Gabriela’s ‘All-American’ Dream: An immigrant family’s desire to be like any other normal American family2 Comments Published by les July 16th, 2012 in Communication, Community Dialogue, Contributors, Politics, Salt Lake City, SLC.
Editor’s Note: Mark Alvarez edited and translated this first-person story, originally written in Spanish by ‘Gabriela.’ Names have been changed to pseudonyms out of courtesy and respect for privacy. This is another in a series of stories that have appeared periodically in The Selective Echo and are featured on a Facebook page: ‘American Hybrid: Stories of Immigration.’
These stories are essential to the discussion about immigration reform because they bring us back to the essential considerations of humanity that have been eclipsed by unproductive partisan, demonizing dialogue. Effective advocacy and participation begins with sharing stories like these.
What’s different about Gabriela’s story from the others that have been featured here is that hers is told in the first person. Gabriela’s story is immediately recognizable as a classic American one of the dreams, values, and challenges that have defined the best and most compassionate aspects of our nation’s formidable history of immigration. These stories do not belong in the shadows and it is only by their telling and retelling will we be able to remove the shadows once and for all not only for Gabriela’s benefit but also for millions of others.
I was born in Peru. When I was six, my family sought a better future and moved to Venezuela. I am Peruvian by birth, but I became Venezuelan in my heart.
Almost forty years later, in 2012, I am making a life here in Utah with my husband Mario and Alex, our beautiful and lively four-year-old son. We have a peaceful life, much safer than that which we could have had in Venezuela. Even so, I miss what I left behind: family, friends, wonderful lands and the Caribbean climate. Memories are bittersweet when I remember the constant turmoil of Venezuela, where life and possessions can be precarious and at risk every single day.
How did I get here? The U.S. was never part of my plan, but destiny and a series of decisions led me here. I wanted to come here legally, but that was impossible. Coming here illegally scared me because I respect the law. Family and friends taught me that. It took me three years to decide to come here.
I left many things behind, including a stable job with a multinational company (today expropriated by the government), a university degree and several years of postgraduate study. Why did I do this? I followed Mario, a man I met as an undergraduate. We are still together, and we have a son Alex.
Mario is a professional with a postgraduate degree. He had a good job in Venezuela, but he was fired during the 2002-2003 oil strike, the biggest general strike in Latin America history (Wikipedia). The strike was put down forcefully and worker demands were never met. More than 32 thousand workers, including Mario, were fired without any compensation or recourse.
Word spread that the strikers would be blacklisted from government work and from direct or indirect benefits—silent and disguised payback for having acted against official authority, the Hugo Chavez government that has held power since 1999. The blacklist and subsequent persecution ruined Mario’s career and our future plans. Mario worked for two years as a street vendor and taxi driver.
Essentially trapped in a psychological prison without full rights and any realistic way to improve his life, Mario decided to leave the country and try to get political asylum. Despite the fact that we had college degrees and that we had plans to get married and start a family, this was the right choice.
We would have to learn a new language. We would have to start from zero: no real knowledge of English, no applicable work experience, no credit, no friends and no family.
Visas were almost impossible to obtain, so we decided that Mario would go first with me to follow afterwards. We had our doubts, and we were in our mid-thirties. Still, we looked forward to restarting our lives in the U.S.
When Mario arrived here life was difficult. He did not have a work permit, so he volunteered as a teacher aide in the hope that he eventually could apply for immigration status. Despite sacrifice, persistence and patience, he could not qualify. He considered political asylum.
Asylum is tricky. Some people recommend applying, but cases are hard to win. Among other things, you must show the danger you faced in the country you left. If you lose the case, you have to leave the country.
Making this even harder are so-called “immigration attorneys” who may have little or no experience in this area. Additional complications include high fees and the short time one has to apply for asylum, ordinarily one year from date of entry.
I explain this because I arrived a year after Mario. I considered asylum and found that it would be extremely complicated for Mario, largely because he had waited so long. In addition, he had become an undocumented worker.
The risk of losing the asylum case was too big, and we knew that losing meant having to leave the country forcibly through deportation or voluntarily. A few attorneys recommended that we simply wait for immigration reform.
Six years later, we still wait. Like many other undocumented immigrants, we try to live “normal” lives. “Normal” is different for us. We cannot leave the country to visit a sick mother or father because we might not be able to come back home.
“Normal” is being able to sleep soundly at night knowing that the family is safe and nobody will be picked up and deported. We cannot do this.
“Normal” is being able to drive a car without excessive worry about minor traffic infractions or a headlight going out. We cannot do this: we worry about getting detained for minor matters and getting deported far away from our loved ones.
“Normal” is being able to work at what one is qualified for, not having to worry about documents. Opportunities should come through real knowledge and determination, not through papers. This is not true for us.
“Normal” is not feeling like or being perceived as a criminal even though one has committed no crime.
I have written mostly about Mario and me because our son Alex is only four years old. He is a U.S. citizen, not because we wanted it so but because God did. Given some of my physical challenges, it is a miracle that Alex was even born. But, again, this is Alex’s country to which Mario and I have had to adapt. We continue to adapt, but it is challenging from the shadow of illegality. Our door has nothing signifying “illegal” or “alien.” In the community, we are just another family trying to pursue the American dream. This story rewrites itself every day.
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