Sunday, December 28, 2008

Presenting Lucas Salvatore!

Lucas was finally born on December 23 at 6:22 am. He was 7 lbs 10 oz, 20 in of perfection! He is in fabulous health, and he and Amy were able to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve in time to spend the holiday with family.

Carlos was able to watch the birth via Webcam, and is so proud of his new son. He even managed to capture some of Lucas' first moments on video:

Here are some other photos of the baby with proud family members:

With Grandpa

With Amy's cousin Carly and Grandma

Look at all that hair!

More photos and updates to come...

Monday, November 10, 2008

a super belated photo post

Oops. It's been over a month since I was in Mexico and I still haven't posted most of the photos. I'll add them in a second.

An update on immigration: our amazing attorney is now filing a separate appeal that will go to a completely different office. So she's basically working from two angles, and if either is successful, we're looking at a brand new chance! So we just need prayers that we'll get quick and favorable responses.

Now, back to the trip. Aside from the absolute insanity of our experience with immigration, we had a good time together. Here are some highlights:

Carlos bought me a slice of German Chocolate Cake for my birthday! Baby G and I both enjoyed it.

We went to this huge market/strip mall, "Los Cabacitos". Several food vendors make stuff that's so good, this place is known all over the city.

These gorditas are one example: picadillo con papas (ground beef with potatoes) is the top one, and calabacitas (squash) on the bottom. SO GOOD!

A different type of gorditas. These ones are sweet and sugary and come filled with a huge range of stuff (strawberry, pineapple, honey, chocolate). They are crazy good.

Carlos proudly emerges with one of the most famous dishes to be found at Los Cabacitos: Elote Asado (grilled corn on the cob). His is smothered in the usual mayo, cheese, and powdered chile.

Carlos' brother with his findings: a bag full of churros, and a rusa, which is a refreshing regional drink involving lemon soda, pineapple, and powdered chile.

My favorite: Jalisco-style ice cream. It's similar to italian ice (reminds me of Mario's Italian Ice on Taylor St in Chicago). In amazing flavors like cantaloupe, mango, coconut.

On a different day, visiting my in-laws. Another delicious ice cream stop.

Carlos' choice? These insane nachos, loaded with melted fake cheddar, corn, and jalapeños. He really was this excited.

The dogs: 4-month-old Negro on the left, and our baby Nico, all grown up to about 7.5 months old. They both live with the in-laws now. He's got a huge tongue.

See, we weren't ALWAYS eating! Finally, a photo of us at the hotel in Juarez.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Next Steps and New Hope

OK, a week has passed since the last post, and a LOT has happened since then.

First of all, I said goodbye to Carlos (and our home in Mexico), knowing full well that the next time I see him, I'll be introducing him to our newborn baby! That's a sad and happy thought at the same time.

The GOOD news is that the next time I see him, Lord willing, we will be meeting up in the lovely city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada!

That's right. With the help of my wonderful parents, and possibly even joined by my brother and sister-in-law, we will be driving through Michigan into Canada shortly after the baby's born. Carlos will fly one of the direct flights from Mexico to Canada and then travel to Windsor to meet up with us for several days so that he can meet his new baby. After that, he'll ideally stick around for a short while scouting out the city of Toronto, which we dream of as our future home.

You've read correctly. Our days in Mexico are coming to an end. It was a great adventure, but we can't continue on there permanently. Carlos needs to finish his degree/radiology certification, and the baby needs a better environment to grow up in (read: more diverse, more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan, and more accessible to grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and loving family in the US). Yes, call us snobs, but this is what we want for our future and for our child's future.

So, the current investigation involves options for getting Carlos into school and obtaining Student/Temporary Resident visas for us and the baby. Ideally as soon as possible so we can all be together. Since we adored Chicago so much, we decided that the best place to pursue our future is in the Canadian equivalent to Chicago. Anyone with advice and/or connections involving Toronto, please feel free to share!!

Meanwhile, the fight for justice with Carlos' visa situation continues! We now have the great fortune of benefiting from the assistance of Attorney Laurel Scott. She is arguably the nation's most experienced and successful immigration lawyer working with the consulate at Ciudad Juarez and many others around the world. She will be submitting a request to the Department of State seeking clarification on the application of the law in our case. While the chances are slim, and while the process is indefinite and probably very long, this is one way to continue fighting the lifetime ban. So, those that are still praying, we will keep praying that in the long run, this decision goes in our favor and we can finally return home.

In general, everything looks great for us right now. Let's just pray that the money and logistics can come together to make this promising future possible, and that Carlos' Canadian visa process will go a lot more smoothly, and mine and the baby's, of course!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why We'll Keep Fighting

The official decision was not in our favor at all, but we are not willing to accept it as final. This is far from over, everybody!

However, our immediate concern is for the baby, who has been through a lot already. So for now, our main focus is to finish a healthy pregnancy and also come up with a plan for right after the birth (which is still happening in the US) where the three of us are together in one healthy, sanitary place. As of right now, Mexico is not it. So we will need to get hustling on something of any nature in Canada, ideally for late December or January. It is insane to think that's possible, but we're going to try.

In the meantime, we're working on the great advice we've received from family and friends all over the place. There are plenty of people to contact, angles to work, and believe me when I say we will work all of them.

The reason we refuse to give up is simply the injustice of this situation, and not just the injustice of separating a family at such an important time in their lives. That happens to people every day in the world of immigration.

No, this is because we have been slapped down by a law that unfairly punishes people who had no say in their own immigration histories.

This is because currently, and right there during Carlos' own visa interview he witnessed this repeatedly, people are eligible to waive their inadmissibility and get a visa despite the following infractions:

  • Willfully choosing to run across the border or sneaking in through other means, even multiple times in certain instances, as a fully-conscious adult.
  • Being caught by immigration while trying to enter illegally, even multiple times, before succeeding.
  • Being charged with DUI (or DUIs) while in the US.
  • Being charged with a range of minor crimes while in the US illegally.
Meanwhile, the law also wipes clean all the time spent in the US illegally before the age of 18, because it is assumed that minors are not capable of choosing to live in the US illegally (except in one equally unfair segment of the law).

So people in all of the above situations are eligible to have their inadmissibility waived due to the hardship it would cause their US citizen spouse. Yet the law expects Carlos to be banned for life with no waiver.

The actual reason: Despite the fact that he had a valid visitor's visa to enter the US, a parent unwisely felt it would be easier if he presented a US citizen relative's birth certificate to seek entry when he was a youth. His protests were futile, because as a kid, what are you supposed to do when you're the one thinking more reasonably than your parent?

There are a few unpardonable sins in the world of immigration, the most common of which are:
1) committing a drug crime
2) falsely claiming to be a US citizen

Apparently they are both so equally heinous to US society that the law is willing to permanently ban people for either infraction regardless of their age.

So immigration law doesn't care that Carlos was a minor, or that he was forced completely against his will, not only to present a birth certificate but to enter the US at all. Immigration law doesn't care that he's never committed a crime in his life, that learned enough English to be the best English teacher at the institute where he works now, that he he graduated high school with good grades, went to college, tried to pursue a career in the health sciences. That he married a US citizen and is expecting a child who will also be a US citizen in a few months. None of this matters as much as the atrocious fact that as a youngster, he unwillingly presented a US citizen's birth certificate at the border entry point.

I am not willing to make statements about who isn't worthy of being admitted as an immigrant to the US, although I am seriously tempted to, because I believe a lot of the anti-immigrant climate in the US is aggravated by the admission of people who truly don't deserve it as much as others. The fact is, US immigration decisions don't hinge on the positive merits of its applicants. Only the severity of their negative shortcomings.

However, I am going to argue that if all those others are allowed to enter the US and live happy lives as legal residents, I can NOT see the justification in banning my husband for life. Meanwhile, there are countless others like him being hit with 10-year or lifetime un-waivable bans for immigration violations that happened before they were of an age to even have the intent to commit the offense they will suffer for as an adult. While I want this decision to change for us, I also want it to change for all the others out there who are suffering from the same unfair decision.

So we will fight, and if God gives us the strength, we'll fight until this is fair not just for us, but the others, too.

On a lighter note, this is sort of the visual depiction of how we feel right now!
Credit to an immigration forum member for that one :)

We'll keep you all updated!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Final Result: FAIL :(

Well, sadly, our year-long immigration adventure has experienced a violent and devastating collision with the reality of immigration law. After nearly 11 months, two humiliating Mexican jobs, thousands of dollars, 9 international flights, endless hopes and dreams, and tons of prayers, we are left empty-handed. As things stand right now, Carlos is banned from entering the US for life, and there is no opportunity for a waiver. This was always a possibility, sort of the worst-case scenario, but this is now our only scenario. We're pursuing a few unlikely leads, but it seems like it's time to start planning for a future that doesn't include the US.

Still, all of your prayers really made a difference in how this day played out. Here are some ways:

  • We were blessed by the presence of a friend from the immigration forum who was with us for the whole thing and helped us keep cool heads and think quickly.
  • After the interview, Carlos returned to the hotel in record time, allowing us plenty of time to catch our flight back to Monterrey.
  • Despite being clearly affected by the stress of the day (making nonstop violent movements), Baby G is still doing OK in there.
We woke up at 5:20 am (well, the baby and I were up since 3 am stressing...). Carlos took the hotel shuttle to the consulate at 6 to get in line for his 6:45 am appointment.

The day consisted of turning in documents, getting fingerprinted, and waiting for the official interview. When the time came, Carlos says he had the good fortune of being interviewed by the most veteran official, since all the others kept coming to her with questions about the cases they were dealing with.

The entire interview dealt with Carlos' immigration history. He was asked (in Spanish) to detail the times he entered the US and was asked several questions about the incidents. After this, he was handed the checklist sheet where the legal sections were marked to indicate the verdict in his case.

That's when Fighter Carlos came out. He says he switched to English for more privacy because the other applicants around can hear everything. He then pulled out the legal argument I had written and individually attacked the sections of the law the officer had marked, presenting all the related evidence for each one. The officer gave great thought to each, and made some copies of some of the pieces of evidence (why? not really sure...). At some point here, she pulled out the actual document that went on record the day he was stopped at the entry point in Laredo and found to be using a US citizen's documents. I always wondered if they really had record of the incident, and apparently they do. This means that our situation was really determined on November 27, 1997 at the US border. In that single moment, our future was permanently altered. The fact that the incident was on record since that day means that nothing we could have done from the day we met would have changed this decision. I suppose I find that comforting.

The consular officer declared that it was so difficult to give him a lifetime ban, as he is a nice guy with a great record, the kind of guy they like to give visas to, and that the law was too harsh on him, but the law is what it is. She ended the interview by telling Carlos she hopes he'll pursue private legislation to overturn this decision.

Carlos came back, relayed the news to me, and I phoned the officer in charge of the consulate to confirm that this decision was accurate. According to reports, this officer has stated in the past year that people like Carlos SHOULD be eligible to file a waiver to end the lifetime ban, but on the phone, he denied this.

So we're left seeking help on how to fight this from some very creative friends from the immigration forum. Maybe we'll muster the patience and energy to seek a private bill. All I know is that once the baby's born, I don't intend to continue living in separate countries, so I will probably be moving back to Mexico until we find a new solution/a country that will accept us both.

And so our global adventure must continue...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Medical: Complete

Carlos left at 7am on the shuttle to the consulate so he could do his mandatory medical exam. I spent pretty much the whole time in the lobby where the computer gets decent wireless reception. This gave me a chance to meet some others going through the process, including a friend from the online immigration forum that we frequent. I also met an interesting couple from the North Side of Chicago.

Around 1pm, Carlos returned to the hotel absolutely famished thanks to not eating in over 14 hours. He wasn't supposed to eat prior to the blood draw, which is the first step in the exam, but then unfortunately he had no chance to eat after that, either. So we pretty much speed-walked straight to the nearest place that serves food and I waited for him to start getting food in his tummy before asking him any of the dozens of questions I had.

In summary, they asked a lot of seemingly unimportant questions (Do you wear glasses/contacts? Have you ever broken any bones?). They poked, prodded, took all possible measurements, made him strip naked, and gave him 3 pointless shots (the Chicken Pox vaccine, a new round of MMR, and Tetanus, despite the fact that he was just re-vaxed for Tetanus in the recent past, apparently). Grand total: $290. Not as bad as it could have been.

They told him to return to the clinic at 2pm to pick up his results, so after lunch we walked over there together. He went into the clinic while I waited in a tented area outside reserved for non-applicant family members. Nobody felt it appropriate to offer the 7-months-pregnant girl a seat, so I settled down on a curb. An older gentleman loudly pointed out the rudeness of the situation, as there were also several elderly people who arrived later and were left standing, but hey, that's the way it is, apparently! Immigration is a dog-eat-dog world out here. Fortunately, I'm young, healthy and can handle it. :)

About 20 minutes later, Carlos emerged with his results. All looks good! No document check tomorrow, so we have the whole day to relax!

Here's Carlos, relaxing in the lobby:

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

We've arrived!

We left the house at 7:30 am so we're a little droopy at this point, but a quick rest will cure that. The airline apparently has a policy of very much overbooking flights so that even though we arrived 2 1/2 hours early for our flight, they tried to bump us to tomorrow's flight. We weren't about to have any of that and insisted that they find room for us on today's flight. We won.

Other than that, no incidents to speak of, and a quick and easy flight. The hotel is great, with a couple swimming pools and a verrry comfortable bed. Later we'll post some photos, after we better figure out the internet situation. Tonight we'll be going to bed early so that we can be ready to get up early for Carlos' medical appointment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Golden Birthday wrap-up

That's right! I'm now a 26 year-old! I'm fortunate to have enjoyed my past several birthdays in pretty interesting places:

2005 - Chicago
2006 - Barcelona
2007 - Rome
2008 - Monterrey

Last year, it was authentic Italian pizza and gelato. This year, Carlos and I celebrated at Peter Piper Pizza with a "Chicago Style Pizza". Apparently in other parts of the country/world, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and green peppers are all it takes to make a pizza "Chicago Style". Regardless, the pizza was good, which is why we went there.

Afterward, we went with Nico for a long walk under the stars (or whatever can be seen under the smoggy Monterrey sky). The best part of my birthday was being together as a whole family! Here's hoping for the next one, we'll all be back in Chicago.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Together again!

And just in time for my birthday!

I flew in on Mexicana yesterday, which was great! Direct flight from O'Hare to Monterrey, only 3.5 hours. They did ask for my Doctor's permission to fly right away at the check-in when they saw me, so apparently I look really pregnant now! The flight was great, I love Mexicana. They even serve real meals during the flight!

Only snag was getting through customs, and not for the usual type of reason. No, in my case it's that 15 or so flights in a year have taken their toll on the suitcase I chose, and having lost a leg somewhere between Europe and Mexico, it now lost a wheel on this flight. This only caused a problem when I had to hoist it off the customs baggage scanner and the sharky businessman behind me felt it would be helpful to push me, so that I was off-balance and dropped the already-unbalanced suitcase ON MY TOE! I emerged from customs frazzled, pregnant, dragging an injured suitcase, and gushing blood from the toe. But all will be OK, I've got the offended toe disinfected and wrapped up and I'll be fine. :)

Being re-united with Carlos was AWESOME and it feels good to be home, despite the ever-increasing pollution and absolutely unbelievable level of traffic chaos. The important part is being together. Carlos is fascinated by the belly, and has to keep touching it to see if it's all for real! Nico is HUGE now, and it's been fun to be re-united with him as well.

Shortly I will be posting about the itinerary for the remainder of the trip. Gotta grab something to eat first.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Baby G up close and personal

Despite torrential rains, power outages, and a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation! according to the Weather Channel), the storms cleared up in time for an ultrasound party at the hospital at 10:30 pm. Truly, that's when my appointment was. The crew there to witness the excitement included my parents, my aunt, and both of my cousins. We had a blast. The baby looks great, and of course, the long awaited moment: we found out if we're having a boy or a girl!!!!

The following are some non-gender-revealing photos:

Here's a profile of our beautiful little one.

And in this shot, you can see that the baby has clearly not inherited my birth trait of 6 fingers per hand and foot. Count those five healthy digits!

So the big question remains: boy or girl?

Of course, we're not telling you unless you really want to know. So, for those of you that are anxious to find out, click here to get the big news.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A few months later...

Obviously it's been forever since the last post, and here's one reason why:

Yes, folks, Carlos and Amy are going to be parents by Christmas if all goes well. World, get ready...

We're close to 14 weeks now, and glad about it. The first trimester was tough, between the nausea, food aversions, morning sickness, exhaustion, and frequent travel. This baby has already flown internationally 3 times and it'll probably happen a few more times before the birth, Lord willing.

So, some details, since our world is dramatically different than it was in March.

1) End of March - I quit my job. This was based on several factors, including problems obtaining legal working permission in Mexico (after 6 months on the job!), awful salary/work ratio, and a massive decline in my health. It was the right choice, although it was a scary one, since no other job was lined up.

2) Beginning of April - Carlos agreed that I should spend a couple weeks in the US to regain my health, earn some great money substitute teaching, and formulate a new plan.

3) April - During those weeks in the US, prompted by my mom's urging, I became aware of the pregnancy. Despite having been in denial about it for several weeks, there was no disputing my mom's intuition. :)

4) May - I returned to the Mexico. When I left Mexico in April, I had been planning to return and seek a job. However, with a baby on the way, it became clear that eking out a living in Mexico was not going to work out. The tough decision was made to stay in Mexico a few weeks, visit my husband, and then head back to the US on a more permanent basis. Thus, I spent most of my days battling morning sickness, trying to eat, and attempting to train the new puppy given to us by Carlos' brother on Carlos' birthday:

Nico is now a 3 1/2 month-old German Shepherd/Lab mix and he makes our lives more complete!

5) End of May - I returned to the US, got set up with medical care for me and the baby, and started working for my uncle's business. The job is great. My aunt and uncle are the best employers ever!

And Carlos? He's remained dedicated to his English teaching job where, although he seems hesitant to admit it, he is brilliantly successful. He got great reviews on his very first observation, his students love him, and the other teachers regard him as a great resource on English as spoken by real people, rather than textbooks. He is currently trained to teach 9 out of the 15 levels of English offered at his institute, and he now corrects MY English when we talk.

He also has fully housetrained the dog, and is giving him good social skills by taking him for walks on the path by our house every night. Nico does especially well with children, which is encouraging.

Carlos' free time is spent tinkering with the 1969 Chevrolet Cheyenne, keeping it in peak condition.

Our sanity is Skype. The access to unlimited video chat for free is the only way we're able to endure the international separation. Friends/family who have Skype can look us up on Skype by our first & last names.

We do need prayer:
1) A healthy pregnancy and a happy baby.

2) A way for Amy to feel less stressed and concerned, to make that healthy, happy pregnancy more of a possibility.

3) Strength for Carlos to endure in Mexico. He has hit a point of total aggravation with Mexican society in general and would gladly move to almost any other continent (or Canada) if the opportunity presented itself. We need him in Mexico, at least until the end of the US immigration process. So let's pray he gets some much-needed encouragement.

4) An immigration miracle, including a speedy process and an absolutely amazing result from his visa interview in Ciudad Juarez near the end of the process.

5) A clear path for the steps to take after the US immigration process is done, no matter what the outcome.

6) A steady-running Chevy Cheyenne. It's pretty much our only valuable possession in Mexico and extremely necessary for Carlos' job and general livelihood.

7) Continued means for Amy to visit Carlos, especially as her international flying days will soon be limited by the pregnancy. Two more visits before the baby's born would be a dream!

8) Strength and encouragement for the family members and friends who are standing with us through this challenging time. They have been incredible in their generosity and concern, even when for some of them, this is also very draining.

We appreciate all of you and can't wait to see the good things the rest of 2008 has for us. :)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The truth about legal immigration in the US

An immigrant family arrives to the US at Ellis Island

A hopeful immigrant holds some of the paperwork needed for his spouse visa

OK, recently we've decided that part of the reason this blog exists is to bring light to some of the facts, myths, and injustices in the world of US immigration because our lives have been permanently affected by them.

So first, we've got to clarify what it takes to immigrate to the US. In the olden days, people could arrive to the US on a ship, full of hopes and willingness to work hard, sign their name to a register, get a medical check-up, and start a life full of promise in the US. It is no longer even remotely this simple.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are four ways a person can immigrate to the US:
  • Be one of the rare winners of the US State Department's Diversity Lottery. This only applies to people from certain countries (most of the world's largest ones are excluded), and requires experience in a particular occupation or academic training.
  • Get sponsored by an employer. Note: Only applies to high-skilled professionals in extremely specific fields, like certain doctors, scientists, researchers, or religious workers. The employer has to get special approval from the US government certifying the need for a foreign worker.
  • Be a very wealthy and successful investor ready to start or take over a capital enterprise.
  • Be immediately related to a US Citizen or Permanent Resident.
As you can see, this system leaves out a lot of people. It leaves out the British art school grad who wants to work at Starbucks, learn the culture and become a typical American. It leaves out the Brazilian architect who wants to bring her skills to the US for a better future. It leaves out the hardworking Bulgarian baker who has a dream of starting his own bakery in the US. And obviously, it leaves out the low-skilled Mexican and Central American laborers willing to work long hours in construction, factory work, or landscaping to keep the US economy afloat.

Probably not eligible for a US immigrant visa

Sorry, no visa for you, either!

For those fortunate to qualify under one of these four categories, entering the US is still often unreachable. That last category I mentioned, the US relative category, is a very common way for people to apply for a visa. However, even having a US relative doesn't often get you into the US on time to make much of your dreams.

Example: If you are a citizen of the Philippines and you applied for a US immigrant visa through your brother in 1986, you would still, to this day, be waiting for your visa. That's 22 years of waiting! (See the Visa Bulletin for this data)

In other words, for the vast majority of people on Earth, immigrating to the US legally simply is not possible.

While I'm not condoning illegal immigration, I simply want to point out how truly difficult it is for the well-intentioned, hard-working dreamers of the world to immigrate to the US.

For a more graphic approach to what is written here, I refer you to the incredibly clever flowchart devised by, aptly named, "What part of legal immigration don't you understand?"

Friday, March 21, 2008

And we thought CHICAGO was the Windy City...

It's a good thing we took all those nice photos of the city on Sunday, because right now it looks completely different. Monterrey got slammed with a surprise windstorm on Tuesday. No rain, hail, or precipitation. Just 75 mph winds and so much dust that the city's air-pollution detectors hit 10 times the danger level before they finally clogged and shut down. The city maintains its claim that there was no indication this was about to happen, so people like me and Carlos just went about our normal lives (or "Spring Break") until it became clear we were in the middle of some near-apocalypse.

The power got knocked out to nearly the entire city around 10 am. Then the cell towers went down, too. Carlos and I decided to go to the local shopping center (it's like a half-mile away and approximately 10 weeks old) to pick up some essential groceries. That's when we realized it was probably not the smartest move, as the outer perimeter of the mall had already sustained tons of damage, like blown-out windows, caved-in walls, fallen signs, etc. But, this is Mexico. Money is to be made at any opportunity and any cost, so the interior of the mall was still open and running on backup power.

We got our groceries and went home to discover that there ARE things to do in the absence of electricity, such as discuss the effects of pre-Conquest indigenous society on modern-day Mexican culture, outline useful rules for countable/uncountable nouns in English, and talk about why "Joey" was never a successful spin-off from "Friends". By the time night fell, we still had no electricity, no cell phone service, and fortunately we'd had the presence of mind to fill buckets with water earlier, because the taps were running dry, too. After an adventure in cooking by the light of a Pope John Paul II vigil candle, we were confident the wind had died down, and hopeful that our utilities would be back by morning.

When we woke up, we were just as utility-less as the day before, so we took the bus downtown to the central bus station, during which time we saw just how powerful the storm had been. Carlos has to find a new gas station, because the nearest one is currently squashed underneath its heavy roof, which evidently collapsed during the storm. Power was out at the central bus station, but we managed to get on a bus to the nearby border city of Laredo, Texas / Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. We did some shopping, and I briefly crossed the border to check out the other side. This was my very first encounter with the border, and I did not care for it. It's depressing to actually see and cross the line that has the potential to keep me and Carlos apart. Laredo, Texas itself is a strange place - I never once even spoke English there.

When we returned to Monterrey, electricity was still not working in much of the city, but fortunately it had reached our sector, and we were finally able to return to regular life.

All this to say, we're still doing fine here! Good luck to all the Midwesterners dealing with snowstorms (again).

Below, a video of the destruction. We had no idea.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A tourists'-eye view of Monterrey

We've lived here for nearly 6 months. It was about time we got out and saw the best it has to offer people when they're not busy working. See the pretty photos here.

We got started in the Macroplaza, which is pretty easy to do because it's huge. Here is the Palacio de Gobierno, the State Capitol building. Apparently important stuff goes on in here. I just like it because it's one of few really elaborate older buildings in the city. (1860s I think)

Then we wandered around the Macroplaza a bit more, and tried to get a shot of us with the Cerro de la Silla in the background, a shot we've been needing for a long time. This is the mountain that best represents Monterrey, due to its unique saddle-like shape.

We walked over to the Plaza Morelos, which is a gigantic pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops. The shopping choices themselves aren't that spectacular, but the concept is pretty fun. Plenty of street vendors selling wrestling masks and Playboy bunny outfits, too.

We spent awhile in the Museum of Mexican History. It's a nice walk through the history of the republic, from the pre-Columbian Aztec cities, through the conquest, colonial ages, revolution, industrialization, and the modern age. Honestly, I think the Mexican Fine Arts museum in Chicago does a more fascinating treatment, but this one was definitely more detailed and informative. Gave us both a refresher on Mexican history, since it's been years since we properly studied it.

Next, we took a walk down the famed Paseo Santa Lucía, a modern engineering marvel. Last fall, the city completed this completely man-made river that stretches for two miles, with walkways, bridges and elaborate fountains lining the whole thing. In one section, restaurants have their outdoor seating right along the "river" as well. For 40 pesos a person, you can also ride a touristic boat for the full length. We enjoyed authentic homemade Jalisco-style ice cream, and were entertained by all the characters to be found along the riverwalk (not much different from Naperville's riverwalk in that sense).

Monterrey definitely has sights to see and entertainment to enjoy. It also has the benefit of having a very centralized downtown: the Macroplaza connects all of the major government and cultural buildings into one giant civic center. I guess this compensates for the total lack of proper public transportation here. We both agreed that with a good Metro system reaching all sectors of the city, Monterrey could become a truly world-class city. Hopefully someday...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Dream Deferred? How we've gotten here

We haven't posted it on here, but I think it's time to explain some things, like:

  • Why we left the US last summer
  • Why I had to return alone to Chicago for Christmas
  • Why we came to Mexico after the Barcelona adventure
  • Why we seem to be wandering with no country home
  • Why Canada has been thrown around as an option
Some of you know some details, others not much. So here goes.

When Carlos was a fresh middle school graduate, he was pretty happy in Monterrey. He was getting top grades at his technology school, dreaming of a future involving electronics, adventure, and travel to Japan. Like many middle- and upper-class families in Monterrey, his family frequently made trips over the Mexico-US border to shop, and those were the extent of his intentions in the US. But then, family strife caused his mother to decide take Carlos and his siblings to Chicago and live with a relative. Despite their anger and protests, Carlos and his siblings spent several months in Chicago and then the suburbs. Carlos did his best to adjust, but longed for his life back in Mexico. A complicated flurry of events happened after this, and by the time the dust had settled, Carlos' entire future had been permanently scarred by the way he was brought into the country.

You see, contrary to popular belief (blog post on THAT coming soon), people brought into the US illegally can't simply fix their status by returning to their home countries and asking for a visa. Nor can they fix it automatically by marrying a US citizen. And while generally, crimes committed as a minor are viewed differently than those committed as an adult, in the immigration world, age doesn't matter: you can be held to the same penalties whether you entered illegally at age 8 or 58.

Carlos' immigration story just happens to cross not one, but TWO grey areas of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996. It happens that while the law forgot to specifically address minors in certain areas of the Act, the US consulate in Mexico has recently decided to apply its own rules and treat minors identically to adults. In Carlos' case that means there is a high likelihood he will be permanently banned from ever entering the US again, for something he had no say in whatsoever.

While we were aware of this possibility when we left the US, we weren't willing to sit around and wait our lives out, hoping for immigration reform or a new interpretation of the laws. Meanwhile, Carlos slowly saw all his possibilities slipping as his illegal status began to chip away at his adult life. Finishing college, building a career, even renewing his driver's license: suddenly all of this was being blocked from his reach. These major obstacles were the main reason we decided to leave the country. We weren't willing to spend the rest of our lives watching Carlos struggle as a half-citizen of a country who didn't want him despite his talents, education, great hopes, and complete lack of control over the country he was raised in.

Spain was our first choice, simply because it was a place we both had dreamed of living, and it seemed as far as can be from all the immigration turmoil of the US. Unfortunately, spending time there as a couple showed us it wasn't exactly the place for us to build a future. Immigration, affordable housing: these are prime topics there, as well. It could have been done, but it was a game we weren't willing to play.

So one day, while walking through the old center of Barcelona, we sat down next to an ancient Roman Wall for a long time and made the decision to move to Mexico. I had no idea what would be in store, and Carlos only had a minimal clue; he had only spent 4 weeks of his grown-up life in Mexico, right before we left for Europe.

We decided that we would try to squeeze out a living in his hometown of Monterrey while we researched and mulled over our other options. So that is what we've been doing these past few months. Meanwhile, we decided to take the plunge and put in the spouse petition for Carlos' US permanent residency, just to see what would come of it. Rules change, interpretations get bent. What they're doing now may not be what they're doing a year from now. We know things could go against us, but they also, in a very rare turn of events, could go in our favor, and we're curious to find out.

This process is long and drawn-out: it will probably be at least a year before we go to Cuidad Juarez for the immigrant visa interview where they will deny his visa and then, only then, inform us if we have the chance to file a waiver for his denial based on marriage to a spouse.

All we know right now is that Carlos is not allowed to re-enter the US until this process is cleared. If ultimately he's denied, we will try to settle down somewhere, once and for all, and someday solicit a waiver for an visitor visa so we can both return to visit family and friends, and glimpse the life we once had been building for ourselves in the US.

Carlos remains pretty positive about all this. I go back and forth. Sometimes I feel like we have the whole world at our feet and the sky's the limit. Our house in Mexico is great, the weather's warm, the food is good. :) Other times I just cry over the injustice of all the people like Carlos suffering for the immigration sins of their parents, and all the families being separated, scarred, and permanently altered by the current immigration laws in the US.

But on the brighter side, we have faith that all of this will lead to a strong future somewhere, someday. To everyone who has sent little emails, updates, and messages: We appreciate it more than you might think! Every little connection to our loved ones is a great encouragement! So keep them coming! We love you all!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

an impromptu road trip deep into Mexico

We are truly privileged to live in one of Mexico's most modern cities, only three hours from the US border. I just never fully understood how much until this past weekend.

Carlos' mother and sister made their final departure from the US last week. They purchased a 98 Ford Explorer to bring down with them, and Carlos' cousin drove it straight from Chicago to our house. After staying with us for two nights, his cousin flew back to Chicago and Carlos graciously volunteered to drive his mom, sister, and visiting aunt all the way down to Guadalajara, where they were planning to settle. And so we set out at 5:30 am last Saturday morning. We swung around the mountains and were in the nearby city of Saltillo by sunrise.

From there, it was an eye-opening journey (for me) into rural, desolate Mexico. For about 8 hours, Carlos drove down the two-lane highways through Zacatecas, a state seemingly populated mostly by cactus and dust. In the small villages we passed, shelter consisted of flimsy shacks. When we would hit some center of civilization and fill up for gas, various locals would descend on us begging us to buy their cheap, even dirty goods, or just plain plead for food. After just a few moments of this, my heart started to ache. Living in one of these rural villages, this is the best shot at a livelihood these people have. Out in the fields, the only thing that grows is cactus. For them, even the concept of scraping together the money to relocate to a nearby city where they could have a better chance to find a job would be impossible.

Back in Chicago, I often met people who said they were from Zacatecas. It's a pretty common homeland for many immigrants around Chicago. But it wasn't until this weekend that I fully understood why. To live illegally in the US, risk deportation, to be unable to have a driver's license, to have all your opportunities restricted because of immigration status in the US - these challenges are nothing compared to the bleak outlook in Zacatecas state. I was reminded again why people choose to go to the US illegally, and it sort of broke my heart.

We arrived safely to Aguascalientes, where we planned to drop off Carlos' aunt at home and then take on the final 2 hours to Guadalajara. However, after grabbing dinner, Carlos decided he needed rest and wanted to finish the trip on Sunday morning. Now that we had time to relax, Carlos, his sister Pere, and I spent about four hours wandering the fabulous colonial downtown with its stunning cathedrals, beautiful fountains, and relaxing walkways. We took loads of pictures, but unfortunately, they're all on Pere's camera for now, so we'll have to wait till our next trip to central Mexico to upload them.

Sunday morning, long story short, the decision was made not to continue to Guadalajara. Pere enjoyed Aguascalientes so much, she decided to stick around awhile to check it out, and nobody was in any giant hurry to get to Guadalajara. Another of Carlos' cousins took us to the bus station at 6am, and we were back in wonderful Monterrey by late afternoon. Note: luxury bus lines here in Mexico are of much greater quality and comfort than the long-distance lines in the US!

My biggest conclusion is that I don't believe many people, even many Mexicans, realize the diversity of lifestyle that exists in Mexico. It's not all poor villages like we passed in Zacatecas, or like what I imagine exists in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, or Jalisco, where many immigrants in Chicago escape from. It's not all gorgeous beachside tourist hotspots like Cancun. Nor is it all beautiful colonial towns like Aguascalientes, Querétaro, or Cuernavaca. It's also not all modern, urban centers like Monterrey. It's hard to for one person to experience all sides of Mexico, but I think I'd like to try this year. And the way our life keeps going, we probably will...

Monday, February 11, 2008

small moments of beauty

You know how sometimes life's little moments are so moving for no apparent reason? Tonight I was watching the Grammy awards, and when Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban performed their tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, I was reminded of one of those moments.

It was last fall when we were in Milan. We were strolling around the city center that night, down one of the main passages, where the street vendors were winding down for the night. The artists were packing up their wares and the souvenir -sellers were closing up their stands. But in one corner, an elderly man was still camped out with his portable CD player. From the crackly speakers came the orchestral strains of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turandot. The legendary Luciano Pavarotti is probably responsible for immortalizing this piece, and as the song began, I was reminded that Pavarotti had died just a few weeks earlier.

This elderly man had so clearly been touched by Pavarotti, probably had followed him for his entire career, because as he dug into the core of the aria, his voice began to crack. As the piece crescendoed to its peak at the end, tears streamed down this man's face, and shortly after, mine as well. It was one of those moments where I was so touched by the honest human emotion. I'll never forget.

It's things like that moment that help me keep faith that there is some beauty to be found on Earth. May there be many more in the near future.

Here's a famous performance of Nessun Dorma - Pavarotti and Friends, including Michael Bolton, Bono, Meat Loaf, and the Cranberries. Even when sung by non-opera singers, gives you goosebumps...

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Our blog finally has a title! Took forever to find a meaningful one. Explanation: It all starts with Laura Pausini and her remake of a song of the same name. It's in Italian, and, like all her songs, is totally moving. Ultimately, the song is about a voyage without boundaries, destination Paradise.

We're on a voyage right now. We travel through cities/countries searching for the place where we will finally belong and be happy, our own paradise. And if we never find it on Earth, we know our ultimate Paradise awaits in heaven.

So that's our blog title. As far as our current status in our voyage, things have returned to their crazy pace full of lesson plans, 7 a.m. duty extracting arriving students from their cars, and the usual exhaustion. Carlos is currently working from about 10 am - 6 pm downtown (about 20-30 minute commute in the Cheyenne), teaching English. However, in late February he will transfer to the location a few minutes from our house, where he will pick up a schedule almost identical to mine! We look forward to that.

We want to thank everyone for the fabulous Christmas gifts. The coffee is in use daily, along with the creamers. Carlos was beside himself when I retrieved those from the suitcase. They help us face each morning with something to look forward to. The cinnamon-flavored stuff is a taste of home for Carlos (and me, obviously). And we have put the dozens of pairs of socks to good use. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to our happiness!!!

I leave you with the song that inspired the blog title.

Monday, January 07, 2008

...and back together again!

Being apart for two weeks was more than enough. We've vowed never to let it happen again, to the best of our abilities.

On the bright side, being in Chicago was absolutely a great time for Amy. Despite the fact that Chicago delivered its full arsenal of winter warfare, Amy survived just fine, had fun, saw so may beloved friends, and probably put a few hundred extra miles on the odometer of her parents' Saturn in the process. As Carlos frequently says, the people of Chicago would not be one among the world's greatest if it weren't for the brutal winter they endure every year.

Now that we're back together again, we've decided life is pretty good. The weather here is like Spring/Summer every day. Carlos says this may or may not be normal; he can't remember, since the last time he lived here he was a kid. We go running on the track out on the boulevard at dusk, and entertain ourselves with culinary adventures. The other day, we spent 4 hours on a mission to prepare two simple dishes - a Mediterranean salad (success thanks to some very awesome garlic vinegar we found at HEB), and the one and only Chicago Style Hot Dog (not surprisingly, a total failure without real Vienna Beef or poppy-seed buns).

Amy's job is still the bane of her existence. She is already counting down the days until June. Carlos is debating the meager class hours offered with Interlingua, and considering pursuing a different English teaching school, which would be much more serious and consequently way more salary (our income would double!!!). He interviews on Tuesday afternoon, and if they accept him, this would be a very big deal job. We'll update on how it goes and if he gets it, whether he will choose to accept (there would be some temporary sacrifices to make).

In general, life is good here, but we're looking forward to the next step, as always :).