should’ve been looking for leadership. He won over the ones who heard negative things about Colombians, and realized they have been thinking those dark thoughts themselves but maybe they didn’t feel comfortable saying them out loud, but now the President was saying it too, so maybe it’s okay.  He won over the ones full of resentment, valid of imagined and he stoked that fire. Now the ember is still smoldering and there is nothing left of the country Venezuela used to be, with the values it used to have, and the freedoms it used to enjoy. Like Nero, now the whole fucking thing is burning down. 

History always repeats itself, I want to believe that we can stop it from repeating. Rise above the noise, don’t be a part of the common denominator, read, research, google, and ask questions, debate, be uncool and give a damn! Don’t settle for food and entertainment, free grain and circuses.  We can do better than that. We did for Tillikum, now let’s fucking do it for ourselves.

Feb 4, 2016

I AM ONE OF YOU NOW!




After receiving some pretty tragic news last night about a family member and feeling devastated about it, I had to rally and get ready today for my Oath Ceremony.

We left the house pretty early, because parking is impossible on swear in days. On the way there we had to U-turn and take another route because there was a three-car and a school bus accident (no one was badly injured).

We made it there with plenty of time and I sat with my family (aunts, uncle, my mom, dad and husband) waiting to be called to the ceremony room.

It’s funny because all this time I have felt this fear and apprehension towards the USCIS agents and today they were all ebullient and smiley. They took our resident cards, never to be seen again and handed us all a packet with a holder for the naturalization certificate, a passport application, a booklet about voter registration, an envelope with a letter from President Obama, a small book with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a Citizen’s Almanac and a page with the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and the Oath of Allegiance, and a little US flag.

People were actually late, I cannot even fathom it. I have waited so long for this moment that I can’t understand why everyone wasn’t there early or on time. We had to wait until everyone showed up and it started 45 minutes after schedule.

There were 86 of us being sworn in, 32 nationalities, or former nationalities I should say now.

We sang the anthem and saw a video and then the ceremony started. The USCIS Agent spoke fondly of how moments like these ones were what made her job the best job. I could tell she was so excited and happy for us, I don’t think you can fake her enthusiasm and I knew then she is chosen to give the speech at the ceremonies because she feels and believes what she is saying and we new citizens feel moved and appreciated by it.

They called every former nationality (made sure to impress that upon us) and when Colombia was named, eight of us stood up.

I hope people understand that as much as we all want to be citizens, we do not do so lightly. At least I did not do it lightly. I stood there renouncing my born country and I did it honestly, with all my heart because this is my home country now, but it is with a little pain that you let go of that.

After all former nationalities were called, we raised our right hand and pledged our loyalty to the United States of America. To give up loyalty any other country or sovereignty that we were citizens or subjects to, to defend and protect her from all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help us God.

The lady in front of me was sobbing so hard, I had doubt she actually said the oath out loud.
I had my moments, when tears clouded my eyes, and a knot in my throat made it hard to swallow but they were happy tears (especially when the President spoke to us, welcoming us as US Citizens, what can I say? I love me some Obama)

We waved our flag and smiled and then received our certificates, so crisp and pretty, with our picture in them.We left our numbered chairs to be hugged and kissed by our families and loved ones, by those who stood by us and held our hands and dried our tears and helped us throughout this journey. Dear Husband was in tears, so was my mom and aunts and uncles. I laughed and smiled and kissed them and hugged and just felt overwhelmed by love from them. There they were crying for me and I was so excited and hopeful and in disbelief that I was unable to shed one single tear.

We took a picture in front of the Department of Homeland Security Flag and the US Flag and it felt all sorts of surreal.

I know some people have very heated feelings about immigrants and why we are here and what we do, I know sometimes they don’t know us, our stories, and our reasons. I know sometimes they hate us, sometimes they fear us and I wish they could see inside my heart and my head and know that I am like so many others out there and they are trying to get to where I am. I love this country, I love its people, this is my home now, I will protect it and defend it and do my best to make it even better because it’s officially mine now too. Don’t worry, I won’t let it down.

Feb 2, 2016

CITIZENSHIP TEST, ROUND 2



On April 26, 2016 I will be in this country for 14 years. Only 3 years less than the time I lived in Venezuela, 11 years more than I ever lived in my birth country of Colombia. 

Today I went at 8 am to take my citizenship test. I don’t need to share with you, my gentle readers, how many times I went to the bathroom. I debated whether I should take one of my Xanax, which are always in my bathroom cabinet, ready to be taken when I fly but since I am planning international travel this year, I decided to brave the nerves and the fear without pharmaceutical aid.

They called me into the interview room five minutes past my appointment time, I was so thankful the emotional torture would soon be over, I rather be facing the agent and getting on with the test that sit there with my stomach in knots pretending nonchalance.

I swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth and sat down. They asked me to signed and initial two passport photos that I had sent with my application. You mean to tell me I have to grab a pen and perform a motor skill related task while my hands are shaking this badly?

That’s the thing, my heart is not pounding, my voice is not shaking but my hands are always a dead giveaway. When I had to give a maid of honor speech last year, I joked, I laughed, I was sarcastic, the only reason people knew I was about to piss my dress it’s because my cheat sheet was shaking so much it was almost vibrating.

I went through the application, promising that I had never been a prostitute, broken the law, arrested or involved with the communist party. The agent asked me about the deportation order and how it had been lifted, she asked me what had caused it. I was afraid of this question, I was afraid they were going to say, you know what? We are not so sure the immigration judge should have lifted that order, here’s the ankle bracelet again! But I explained it was from a prior case, she nodded and then moved on.

I was asked to say “Who can vote” and write “Citizens can vote” my handwriting looked like a preschooler’s with the shaking and all, but I did it!  She then proceeded to ask me about the vice president, the reasons why we fought the British, the number of amendments in the Constitution, and what the highest court in the U.S. is.  That was it...I was all ready to recite all 13 Colonies, describe the “Rules of Law”, tell all 22 names of the Native American tribes and list all Cabinet level positions… but no, that was all.

She checked the little box that said “you past the test” and told me to be there this Thursday to have my Oath Ceremony.

You guys…I am going to a U.S. Citizen on Thursday. You, who have been with me throughout this whole process can understand how monumental and life changing this moment is.

I feel…I don’t even know what to feel! My phone has been ringing nonstop since this morning with family and friends congratulating me for what they know it’s the biggest moment of my life since my marriage. 

I think about every moment that had led to this and I want to hug that frustrated me who never thought this day would come. And what a year for this day to come!
I can’t wait to register to vote and exercise a right I have never been able to because I have always been an immigrant in the country I lived in.

I wish I could explain the feeling in my chest, the constant need to cry a little, the way I wish it was Thursday already so I can stand there and vow to be loyal to this country that has given me and my family so much.

I can’t wait to stand there and wave the flag and lift my hand along my fellow new citizens and enjoy the privilege of being an American. I am soooo going to Europe with my blue passport!