Dec 15, 2015


Guys, tomorrow I have my citizenship test appointment. Those of you who have been with me through this entire process know how monumental this is for me.

I am a flipping mess. My stomach it’s hurting so bad from the nerves (or maybe from the entire box of Special K, I nervous ate last night). I wish I had the confidence to go without nerves but historically speaking my appointments have been fraught with one thing or another and I hate to invite trouble but I can’t get the words of my retired lawyer out of my head: ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’

Repeated those to me like a mantra throughout this entire process and now I cannot just be cavalier about it, I am a nervous wreck and preparing for anything and everything.

My friend Erin suggested taking one of my ‘fly pills’ (Xanax) but I rather be coherent and nervous than so chill and relaxed that I am not giving a damn about my answers.

To those of you who do not know the process this is how it goes:
After three years of having a permanent residency (and technically five years after being married to an American Citizen) applicants get to submit the N-400 (naturalization) form.  Applicant of course has to pay a fee along with the application and have another round of fingerprinting (I did that in August) and then if fingerprints come clean, a letter it’s send with a date and time to present at the local immigration office for testing.
The testing involves reviewing the N-400 application, where they ask the applicant to repeat the entire form, name, places of residence for the past five years, places of employment for the past five years, if they have left the country, for how long they’ve been out, etc. They also ask if they’ve ever prosecuted someone based on their religious faith, if they’ve belonged to a militia, or guerrilla-type organizations or ever belonged to a Communist party or a Nazi party. I think they also ask if they have ever prostituted.  Fun times!
They then ask 10 out of 100 possible civic questions that range from: “What is the supreme law of the land?” to “what states border Canada?” Applicants have to get 6 out of 10 right. Then they ask to say a sentence in English, which is kind of redundant to me because the entire time they have reviewed the application it’s in English so they should have a clue of whether the applicant is fluent or not by that point, but what do I know?  After repeating something along the lines of “the White House it’s located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” the applicant has to also write the sentence or a similar one (think “the fox jumps over the lazy dog”) 

I have read and being told by my family members who have gone through the process, that they may or may not tell you right away if you passed, and they may or may not get you sworn in the same day, and may or may not give you a date right away for your swear in. They also may or may not send a letter requesting further paperwork and information.
So they may or may not grant it.

Absolute and definite it’s not their game.

My case has been a complicated one and it took years but the outcome was a positive one. I repeat that to myself constantly. I have my permanent residency and my legal status was resolved and everything is fine, but I am not going to lie, the whole process was somehow dehumanizing and traumatic. Every time I see an immigration application I get this uncomfortable and painful feeling in my stomach and I turn into a raging bitch. I am so short tempered and annoyed when I can’t find a paper or get frustrated when they ask me to bring a copy of my husband’s birth certificate to prove he is a U.S. Citizen and it irks me! It irks me that they require that paper when they have at least four copies of that from the entire process. It is part of the bureaucracy of every country, not just this one.

I understand it when I stop and think about it, but I think is part of the emotional trauma that I associate with the immigration process.

I am afraid of them. I guess that’s what it boils down to. I am afraid of the unchecked power they have over me and my future. I know this is the end of the process and still it’s a visceral reaction to what the immigration agents represent. I felt so disenfranchised and alone when this whole process began. Apparently having a permanent resident card hasn’t relieved me of that fear.

I wonder if everything goes well and I pass the test and they grant me citizenship if that fear will remain in me. Or if I will feel the blue passport like a mantle over my shoulders protecting me from them and all dangers out there.

I have always loved those scenes in the movies where the American Citizen is running towards their embassy, secure in the knowledge that they will have the whole backing and protection of the world’s most powerful country as soon as they cross those gates. I felt jealous of that, of that confidence in one’s country.

While confidence and trust in government it’s an all-time low, pretty much everywhere in the world, I must admit that I don’t feel that way towards this country. Maybe because where I come from it’s so much worse, so much corruption without any accountability. I am sure Americans who read this will disagree and think me naive and misinformed. I am also sure they haven’t lived in Colombia or Venezuela and have no clue of the realities there.

In spite of that, I do not make the decision of citizenship lightly. I will have to forgo loyalty to my native country after all.

I am prepared though. I used to mock my brother for how ‘native’ he had gone and here I am, gone native as well. I don’t quite bleed red, white and blue, but I have worked hard to stay here, I have worked hard to never be a burden to the country, I have done my part to keep it clean and safe, I have traveled and loved every inch of this country that I have seen. I am in awe of its beauty every day; and every afternoon when I drive home and see the sun set and the pink, oranges and blues of the Florida skyline I smile and I grateful that I get to be here and enjoy that beauty.
I am ever so grateful of the opportunity to be here and the acceptance that I have found in those who have welcomed me.  I love this new country of mine. I do.  I think back to the days when I was depressed and miserable and wanting to go back to Venezuela and I smile a little at thinking of all the things I would’ve missed from here.  It’s a different type of love from my love from Venezuela or Colombia, not so tinged with nostalgia and sadness. It’s hopeful, sweet and thankful.

Let’s see tomorrow if the agents will let their country love me back.

Nov 18, 2015


On Friday evening, after DH and I finished cleaning the house (my mom demands a clean house when she is staying over to pet sit), I opened my Facebook to see that the two friends I had made while in Paris had noted their status as “safe” from the Paris Terror Attacks.  
I immediately felt a cold chill run down my spine and tried to google the news, checked on Twitter and finally remember I have cable again and turned on the TV.  

The news said then that there were 153 dead, 300+ injured in organized attacks that happened one after the other. I saw the dazed look on people’s faces, running around for shelter, the broken glass at the restaurant, the feed of the bomb that could be heard during the football game and the startled football players, the rushing concert goers covered in blood. The people exiting the football stadium singing La Marseillaise made my eyes tear up and my heart ache. 

I saw the people on Facebook immediately praying for Paris, praying for the French, praying for the families of the victims, pissed at ISIS, pissed off a terror, scared of what was to come next. 

I also saw a lot of my Venezuelans friends saying “I feel bad for Paris, but, what about our dead?” Or “I see a lot of people here giving a damn about Paris but who cares about what happens in Venezuela?” Or “153 dead? We get more than that every day in the Capital and who is mourning us?”  “I see a bunch of sheep changing their Facebook profile to the French flag, how about you care about your own fucking country first?” 

I wasn’t aware that the soul had a limited supply of compassion. I wasn’t aware that we were unable to hurt for your own country and hurt for the French, and for Japan, and Lebanon and Venezuela and the people of Syria who are trapped by this regime and living an every-day hell.  I wasn’t aware that you could only care for your own and fuck everyone else. 

I was so disappointed, so hurt, so flabbergasted, so naive. Maybe it’s easy for me to feel disappointed by my friend’s feelings while they battle the rampant violence, danger, hunger and hopelessness in Venezuela while I sit cozily here in the U.S.A.  Maybe it’s unfair that I expect more from people who have spent the last 20 years in a rapidly deteriorating country that they no longer recognize as their own. Maybe it’s unfair to expect them to think outside their own daily struggles and spare some thought, some hurt, some pity and compassion, some empathy, some feeling for their fellow men outside their own country.

As I saw them spewing even more pettiness and anger and hatred I wanted to argue with them but what can I say? When they are suffering and I am not? But knowing that, doesn’t stop me from feeling that the attitude of ‘what about us’ it’s part of the problem, that culture of me first, that way of living where you cannot spare a thought for something that doesn’t affect you, THAT it’s part of the problem.  When all you care is about what affects you directly then we can’t move forward together. 

I mourn for the news of Venezuela’s deaths. I mourn by how callous and used to the violence the country I called home, has gotten used to. I mourn for the friends who had died, for the ones who had been kidnapped, for the ones who cannot find milk for their babies, or diapers, or shampoo. Every time I walk into Publix and see Harina P.A.N. I mourn for the fact that it’s a Venezuelan product in the U.S. that Venezuelans can’t find in their supermarket. 

I also mourn for the French, don’t we all have enough room in our hearts to care for more than one cause? I saw the pictures of some of the victims in Paris, so young, so happy in their Instagram shots, so handsome and pretty some of them were, how goofy others. I saw their faces and I mourn them too, as I mourn the couple of sisters who died at the restaurant.  I imagine my own sister and myself going through that and it breaks my heart for the family of those two women. 

Can’t we care for them and care for ours as well? I am so angry and sad at the many friends who see empathy for others and caring for what happened in Paris as a weakness, or indifference to the plights of Venezuela.  

Violence breeds violence and contempt and indifference, I think maybe that’s why my friends said the things they said, maybe that’s why they have turned into people who can see someone else’s pain and not think “I am sorry this is happening to you” but instead think “Why should I care about you? What about my pain?”

Some of my friends were also condemning the world for not intervening in the situation in Venezuela and fixing it. I am no politician but I am not sure what that person expected, a war? A US invasion? A foreign solution?  

I don’t know, but it worries me that it will change the rhetoric from indifference towards what’s happening to the outside world to hatred for the outside world. 

I wish they would understand that apathy towards their fellow men it’s not going to fix the situation in Venezuela.

Apathy fixes nothing. Caring, does.

Feb 17, 2015


Dear abandoned reader,

I am a little embarrassed that every time I update this blog is when someone prompts me to do it. I should be doing it constantly, not that I have much to say in relation to what the blog is supposed to be about, but I brought you guys along my journey just to abandon you as soon as my things got solved.

In my defense, work has been pretty hectic and I am incurably lazy and a procrastinator. So there, that’s my excuse.

I must confess there were times a few years ago when I was in the middle of the legal struggles, tethered to the ankle monitor from hell, when I despaired that the day would never come.  The day arrived however and I set foot on my homeland back in October 2014. I wondered while on the plane if kissing the floor when I landed would be too much.

DH seemed a bit baffled by my lack of enthusiasm a few weeks before the trip; he was looking forward to the food, the pretty women (he thinks I don’t know that’s one of his reasons) and the salsa dancing that awaited us. He told me several times he was more excited about the Colombia trip that the one we took to Europe. It was not lack of enthusiasm on my part but while I was bouncing off the walls when the Europe trip was approaching, the trip home made me feel so much different. There was unspeakable happiness in my heart, I couldn’t think about it without getting a little choked up, but there was also some apprehension. 

What are you bitching about now, Melissa? What could you possibly have to complain about? I didn’t have anything to complain about but I couldn’t deny the feeling in my chest.

A few weeks before the trip when I was running work errands I was listening to music in my car and this old Gloria Stefan song came on my shuffle. It’s called “Mi Tierra” and very appropriately talks about how you can never forget your roots, the land you left behind and how that lands aches with your absence. It struck me then why I was so apprehensive. I had been away from home for almost half my life! I was 31 years old and been away for almost 13 years. I truly was afraid that I would get there to the land I am from and I feel like I didn’t belong.

What if there was no strike to my heart, what if I felt like a foreigner? It reminded me of another song called “Foreigner” by Franco De Vita (awesome Venezuelan singer/songwriter) where the guy in the song leaves home in search of a better future leaving all behind and when he returns the children from his hometown called him the Foreigner. He doesn’t belong anywhere! Ain’t that kick in the head!

Every time I thought about going back home, back in those first few years when the U.S. didn’t feel like home and I was full of piss and vinegar and sorrow about being here I imagined the moment like in a movie; me getting out of the plane, the city would look more beautiful than ever and I would just feel like I had made it home, tears would run and my soul would once more be happy, content, comfortable, complete. Like when you sit down in your couch alone and your spouse is asleep upstairs and the pets are purring/snoring next to you and you know that everything is right in the world.

The bitch of it is that I was right. I was right to feel apprehension Dear Reader because home…is not home anymore. I so LOVED being there. DH and I had a blast eating our weight in fish in Cartagena and seeing my family in Barranquilla (the few that hadn’t made it to the US on vacation yet) was so much fun.

Clubbing on Halloween was a flipping blast, the music was great, and my family was so warm and welcoming and awesome with us. My aunt and uncle woke us up with café con leche every morning and breakfast, drove us around and it was so beautiful being there with all of them and see how much the city had changed in some ways and stayed the same in others (Let’s retire the donkey carts, Barranquilla)

I felt like a visitor though. I stood there thinking if I would leave my life in the US and go back and I wouldn’t, I don’t think my mentality would fit in any longer, the same way my mentality didn’t fit in here when I came 13 years ago; the same way that who and how I am sometimes still collide with the US even after being here for so long.

I came back speaking Spanish like a Costeña but I felt this…divide between the Melissa I was then when I was there the last time and the Melissa I am now. Not because 13 years had passed and I was 31 instead of 18 but because people looked at me like I was a tourist and treated me like I was a tourist and I dressed like I was a tourist and while they knew I was a Colombian expat in the U.S. I was not a true Barranquillera to them. My Venezuelan accent was confusing and I complained too much about the driving (they drive like crazy there). The things that a “True Colombian” takes for granted or accept as normal I couldn’t, I couldn’t hide the horrified expression with every homeless dog I saw in every corner. I lost my patience with the disrespect for traffic laws.

I wonder if I would feel different if I went back to Caracas instead. I knew how to get around there, I knew the streets, how to get from school to home, you could drop me somewhere in town and I knew which bus to take. Maybe the reason why Colombia felt so…alien was because I only went there on vacations; I visited two/three times a year but never lived there.

But what if…what if I ever go back home to Caracas and I feel the same? I would have lost something precious that I can’t get back.

In Barranquilla I met my 22 year old stepmom (my dad’s girlfriend) and also met for the first time my six year old sister that my dad had with another of his girlfriends. I told DH that I was afraid of the years of therapy the trip to Colombia may cause me, he laughed and thought I was exaggerating, but I truly am not.