Saturday, December 28, 2013

Innocent's Day

The original title to this blog was "Verguenza en Juárez," but then I got schooled.

As the day began, I was already pissed off because my car is back in the shop. For the 3rd time in two weeks. Today is not my day. I was feeling sorry for myself, pessimistic about life and ready to smack anyone who looked at me the wrong way. I honestly wasn't even planning on blogging today, I feel so out of it. Then I came across this article in El Diario. Of course.


Derrumbarán la Equis por insegura

Gabriela Minjáres 
El Diario | 2013-12-27 | 22:48

La escultura monumental construida por Sebastián en el bordo fronterizo, la Equis, fue clausurada ayer y será derrumbada el próximo mes porque las autoridades locales detectaron “graves daños estructurales” que ponen en riesgo a la ciudadanía.

El dictamen fue emitido por la Dirección de Obras Públicas, Desarrollo Urbano y Protección Civil del Gobierno Municipal, luego de que autoridades de El Paso, Texas, pidieron revisar las condiciones de seguridad del monumento de 62 metros que se localiza a unos metros del Río Bravo.

El comité técnico revisor determinó que la estructura de acero corre el riesgo de desplomarse porque la base no tiene el diseño adecuado para sostener el cuerpo completo que pesa más de 100 toneladas; la soldadura presenta defectos, las perforaciones donde se colocaron los tornillos no corresponden al diámetro de éstos y no cuenta con refuerzos laterales.

Además, se detectaron fallas en el sistema eléctrico y la carencia de uno para la extinción de incendios, lo que pone en riesgo a las personas que entran a la estructura para subir al mirador que se localiza justo en el centro del monumento, el cual parece un ojo.

Se comentó que la demolición es inminente por el riesgo que representa para la ciudadanía y porque el Gobierno Municipal carece de recursos para hacer las reparaciones correspondientes, las cuales costarían hasta unos 25 millones de pesos, casi la mitad del costo total de la pura escultura.

El ex presidente municipal Héctor Murguía y el ex director de Obras Públicas, Arcadio Serrano García, no fueron localizados para conocer su opinión acerca de la clausura y demolición de la principal obra realizada durante su gestión, porque todo esto no es verdad, “inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar, sabiendo que en este día en nadie debes confiar”.


First of all, I'd like to apologize to my readers who don't speak Spanish and secondly, after reading this, all I could think was, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

For those who couldn't read the article, I apologize. It explains that they've decided that for the safety of the people, they will be tearing down the X sculpture here in Juarez. This 197 foot tall, 80 ton sculpture cost $2.8 US million dollars to build, plus an additional $3.4 million US for La Mexicanidad plaza and esplanade. Its inauguration was only 7 short months ago. However, the reporter said that the base wasn't designed efficiently enough to sustain the weight of the sculpture.

I couldn't believe my eyes. I called my husband, who was waiting impatiently at the mechanic's. I went off, in true Emily style. He went on to tell me he wouldn't have believed me, but that he was reading the same thing in the newspaper he found in the shop's waiting room. "Ni modo," he remarked sadly. "Typical Mexico."

Although its inception was highly controversial, we supported it. Many people argued that the city should use the money in other, more logical ways. In the schools, the roads, the parks. While I would agree that those things were and are unquestionably more worthy of the city's funds, I also realized that the suggestion of this sculpture came at a crucial time for Juarez. A time when the streets were dead. Literally. When they began to build La Equis, people didn't attend events in Juarez, much less dare to walk to the corner street vendor for tacos. 

The year construction of this sculpture began, there were over 3,000 homicides in Ciudad Juarez. I had just arrived to the city myself, and the violence was present in everything. Even in the street tacos. 

The sculpture's designer, Enrique Carbajal González aka Sebastian, was quoted stating that La X was "full of meanings, a mark to welcome people and to demonstrate the ancestral Mexican culture." In the El Paso Times, I also read that it was "a tribute to Juárez's namesake, Mexican President Benito Juárez, who changed the spelling of the country's name in the 1800s, from Méjico to Mexico and it symbolized the mestizaje, or merging of two cultures in Mexico." But for me, breaking ground on this project represented something more. A new Juarez. The promise of cultural events and concerts and a new museum was a promise of much, much more. It was the promise of a new beginning. 

I assumed that in a city so large, and in 2013 for fuck's sake, people would have already looked into safety and structural issues before they began a project that cost a troubled city more than 75 million pesos to realize. I suppose that was just my American optimism though. Now all Juarez had to look forward to was the "I told you so's." I was sitting here thinking to myself that this was so ridiculous, it had to be some kind of joke and maybe there's some sort of Mexican version of April Fool's Day in December that I was unaware of. I posted a link to the article on Facebook, completely enraged. 

Much to my surprise, my hopes came true. 

Shortly after posting, a friend informed me that the story wasn't true. I questioned her response and she went on to tell me that today is Dia de los Inocentes in Mexico, osea, Innocent's Day. I was doubtful at first and began Googling like a mad-woman. I saw the quote "inocente palomita que te dejaste engañar, sabiendo que en este día en nadie debes confiar," on several websites about Innocent's Day and recognized it from the original article. Apparently there is a Mexican version of April Fool's Day. And of course, even Gordo fell for it.

A gringa never stops learning in Mexico.

The original final line to this blog involved me shaming the sculpture's designer for his epic fail. I guess now all I can say is Feliz Día de los Santos Inocentes?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Q & A Part 2

It has been a long, rough, week. Among other things, we haven't had a car since Sunday and when you're a daily border crosser, car problems are pretty much your worst nightmare. It's at the mechanic now and will hopefully be fixed by Tuesday. Of course paying for the repairs will be another fun experience involving pay day loans and credit cards and whatnot.

I suppose I could write a long, depressing blog about money problems and Juarez/El Paso public transit shortcomings, but I don't think that'll do anyone any good. People all over the world struggle with money and their vehicles so let's just leave it at that. Am I right or amiright?

No, instead I'm going to go ahead and give you Q & A Part 2 and answer some more of the questions you all sent in a couple of months back. Hope everyone is enjoying their weekend and staying warm. Remember to make it a great day, or not, the choice is yours.

(I am totally trying to convince myself right now. Did I sound convincing?)


Do you feel safe in Juarez? Does if feel as dangerous as it's depicted in the news?

I feel perfectly safe in Juarez. Did I feel safe when we first moved here in 2010? No. That was the height of the drug war and it wasn't a rarity to see a body lying about or caution tape blocking off an intersection in your neighborhood. However, times have changed. It's not as though I just got used to the violence si no que the violence isn't as prevalent. People don't want to hear that and if they do hear it, they refuse to accept it because at this point, they have been so scorned by the murders and those who haven't cling to dramatically gory news stories. At this point I almost feel as though people don't want Juarez to rise from the ashes. Because after all, what would they have to write about in the Sunday paper? People are attracted to drama and violence, that's no secret. And so I suppose I'm trying to say that yes, I feel safe. And no, I don't think the media accurately portrays Juarez. I am not discounting the violence that has happened and continues to happen. I do not have amnesia as someone recently accused me of on Twitter. Horrible, graphic things have happened in this city. Yet, I feel safe. And I believe in my heart of hearts that Juarez will prevail. It's people are too strong, too resilient, too passionate, for it to go any other way.

Why doesn't your husband just learn English already?

He's too consumed with learning Mandarin, he just hasn't had the time to delve into English.

How long does it take you to cross the border every day?

This is a tough question to answer because it changes so much. However, for the past few months, it generally takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to cross on Mondays and 15 to 30 minutes to cross the rest of the week. That is when I cross in the Ready Lane with my RFID enabled card. You can read more about that here. However, for the past week I have been hitching a ride with anyone and everyone and crossed in the regular lanes. It took much longer in those lanes and we waited at least an hour each day. Bridge wait times fluctuate greatly though. For much of 2012 and 2013, wait times were very low, whereas in 2011, I would sometimes wait over 2 hours to cross during the week. Now, I can only imagine that long of a wait on a weekend or holiday. All in all, Juarez wait times are typically longer than say, Nogales, and much shorter than Tijuana. Best Time to Cross is a great website (and app) to refer to if you would like to look into it more.

Since you make dollars in the US can you live in like a big fancy mansion in Juarez? Doesn't that make you live close to like the bad rich drugs lords and stuff?

This question literally made me laugh out loud when I saw it in my email and bless your heart for asking it. Before moving to Mexico, I thought we'd be living the sweet life. I assumed that if I could find a decent job in the US, we would have loads of disposable income. I imagined us going to Parral every weekend to visit Ray's family. I imagined us traveling all over the country on a whim. Yet here we are, over 3 years later, and I have yet to visit Parral. We haven't taken off to Chihuahua for the weekend, we haven't vacationed in Mazatlan, Ray still hasn't set foot on an airplane. So no, earning US dollars does not automatically make a person in Mexico wealthy enough to live next door to el nuevo Tony Montana. Even if we didn't have a mountain of credit card debt, we still wouldn't be able to afford to live in a big, fancy mansion. At least not by Juarez standards. The thing about Mexico is that the rich are really, really rich. Filthy rich. And the poor are disgustingly poor. Because of my US income, we fall somewhere in the middle of this. Our rent is 4,000 pesos. That is very high compared to most of the city, however it only equates to about $310 US. It's a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath home a few miles from the bridge with gated parking, daytime security and a generous back patio. Plenty of closet space. But definitely not a big, fancy mansion. I jokingly tell Ray that we solely represent the middle class of this city. We can afford to pay our bills, including US debts, but there isn't anything left over for emergencies. It isn't what I expected, but I just feel blessed that we can pay the bills.

Are you jealous because I live at the beach?

Insanely jealous. Are you jealous of my answer to today's 3rd question?

What your most embarrassing moment when speaking Spanish?

After I quit smoking meth, and around the time that I really began to buckle down and learn Spanish, I secured a job doing customer service for a company in Gilbert, Arizona. I had lied on my resume, claiming to be bilingual, which wasn't exactly the case. I knew street Spanish. I could score you an ounce of whatever without skipping a beat, but scheduling an appointment in a professional situation was a different story. I was speaking to a customer in Spanish one day and told her that I had scheduled for the vato to stop by her home the next day. No one around me spoke Spanish, so I didn't get in trouble for telling this poor woman that I'd be sending a "homie" to her house, but she was quick to correct me. I was extremely embarrassed and apologized profusely.

Why did you leave your son in the US and move to Mexico? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Everyone needs to back up when it comes to this topic. I think I've made it perfectly clear that I do not want to discuss the details of our situation. We do not live together. We didn't live together prior to me even meeting my husband. I did not abandon my son to move to Mexico with my lover. He lives in the best place I could ever imagine him living. I visit him every single chance I get. Our situation is quite complex. It is an extremely emotional subject for me because of course, I love him with all my heart and living apart is the hardest thing I have ever done. Please remember, he is only 10 years old. I do not want him reading about this on the internet. Have a little respect. I will write about what happened when I am ready and when it's right for him, but I'm not and it's not. I feel like I share a great deal of my life online so I would appreciate it if everyone could respect my family's privacy just a bit. If people could just stop emailing me with questions about it, that would be fantastic. I suppose from now on, my only reply will be a link to this blog post.

How many Americans live in Juarez?

I have no clue. After our piece on This American Life aired, I was contacted by countless men and women who are living here for the same reason. I tried to keep everyone straight, even stopped to make a list at one point, but eventually I lost track. I still have that list, and it has 23 families on it. But I learned of countless more after the fact. So the answer is countless? I have no idea. And if there are this many of us in Juarez, I can only imagine how many families are living in other border towns. I would assume Tijuana hosts the bulk of families in our situation.

Do you ever regret moving to Mexico or would you do something differently if you could do it again?

I will never, ever regret this move. It is the best thing that ever happened to me. Not only did I fall in love with Juarenses, but I found myself. I give full credit to this city, to it's ebb and flow, even to the fucking line. If I could start all over, the only thing I would change is that I would have brought 2 cars. We purchased an SUV before we came with the sole purpose of crossing the border with a trailer. If I could do it again I would have brought a second car. A tiny itty bitty nugget of a car. The smallest one I could fit in. This way, we would save countless dollars in gasoline and of course have a back up if something happened with the other car. Word? Word.

If you could wave a magic wand, what would immigration reform look like to you?

This question has plagued my mind for ages. I've thought about it even more since someone messaged it to me a couple of months ago. I still don't think I have an answer. I'd love to be this intelligent person who can spout off a response to this question without second-guessing herself. That's just not the case. I guess all I think is that the law should be less black and white. We are talking about love here, after all. Spouses, brothers and sisters, children, parents. How can one law establish eligibility for everyone? I don't know that I believe in open borders. Maybe I do, maybe I don't. All I know is that thousands of families are suffering. Many of them unjustly. I'm not very smart though. I don't follow politics well. I don't understand economics much. I don't have bold, concise solutions to suggest on how we should fix the system. I don't have a plan. I wish I did. I wish I had an answer. All I know is that many of my friends are living in less than questionable conditions because of their spouses' menial immigration violations. I know that even if my husband would have tried to do things "the right way," there wouldn't have been a path for him. There is no legal way for a blue-collar worker, without connections or hefty bank account balance, to enter the US legally. I know that countless individuals are living apart from their family because of the draconian immigration laws in the US. And I know that there has to be some sort of solution. Maybe some type of farm-worker bill is the solution? Maybe not.

All I know is that I don't know anything at all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The V Word

There are few words that I won't say. Few words disgust or offend me. Those few are all in the racial slur category. With that being said, I swear a lot, in case you hadn't noticed. Fuck being a personal favorite in English. For the longest time I have battled my tendency to cuss, trying to weed certain words out of my vocabulary. About a year ago, at the suggestion of my parents, I even went through this blog and edited out all the shits and fucks and whatnot. It only took me a short time to realize that it just wouldn't be possible. Sure, I have a semi-effective child and professional filter, but here? I can't hold back. It's not happening.

And when I began to live half my life speaking only Spanish, it was only natural that I began to swear in my second language as well. And in Spanish, my most used swear word is verga, much to my husband's disgust. He says my choice of words embarrasses him, that I sound like a naca, a cualquiera, a callajera. Ghetto.

Yup, he got it right. I'm well aware of what I sound like.

Again it was suggested that I watch my words. My mother-in-law tried to teach me to say a la ver gatos ni ratones quedan instead of saying a la verga. Yeah, that one didn't stick.

I understand why it's such a big deal. Honestly, I do. Especially when speaking Spanish, I understand that my language isn't lady-like. And I get that for whatever reason, a woman who says hijo de la chingada is more offensive in Mexico than a woman saying son of a bitch in the US. I don't know why, that's just the way things seem to be. And as a woman with a colorful vocabulary, I am misunderstood quite a bit. Maybe thought to be low-class. Okay, that's great, I just don't give two shits.

I really don't care if people think I sound like a low-class hood rat that was raised by a pack of wolves. I know who I am and I know how I was raised. I'm not planning on dining with any Juarez debutantes any time soon, much less the Obama family. I just express myself in the most accurate way I know how. Take it as you may.

Honestly, if you haven't noticed by now, I'm really writing this for my husband. It's my twisted way of putting my foot in the ground and valiantly saying, "Now you listen mister, if I want to say que ella es una perra mal nacida, you better let me say it!"

And you know, when I am speaking to people, sometimes I see a gleam in Ray's eyes. A little glint of pride behind all of his embarrassment. Maybe it's because he's proud of my Spanish even though he doesn't approve of my choice of words. Maybe it's because he wishes he could express himself so freely, even to strangers. I'm not sure. All I know is that this is me, and everyone is going to have to just take it or leave it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mason Jars

Mason jars have come up in conversation a few times over the last week. Largely because of my commentary on a local bar, wishing they would serve beer in mason jars. One might assume I was paying homage to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar, but the truth is that I just think all beverages taste better in a mason jar. Especially water. Especially beer.

Growing up, our cupboard was always full of jars, much to my dismay. In elementary and middle school, a lot of my friends were from wealthier families. Because we lived on the outskirts of my school district some of my classmates were of a different breed. They lived in Warner Ranch and had swimming pools and a gate code to get into their little sector of suburbia. My neighborhood didn't even have a name, much less a gate. I wondered why my mother didn't just buy glasses like normal people. Jars? Why did she insist on reusing pickle jars and jelly jars? Why was she so weird?

20 years later, I realized that she wasn't weird. She was fucking cool. When I open my cupboard and am faced with an army of jars, I sometimes giggle to myself. I proudly drink from those jars and even prefer them to a regular glass. And looking back, I am so grateful for the way I was raised because it made me who I am today. And I like that person. I thank God that I didn't grow up in some fancy house with pretty crystal glasses that all matched because if I would have, where would I be today?

Maybe I'd spend my winter vacation skiing in Aspen and my Spring Break sipping cocktails on the beach in Fiji. Maybe my passport would be full of stamps from my exotic, impromptu vacations. Maybe I'd send out holiday cards to everyone boasting about my family's accomplishments over the past year. Maybe I would have gone to some great college and have a six-figure salary. Maybe not. If I never ended up in some shitty apartment in Mesa, would I have met my husband? A blue collar immigrant who spent his teen years dreaming of a job that could just pay the rent and put food on the table. Would I even know what it was like to dream? If I didn't grow up wanting so much, would I ever question life in this way? Would I ever stop to appreciate the little things?

What is it that changed me over the years? What changed my opinion, what shifted my view? How did I come to appreciate my upbringing and realized that I was so fortunate? I think it started with those damn jars. Reusing them out of necessity and practicality. That simple act was the catalyst of my realization of my mother's struggles as she raised us girls. I suppose a lot of people learn to appreciate their parents as they grow older though. In one way or another. It's only natural.

I asked my husband if they used jars as drinking glasses at his house, growing up in Parral. Si! Mole jars, peach jars, chile curtido jars, he explained. I asked him if he was ever embarrassed when friends came over. If he ever wished his mother would get regular glasses.

Why would I be embarrassed? Why wouldn't you reuse the jars?

He looked at me completely bewildered. Oops. I guess I was the only spoiled brat that worried about what her little friends thought about her family's drinking glasses. Maybe it's an American thing. Maybe not. Maybe it's an Emily thing.

When I began to write this blog, I got emotional. Thinking about my mom, how much I miss her, how much I wish I could be with her day in and day out. How much I wish I could run over to her house on a whim and look at her old artwork and play Scrabble. And over the years, the jars began to remind me of her, remind me home. Where ever that is. Is it in Arizona, where I spent my teenage years, where I met my husband? Is it in Missouri where I was born and where my family lives? Is it Juarez, the first city I've lived in out of necessity and fell in love with out of desperation? No, home really is where the heart is I suppose. Maybe one day home will near my mother, my sisters, my son. Maybe one day home will be near my father. But for now, home is here in Juarez with my husband. I guess I'm already home so it's time to stop missing it.

Whoever thought a spaghetti sauce jar could evoke so much emotion?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shadow Davidson Botanas & Beers

A lot of people have asked me to recommend a good bar here in Juarez. Apparently I come across as a bit of a lush? You'd be surprised at how many folks end up passing through Juarez, whether it be for a visit at the US Consulate, or while heading further South. For the longest time I didn't really have any suggestions for them other than what I read about online, but I finally have a few of my own and Shadow Davidson Botanas & Beers is my favorite by far.

We happened upon this bar after a night watching a boxing match with friends at Drink Team. The match was over (pobre Canelo) but a couple of our friends were far from done. They suggested we take the party over to a bar that was within walking distance from their house in San Lorenzo. It's tucked into a small strip mall off of Rafael Perez Serna, just North of the Iglesia San Lorenzo, across the street from Wendy's. When we pulled up and I saw the motorcycles and hot rods in the parking lot, I was immediately intrigued. Even the sign on the front door had me scratching my head. Was I really in Juarez?

I immediately heard classic rock over the speakers and knew that my husband was going to love this place. He's a bigger CCR fan than I and the music rotation was right up his alley. On a later visit I realized that they were playing I Heart Radio's Big Classic Hits. Right from the bartender's cell phone.

It's a small place with a casual dress code but I'm hesitant to call it a "hole in the wall," although that's the kind of place I typically prefer. The service is too good and the bathroom too clean to put it in that category. As soon as we sat down at the bar we were brought hot popcorn with salsa Valentina and when Gordo complained that his cell phone battery was just about dead, the bartender promptly produced her own charger and offered to plug in his phone.

They have all sorts of interesting signage throughout the restaurant and some of them are hilarious. Each time we go back I feel like I notice a new piece of art. It's a mix of quirky and classic pieces that somehow manage to tie together impeccably.

They have your go-to bar foods like french fries and chicken wings, but their menu also includes some less expected options like the Apple Walnut Salad with Grilled Chicken ($70 pesos) and Brisket Quesadillas ($50 pesos). They even had a couple of vegetarian options which is a rarity at any bar. From the moment I spotted a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's to the side of their food prep table, I knew I would love the food. And I knew I should order the brisket. 

As expected, I loved the food. The Brisket Quesadillas were out of this world, bursting with meat, queso asadero and pico de gallo, made with red onion. Our friends opted for the Cowboy Nachos which were topped with brisket, frijoles, queso and jalapenos. They were delicious as well but I'm dying to go back to try their wings which they offer in Buffalo or Barbecue.

It was almost last call on my 2nd visit when I fell in love with this bar. Ray and I were out with friends and about 3 cubetas of Tecate deep when Don McLean's American Pie came on the radio. I shouted out, in English mind you, "I fucking love this song!" Without skipping a beat, the bartender quickly turned the music up.

That was it.

I contacted the bar to let them know that I wanted to blog about their establishment and absolutely loved their response. Here is a little part of it:

"Estamos creando un ambiente similar a un pub; tenemos la barrita, gente que quiere encontrar un sitio agradable donde beber, comer y charlar; calidad tanto en comida como en servicio, música selecta y buenos amigos. Aquí no tienes porqué conocer a alguien para iniciar una conversación. Encuentra lugar en la barra o en una de las mesitas del rincón, pide algo de beber, haz una pregunta interesante, ofrece una opinión razonable y te aseguramos que siempre habrá alguien dispuesto a entablar una conversación contigo. Siéntete a gusto en Shadow Davidson Botanas & Beers... somos diferentes. Ven a hacer el ridículo con nosotros... amamos vivir!!

Lunes a viernes checa nuestras promos; y en música, tenemos clásicos del rock-pop internacional 70's, 80's, 90's y principios del '00, garantizándote vivir una muy buena tarde-noche. Sábados, más rock clásico hasta agotar existencia.

Para cualquier ocasión en la que les podamos servir, ya sea que festejes algo o simplemente porque traes ganas de divertirte... Te esperamos en Plaza Acuario, área de San Lorenzo!!"

They won me over at, "Come make fools of yourself with us... We love life!" And that they do. When we asked the bartender to take a picture of us with our friends, she reached into an odd cabinet above the bar and offered us some goofy hats for our photo op. Fools indeed. Honestly, the only thing that could make me love this bar any more would be if they served beer in mason jars.

This is definitely my kind of place.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

International Banking

So my latest financial crisis is that on Monday, someone posted in a Mexpat group on Facebook about Bank of America changing their banking fees. The way it's been for as long as it's mattered to me is that if you swipe your card anywhere you would be charged a 3% fee. But, if you withdrew money from a Santander ATM there were no fees, no extra charges, and you got an up to the minute exchange rate. It was fabulous and made bill paying in Mexico a breeze, funds permitting. As of November 8th, you are now charged the 3% for ATM transactions as well.

When I heard about the change, all I could think was, "Thank God someone told me!" I never would have known if this little announcement hadn't been made. I was really irritated that B of A didn't notify their customers in some way because 3% is kind of a big deal. 3% more for rent, utilities, internet, security, groceries... Ugh, whatever. It makes me sick just thinking about it. I went about my business, was kind of pissed off, but well on my way to getting over it.

Then I woke up Wednesday morning to a text message from Bank of America, letting me know that my available balance was -$42.33. Fuck me. I am super careful with our money, and maintain my check register like a saint. People tease me about it. I'm that asshole at the grocery store, writing down the purchase that I just made. Then, I've got my phone out, using my XE app to see the exchange rate and calculating 3% of the purchase, so that whatever I subtract from my register is accurate.

I have to be anal like that because we truly do live check to check and use almost every penny. Actually, when I got that text from the bank that my account was overdrawn, I thought my balance was $.76. I immediately assumed that I had forgotten to write something down but I had trouble imagining that. I never forget! I was totally freaking out at this point because I had 3 more transactions processing, one of them being international, which meant I was headed for 3 or 4 more overdraft fees. $175 dollars out of my pocket, and I certainly do not have an extra $175 lying around.

So as I sat in line to cross into the US that morning, I began to go through each transaction and compare it to my register. Everything matched up. Until November 12th. I saw that when I withdrew our rent money from Santander, I was charged 3% for the new international ATM fee that I had heard about from other expats. #FacePalm.

I was livid. I called the bank and the gentleman told me that he would see what he could do about reversing the $35 overdraft fee but he couldn't do anything about any future fees and I would need to call back. He apologized and then he said it. "Well ma'am, all you have to do is deposit $11.00 into your account and then you wouldn't risk being hit with any additional fees." I lost it. I'm laughing as I type this but I really lost it then.

Mister, I thought I only had 76 cents in my fucking checking account, do you think I can just pull eleven fucking dollars out of my ass?!

As soon as I said it, I felt horrible and began apologizing profusely. It wasn't his fault. But shit, when you're stressed financially, sometimes it gets to you and you do or say things you wouldn't otherwise. This is what life is like for the exiled Americans, even those of us who are living on the border and earning half a normal household income. Ni modo. It is what it is, right?

The bank rep didn't really know how to respond at that point but after a long, awkward pause he said, "Let me see what I can do for you." At this point, I was crying, and it was so embarrassing. But you know, I've done countless customer service jobs over the years and I've had people get to that point with me before as well. When you're in a position where you have just enough to cover your bills, or maybe not enough to cover them, it's a constant stressor.

I hate to give money so much power, but it really does make the world go round. And no I don't think that money makes you happy but what does that notorious Someecard say? Money doesn't buy happiness but I'd sure feel better drinking a margarita outside my beach front mansion?

Money stresses people out! I felt bad for this poor guy because he had to listen to me. But, he was very nice and extremely professional. He ended up refunding the overdraft charge, and to prevent any future charges, he also refunded the $10.26 charge that started this whole mess. He didn't skip a beat or even put me on hold to speak with a supervisor.

I apologized again and let him know that I was just spread a bit thin and rambled on about keeping up with everything when you are banking in 2 countries and keeping all the fees straight. Clearly he could see our account and the position we're in and he told me that he completely understood and hoped that everything would work out for the best for us. It was quite sweet.

He certainly represents the bank well and types like him are the exact reason I have stuck with Bank of America since I was a teenager waiting tables and babysitting on the side. I know a lot of people have had issues with their mortgages and B of A but I have always had a positive experience with them.

In the end it all worked out but UGH. Fucking 3%

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Weekend in Pictures

The weekend started out great with this gorgeous cloudy sunrise on Saturday morning,

Noticed that the pop machine on the corner by my house had instructions on it!
Could. Not. Stop. Laughing.


I watched A LOT of movies. Some of which I did not understand at all...

And others that were more on my level.

Ran to the store on the way to meet up with friends and noticed these dogs.
Just chillin'.

The #AcciónPoética movement is my latest obsession. Google it!

Other than the wind, it was a perfect day to picnic in Chamizal!

Getting haggled into horseback riding...

50 pesos for 30 minutes.

The Holy Spirit. In your mouth.

Getting our grill on!


Trying to catch Gordo in his best Heisman pose as
he tossed the football around with the boys... No luck.

Hours and hours of fun this weekend with the What Would I Say App.
It is a must download people!

Hot dogs and eggs for breakfast because duh.

Hitting up every damned sample station at Sam's Club! Lunch is served.

The circus is in town! I was complaining about not having the cash to go when
Gordo told me we could sneak around the side and see all the animals...

He was right! This is a horrible picture because of the lighting but under that tent is all sorts of different animals. Even my favorite, elephants! So maybe we didn't actually "go to the circus," but I saw a monkey walk a tight rope, a zebra shit and 2 leopards scrap!


Passed by my fave piece of street art on the way home.
(I'll post close up pics on my Facebook page.)

Some tunes for the drive.

And now we're back at the house, enjoying some QT with Meeko and Lucy.

Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend!  <3

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Chance Encounters in Juaritos

This blog has lead me to people that I wouldn't necessarily have crossed paths with otherwise. I have gotten to connect with so many incredible people on and off line. Living here in Juarez, and being so close to the US Consulate, we come across a lot of people who can relate to our situation, especially those who have to come here for their visa appointments or the likes. I have frequented immigration and expat forums online over the years but recently, this blog has allowed me to meet a lot of these people face-to-face.

This week I met the attorney and staff of the Izaguirre Law Firm. They seemed enthusiastic albeit apprehensive to head into Juarez. They came to the area from Colorado because one of their clients recently filed an asylum case based off of domestic violence charges on both sides of the border. The woman is currently being held at a detention center in El Paso and her attorney, Stephanie Izaguirre, came to El Paso on her behalf. Stephanie has been reading this blog and wanted to meet my husband and I. It was an awesome experience. I was able to meet her staff as well and hearing their stories were inspiring. Her paralegals are actually both Mexican by birth and one of them hadn't been back to Mexico since she was 7 years old.

She seemed quite frightened as we parked their car at a lot in downtown El Paso and got into my car to head across the border. Yet, at the same time, I sensed a bit of optimism under all of that fear. Although most people passing through El Paso don't dare to cross the border, Stephanie really wanted to have dinner in Juarez and get a taste of the city and the lives we live.

When we approached the Santa Fe Bridge, her paralegal blurted out that she couldn't feel her legs. She was scared shitless. I don't blame her. If you haven't been back to Mexico in a couple decades, Juarez isn't exactly at the top of your list of vacation destinations. I understood the fear. When you follow the US press and you hear what you hear about Juarez, it can be quite frightening.

Luckily nothing out of the ordinary took place. Whenever I am playing tour guide and showing my beloved Juaritos to people from out of town, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope nothing horrible happens to scare them off. So far I've been lucky. The worst thing that's happened was getting pulled over by Transito within 5 minutes of a fellow blogger from Reynosa getting into my car. That ended with getting my driver's license taken away but I just ordered a duplicate license, which cost me a fraction of the price of the ticket in Mexico. That's 15 dollars I'll never see again.

We ended up having a really nice dinner. They'd had a bad experience eating sushi in El Paso the night before and had a hankering for some good seafood, a tall order to fill in Juarez, which is a 10 hour drive from the nearest ocean. We ended up at Playa Bichis which isn't as popular as Villa del Mar but equally delicious. Or so I hear. I am allergic to shellfish and tend to stay away from seafood entirely. While everyone devoured their shrimp, I dug into my tacos de alambre y tocino con salsa chimichurri y aguacate.

It was really fun and interesting to meet these woman and learn more about their lives in Colorado and a bit more about the ins and outs of being an immigration attorney. We commiserated over the poor immigration advice that is passed out in the media like Halloween candy and discussed our hopes for reform and a positive outcome on their recent case.

Myself and the gals from the Izaguirre Law Firm, just before dinner.

I was also able to meet a fellow member of American Families United this week. She came from Queens to Juarez for the last of her husband's Visa appointments. That was awesome because most of the AFU members I associate with are people who are affected by long-term-to-life immigration bars and aren't eligible to apply for permanent residency so it's rare that I meet members outside of the Las Cruces/El Paso/Juarez area. I've met more Immigrate2US members than AFU members over the years so this was quite a treat.

Meeting these women was refreshing and I am just super thankful that this blog and all of the forums and groups I participate in have allowed me to meet so many amazing individuals. Getting a chance to see people from all over the US who are going through similar experiences is such a privilege.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Náufragos y Inmigrantes

I am reaching with this blog in the most ridiculous way possible. I can tell even as I begin writing...

We have family traditions. Even though we are just a scrape of a family, here on the border, hundreds of miles from my family in the US, hundreds of miles from my husband's family in Mexico. We are still a family. Every Tuesday we have "Midweek Movie Night." The tradition probably came from the fact that Redbox has new releases every Tuesday. Yes, in a country where pirated movies are sold on every corner and cost less than an item from the 99 Cents Only store, we still splurge for a rental once a week.

This week I couldn't find an action movie that had Spanish subtitles and Gordo hadn't seen, so we opted to watch Cast Away on Megashare. Surely you remember it. Motherfucking Wilson. I'm still mad at Tom Hanks for not swimming after him.

Towards the end, Chuck is at his welcome home party and the guests are dispersing. He walks about the hotel room, noticing the catered seafood that has gone to waste. He grabs a lighter and flicks it on and off repeatedly, noticing the lack of effort it takes to light the flame. Everything is so easy. He falls asleep next to the bedside lamp, again turning it on and off, no doubt marveling at the concept of electricity. When he goes to Kelly's house a few scenes later and she gives him his car keys back, he fondles the key chain and recognizes his old pocket knife, quite the contrast from the ice skate blades that he utilized on the island. In the final scenes, he chugs water lazily from an Ozarka bottle, again, symbolizing the ease of the modern world. The ease of a normal life. It got me thinking.

Just as I should never compare our lives to the lives of prisoners I certainly shouldn't compare it to that of a damned cast away. But you know me. I just can't help myself. When you live the life of an undocumented immigrant's wife, you marvel at the ease of life outside your situation. You think about what life used to be like. You wonder what other couples worry about. What they go through. Their daily struggles. Why they argue. What they're sad about. Why they're so often unhappy with their lives. If they are allowed to live together in the US, what more is there? What is the source of the unhappiness?

If  immigration didn't play such a huge role in our lives, where would we be? Why would we be upset? Why would we struggle? I feel like our biggest arguments are always over money. If one of us wasn't forced to work at a maquila in Mexico for a few bucks a day, would we still have that struggle? I can't remember arguing about money when we were in Gilbert. Neither of us have much in the way of a higher education, but our two US salaries were plenty. We're pretty simple people. If we were to have that again? At this point, I can't imagine what it would be like. I suppose all I could complain about would be his incessant snoring or obsession with pawn shop television shows. Maybe his irritating laugh? His tall tales? I don't know.

It all seems so trivial.

Then again I hear my friends and family who don't have an undocumented spouse, who don't have the same hurdles to jump. I hear their relationship issues. I feel like I get it. I don't mean to discredit their problems, albeit different from my own. I just struggle with my perspective of what a "normal life" really is. I wonder if other people in my situation have this same struggle? Will those who haven't been scorned by USCIS ever understand me? I wonder how I am ever supposed to feel normal again? After all of this? Or is what I'm feeling now normal? Was I in a trance before? I don't know. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

I don't feel liked I'm trapped on a deserted island. But I wonder what life would be like for Ray and I if we are ever "rescued" from this situation? I can't wrap my head around it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Chihuahua Controversy

On Tuesday they finally announced the name of El Paso's new AAA baseball team. The announcement was made at The Plaza Theatre in front of an audience of local Little League players and media. The reaction on Facebook and Twitter was quick to follow and not positive at all. You see, El Pasoan's were invited to vote for the name of the new team and given a few options to choose from. Sun Dogs, Desert Gators, Chihuahuas, Buckaroos and Aardvarks were among the options. Not a whole lot to go on... I personally voted for the El Paso Sun Dogs, but I'm not a native, don't live in El Paso and I don't have much invested with the sports teams there, so who cares what I think, right?

The city was livid when they learned that the name of the new team would be the Chihuahuas... And I don't mean just some of the city, I mean out of the thousands of reactions I read on KVIA's Facebook page Tuesday night, I could count the positive comments on one hand.

But guess what? I'm irritated too. As much as everyone in El Paso. As much has the die hard baseball fans North of the Border. I am pissed off and I want to talk about it. I should warn you that this probably isn't going to be the same as the rant most El Pasoans are having on the subject.

El Paso may be disappointed with the name, but I'm more disappointed with the way so many people reacted. Call the name estupido, lame, vergonzoso, whatever. I mean, it is after all, a tiny little dog known for the fact that it is a yappy ankle-biter and shivers even if it's 100 degrees out. I get why some people would think it's the most stupid name ever. I get why people are irritated because the "voting process," was clearly a bunch of bullshit. First they said that the name was chosen because it represents El Paso's "spirit and fiercely loyal community," and then it was said that the name was submitted by Shae Vierra and chosen at random. Hmmm... Why did we vote again? I can understand the frustration.

It's not the best choice for the team name, I get it. But the following comments that I read on Facebook after the announcement was made absolutely blew me away. Say the following things? Then you're the lame one. El Estupido. Say these things and know that the only thing bringing shame to El Paso is yourself and your bigoted, back-woods, ignorant remarks. These people represented El Paso with their reaction. And it did not look good my friends.


Desert Gators was the better one. Now we look like a beaner team.

Might as well named them the border jumpers or coyotes

That's it I'm not supporting no baseball team from El Paso named Chihuahuas. We r not from across the border. We r Americans!

They should have just called it the el paso wet backs or el paso mojados

I didn't know Juarez voted on this ... This is Texas not Mexico stupid ass ....

Might as well just name the team the "SPICS"

I know how about "Los Trafficantes" anybody ... anybody huh!? Lol

FUCK THAT NAME. good job pendejo owner, at least you'll get your dick sucked for this one. I'm pretty sure ur Chihuahua wife made you do it


I decided to remove people's names from these comments because I would hope that there may be a sliver of a chance that these people are embarrassed. Maybe there is a slight chance that they just spout out these remarks behind the protection of your computer screen and that they would never have the audacity to speak these words in public. Racial slurs never sit well with me but I find it more bothersome when they are thrown about among those of the same race. It tends to give the ignorant permission to add the words into their own vocabulary. I can't claim to know what it's like to be a Native El Pasoan or Juarense, and I never will, but I'd like to think these comments do not represent these Sister Cities. Because, for lack of a better term, these people look like fucking idiots. And I think I speak on behalf of most people when I say that we would all like to move beyond the bullshit and racism so that we can take this world to where it was always meant to be.

On another note, we have to recognize that AAA Baseball is kind of known for some questionable names so we can't be too shocked. Some of the names are just plain laughable. Certainly more ridiculous than the El Paso Chihuahuas! You have the Louisville Bats, Albuquerque Isotopes, Toledo Mud Hens, Salt Lake Bees, Harrisburg Senators, Richmond Flying Squirrels, Montgomery Biscuits, Charlotte Stone Crabs, Lansing Lugnuts, Great Lakes Loons, Asheville Tourists, Savannah Sand Gnats... Should I go on? I don't know about you but biscuits and tourists and isotopes and senators don't seem any more intimidating than Chihuahuas to me. Well, maybe Senators do, but that's a whole other blog.

There were plenty of people who were more civil in their responses and felt that the name fed into negative stereotypes about the city. However, here's my question: Why does that fact that the name has a connection to Mexico and to the Spanish language automatically make it negative? The name isn't stupid because it's Spanish, the name is stupid because it's a God damned Chihuahua! The name isn't derogatory if El Paso doesn't make it derogatory. Is the San Diego Padres name derogatory? I don't find it to be. Doesn't mean that everyone in San Diego is Latino. What about the Cleaveland Indians and Atlanta Braves? Are all the people of Georgia and Ohio Native American? Texas Rangers? All Texans are cowboys? Let's get real.

And that's the weird thing. I spoke to a lot of El Pasoans about this subject this week. Several people threw out the race card, then immediately said they would have been happy with keeping the Padres or Diablos name. How does that make sense? The Chihuahuas make El Paso out to be nothing more than a bunch of Mexicans but the Padres or Diablos wouldn't? I just don't get it. Maybe it's because I'm a gringa who isn't from El Paso, but I honestly don't understand. Feel free to enlighten me.

Maybe instead of tearing each other down and denying the roots that most El Pasoans have with all these disgusting comments we could do the right thing. If they think it's so terrible, maybe baseball fans could direct their efforts to teaming up to petition a name that better represents El Paso? Or maybe they could give this name a chance?

If it makes anyone feel any better, there are a handful of articles floating around about the name that had relatively positive comments from people who said they would have chosen the name Chihuahuas if they had been given the same 5 options. None of those commenters were from El Paso. None of those people had anything derogatory to say about Mexicans. They just took the name for what most of America will take it for. A dog. Not a connection to Juarez, not racist, not anything more than another silly AAA Baseball League team name.

Just my two cents...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Leap of Faith

I hear the stories all the time.

I used to go to Vertigo every Saturday night and party till dawn. My family used to go to Juarez every weekend and walk the tianguis and get burritos y raspas. I used to go see my Tia a few times a week, she makes the best tortillas in the world. I used to get my hair cut twice a month in El Centro for only 20 pesos. I used get my check-ups every 6 months at Washington Dental. Best dentist ever. Hell, I've even heard some "I used to" stories about the prostitutes that frequent the massage parlors on Hermanos Escobar. I've heard it all. And I have to say, I'm at my wits' end with the some of these stories. I used to. We used to. They used to. She used to.

And then there was the drug war.

I know there is so much history on the border. So much back story with the drug war and the violence. So many have been affected and so much blood has been shed. People tell me the "used to" stories but they also have their fair share of horror stories. He was shot, they were abducted, she was car jacked stories. But how do we move past this? How can everyone feel at home in Juarez once again? What will it take for the 20-somethings to flock across the downtown bridge again to bar-hop before happily stumbling back across the border at 2 am? What will it take for people to reunite with their hermanos and tios and abuelos who they haven't seen in years because they don't have the luxury of a Border Crossing Card? What will it take for all the restaurants downtown to have a full house of El Pasoans once again?

Last weekend we went out for the first time in a long time. We watched the boxing match and had a few drinks with friends at Drink Team on 16 de Septiembre. After the fight we passed through the Pronaf district as we drove back to our neck of the woods. The streets were alive. The clubs were packed, people pouring onto the streets from the entrances of El Rudo and T'Kila. When we made it to our last stop, Shadow Davidson's, I was feeling so happy, so comfortable, so... normal. I wondered to myself, why can't everyone feel this way in Juarez?

I imagine this is what Juarez used to look like. Before the war. When do we start referring to the drug war as "the war?" What's the difference between a drug war and any other kind of war? Countries collide, people die, the military gets involved. What's the difference? I haven't quite figured that out yet. But regardless, things are finally starting to calm down and I'm curious what it will take for people to see that change. What will it take for things to get back to the way they used to be. What will it take for El Pasoans to come back to Juarez?

I honestly wish I could poll the citizens of El Paso because this is something that plagues me. I have invited my co-workers to birthday parties and barbecues at my house over and over. I know they won't come though. It's almost turned into a joke at this point. I'm not trying to get shot, they'll tell me. Over my dead body, they'll tell me. The tension between El Paso and Juarez is undeniable. When I truly began to understand how deeply connected the two cities are, this tension and animosity shocked me. Oh yeah, my tios and sister and abuelos live there but I won't go there. Por nada. Ni si me pagan.

Although some people just love to perpetuate unnecessary hatred towards Juarez (like when a DJ on 95.5 FM suggested painting a large middle finger on the Asarco tower pointing towards Juarez,) I think most people are just scared shitless of the what-ifs. Everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has been directly affected by the drug war. Everyone knows someone who was kidnapped or murdered or car-jacked. It's not something you can easily move past and certainly not something that can ever be forgotten. I understand that.

I won't ever be able to forget the things I've seen here. But at the same time, the world can't stop. We have to keep living. And above all else, we have to keep enjoying the lives that we live. What kind of life is a life plagued with fear? And if we don't make an effort to get back to normal, we'll be afraid forever. I don't know about you but I don't like to feel afraid. I am always looking for a way to move away from fear.

I've talked about this with my father at length. Living in San Salvador, he's no stranger to my situation. He knows exactly what it's like to live in and love a city that has a constant travel warning from the US Embassy. In a moment of frustration this week I cried out to him. I don't fucking get it! I don't know how to convince people that Juarez is okay, that a trip over the border doesn't automatically equate to a death sentence. I just wish I knew how to make this all go away! He responded so quickly and at first the words seemed too simple to be right. But they were.

Well honey, El Paso is just going to have to take a leap of faith.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Q & A Part 1

I'm going to take some time to answer questions that I get frequently on Facebook, Twitter and via email. There are a lot of questions so I'll be doing this in a couple of blogs in the hopes that it doesn't put half of you to sleep...


What made you choose Juarez over another border town?

When I initially planned a move to Mexico, I was hoping to move to Nogales. I briefly entertained the idea of staying with the company I was working with and commuting to Tucson. After I realized what the commute would entail, that idea was off the table. I had already looked at our budget and knew that even if I could secure a "decent" job in Mexico, it still wouldn't be enough to make ends meet. We had/have quite a bit of debt and financial responsibilities in the US so I knew I would need to continue earning a US wage for the foreseeable future. Next stop TJ. Ideally, I wanted to live in Tijuana and commute to San Diego each day, but again, after looking at what that commute would be like, I changed my mind. I absolutely hate driving and having another 30 minute drive added to the already insane wait times at the Baja California POEs was just too much for me. Texas it was. We looked specifically at Matamoros, Reynosa and Ciudad Juarez because at the time I knew one woman living in each of those cities. They all told me the same horror stories and to me, none of the border towns, including those California and Arizona borders, seemed to be particularly safe. Mind you, this was in 2009 when the drug war and violence was at it's height. We ultimately chose Juarez because after looking at the job markets in various cities, El Paso was booming with opportunity compared to the alternatives. And it ended up being a smart decision as I was able to land an interview for a company on August 9th 2010, only 2 days after our arrival, and was hired about a week later. It was also a plus that Juarez is the closest border town to my husband's family in Hidalgo del Parral so a visit to his home town is just a 9 hour bus ride away.

Did you ever expect to become this popular in the immigration community?

This question literally made me LOL because I don't see myself as being "popular" in this community. There are so many people and blogs that I look up to and follow and I just feel like little old me with nothing more to offer than the next person. This week a gentleman came up to me at the grocery store and asked me if I was The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juarez. He went on to tell me how he could relate to my story and I couldn't believe it! He wasn't someone who I would ever think would read my blog, so I was touched to see that people from all walks have been following my journey. It was definitely surreal moment for me.

What do you do for a living?

I am a Russian spy.

Do you ever experience reverse racism? Guera this and guera that...

I don't personally experience it aside from a few flippant comments online from time to time, but I'm not so naive to think that it doesn't exist. I'm sure people have preconceived notions of me and the fact that I am a gringa and the fact that I am American. Why wouldn't they? That's just human nature. But I am the type of person that doesn't really consider color, so maybe that's why I haven't noticed the judgement on myself. All in all, the people I have met in Mexico have been so welcoming and so appreciative and so willing to open their hearts and homes to me. It's definitely been humbling.

How do you decide what to write about each week?

I have no clue. I just write whatever I feel like writing. It may be about something that went on that particular week, or something I am going through emotionally or a topic that I can't get out of my head. I literally just wake up on Saturdays, have a breakfast beer, and let the good times roll.

How did you get off drugs?

By locking myself in an apartment for several weeks, eating copius amounts of chicken wings and tortillas, writing in my journal for hours each day, and filling the rest of my time with the first season of Lost on DVD. This is also, coincidentally, how I found God. But that's another blog in itself.

Will you have children while in Juarez?

I hope so. People assume that because our children do not live with us, it is because we find Juarez to be an unsafe place to raise a child. That is absolutely incorrect. I would almost prefer to raise a child here so that they can experience at a young age some of what I have been luckily enough to experience as an adult in this city.

A few months ago you wrote a blog about starting a healthier lifestyle and posted a lot on Facebook about your workouts. Are you still doing that?

Yes! I am currently doing a Turbo Fire/Focus T25 hybrid program. I have lost 50 lbs since April but have had my fair share of hurdles with a foot injury in July. And let's be real, I have some pretty big issues with food and alcohol addiction that get the way of my weight loss journey. But yes, I am still trucking along. It is a never-ending process and I'm learning to be more forgiving of myself when I slip up. My ultimate goal is still health and happiness.

What is a good bar/restaurant to go to in Juarez?

I should start off by saying that it is very rare that we go out in Juarez. That has nothing to do with feeling safe or lack of cool places to go. It has everything to do with our finances. We have only been out a few times in the last 3 years but I can give some quick and simple reviews. Las Alitas on Antonio Bermudez. Loved it. Cheap beer, good wings, Applebee's vibe. Mayflower on Gomez Morin. Best crab rangoon of my life. Shitty service. Maria Chuchena on Tomas Fernandez. Too upscale for me to feel comfortable. I'm more of a hole-in-the-wall-kinda-girl, not a valet-parking-kinda-girl. Really good salsas and impeccable service. Frida's on Paseo de la Victoria. Amazing art and enmoladas. Best margarita I've had in Juarez. The city is also riddled with burrito and hamburger stands that make some of the most mouth-watering food I have ever eaten but of course most of them don't have names. As for bars? We can't really afford to drink in bars... We drink too much, we'd go bankrupt. Also, neither of us ever want to be the DD, so we usually opt to have house parties. However we have stashed a little cash over the last month and are planning a date night tonight. Our first date in over a year. I think we've decided to skip the movies and go to a bar and grill to watch the fight, so maybe I will have a better answer to this question tomorrow.

If your husband could by some chance wave a magic wand and be able to live with you in the United States legally, would you, at this point, come back or stay in Mexico?

This is a really hard question for me to answer. Honestly, I was tempted to ignore it. I didn't come to Juarez thinking that it would change my life for the better. I didn't think it would change my character or affect my marriage in the way that it has. Leaving behind a place that has provided so much for me would be difficult. Whenever there is a glimmer of hope for immigration reform that would include my family, I have to say, I get nervous. The idea of moving back to the US is a bit scary for me. It is financially tempting, but to stop the learning process that has begun within me since we moved to Mexico seems like the wrong thing to do. But man, some carpet and a bath tub and two normal paychecks and being physically closer to my family sounds pretty nice sometimes. But then I begin to question, do I really need any of that? I'm not so sure. I don't have an answer to this question. I try not to think of the what if's when it comes to things like this. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a very Merry Christmas.


I just have to say that I feel so blessed to be able to share my life with all of you. The fact that so many people are curious about our lives here, especially people who have never been personally affected by immigration, is amazing to me. I love all of your questions and comments and reflections.

Now I have a question. How did you poop before Smart Phones?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Balancing Act

It started last Saturday night. We were leaving a 4 year old's birthday party, leading a caravan of exiled mixed-status families when the Policia Municipal pulled all of us over. Everyone else was waved on as they kept Ray and I back. They asked where we were coming from. They asked where we were going. We both took our first Mexican breathalyzer tests. The police officer made a loose fist and held it to our mouths.

Sopla fuerte.

(The officer smelled his hand)

Bueno, andan bien. Eres Americana?



And so Gordo got out of the truck as ordered. He talked with the officers for a few minutes and while he was ten feet deep in negotiations, I noticed that our friends hadn't left. I was in shock and grabbed my phone to text them to move along, we'll be fine. I wasn't so sure. But our friends didn't budge. A while later, we paid a $30 mordida and were on our way. I was scared of course, but more amazed at the fact that our new friends stayed back to make sure we got out of there okay. That meant a lot to me. I know how intimidating it is to be in a neighborhood in Juarez that you're not familiar with. And I know how intimidating the police are here. So the fact that they waited for us was a big deal to me. It turned what would have been a horrible experience into an eye-opening, wonderful thing.


My car has made questionable noises since we moved to Mexico. Waiting in line to cross an international border takes a toll on any vehicle. Bumpy pavement full of potholes and the occasional unpaved road add to the problem. I've had my fair share of car problems over the last 3 years and as I've said before, being without a vehicle is my number one fear in life. I know that sounds insane and I know it's a fear I have to get over, but I'm just not there yet. In the last couple of weeks the noises had been getting worse. The car was shaking uncontrollably when in idle, even shutting off at times if I didn't throw it into neutral. This put me in quite the pickle while waiting in line to cross into El Paso every morning, not to mention waiting in line to cross back into Mexico each evening.

I had been ignoring the problem because, quite frankly, we didn't have the money to fix the car even if we knew what was wrong with it, so what's the point in trying to figure it out, right? Pretty stupid way of thinking. I see that now. My family urged me to take the car to a mechanic, insisting that finances always had a way of figuring themselves out. In desperation, I finally took their advice. I took it to a reputable taller in San Lorenzo, Servi Compactos, and was told they would get back to me with a verdict and the estimate.

I was frustrated and nervous and feeling like it was the end of the world. I know that sounds dramatic, but without a vehicle, I have no way to get to work. The buses in Juarez don't start running early enough to get me to the bridge in time to cross and catch another bus that would get me to the office by 8 am. The transit system between these sister cities don't really accommodate banker's hours. A vehicle is a must. And without the wages that I earn in the US, where would we be? My husband's earnings barely begin to cover our rent. That's why I flip a shit every time my car rumbles a bit.

In the midst of my frustration and fear, I was comforted by the fact that I have family who is willing to lend a helping hand. I have friends who are willing to switch around their schedules so that they can give me a ride to and from work. I am not alone in this city. I am not destitute. I can ask people for help. And it's okay to ask for help. I'm learning that. And now the week is over, and my car is fixed. It did work out. It will always work out. I have to keep reminding myself of that.


On an evening where a few nasty emails were trickling in here and there, I got an email from a high school student in the US. He had to listen to my podcast as an assignment for his Spanish class. He explained that he had a very conservative view of illegal immigration and admitted that he went into the assignment already determined that he would hate my husband and I. He wasn't even sure why he felt compelled to email me in the first place. He felt that we deserved everything we had coming to us.

This young man was surprised when he found himself feeling sorry for our situation. Although he went into the assignment thinking that my husband was a person who broke the law and shouldn't be allowed to live in the US, he came out realizing that my husband isn't a bad person. Ray just wanted to better his life and the life of his family. In the end, he came out of it all thinking that it's an injustice that it's been so difficult for Ray to do things "the right way." He came out respecting us and the love we have for one another.

While I don't think anyone needs to feel sorry for us, I was completely shocked that our story had caused someone to question their opinion and to see beyond the black and white of immigration law. And I swear that if the only reason any of this happened was for this one boy to see a different side of the coin, it was all worth it. If the only reason we moved to Mexico or the only reason I began this blog was because this one person was supposed to read it, I feel fulfilled and content with my life.


It was one of those weeks where something really shitty kept happening. But then out of nowhere, something amazing happened to balance out the negative. It was one of those weeks where I saw God everywhere, in everything and in everyone. I believe that He is always trying to balance things out, sometimes it's just difficult to see. At times it's seemingly impossible to detect. But it is. The good will outweigh the bad, sometimes you just have to wait for it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mi Vida en Español

I think my first memory of Spanish was my sister complaining about a time when we were very young, when my mother spoke to us only in Spanish. I don't recall the details or how long she kept up with that or to what extent, but it's my first memory of the language ever mattering in my little world. Years later, when my mom met my husband for the first time, I saw that her Spanish was much more impressive than I would have guessed, much more impressive than she would ever admit, and made my sister's far-fetched story that much more believable.

I took the required language classes at Kyrene Middle School. Señor Pulskamp taught me that, "dar means to give." He would say it with such gringo gusto that it is burned into my memories. I can still remember the hand gestures he would make when he said it. When I took Señor Brown's class at Marcos de Niza High School, I learned all about "o, a, as, amos, an," which proved to be helpful when I would finally learn to conjugate verbs 5 years later. I also learned how say that I had to use the restroom, ask where the library was and the true significance of "puto," when a Chicano classmate coughed out the word from the back of the class Sophomore year.

However, I really learned Spanish in Pioneer Park in 2005. At least that's where it really began. I had moved out of my parents house a few years prior but it wasn't until Pioneer Park that I finally lived on my own. Prior to that I had always lived with Chris, and had a financial crutch. This was my first venture into true independence. I was on my own.

On my first night in Pioneer Villas I clogged the toilet. I tend to have that effect on toilets. Of course I didn't have a plunger. Fuck, I didn't even have silverware. Actually, I'm pretty sure all I had was a mattress, some crates I had stole from the back of a Circle K, a box of books, my clothes and an ashtray. Yep. That sounds about right. I paid my rent and deposit on the apartment with my tax return.

So what's a girl to do? I didn't really know anyone in Mesa. An ex-boyfriend a couple miles away. I wasn't about to call him. I was still hurt. Everyone else I knew was in Tempe. I didn't have money to run down to Walmart and buy a plunger. I didn't have the patience to drive back to Tempe. I briefly considered using a hanger or my hand before I decided I would just ask one of my neighbors. Sounded simple enough.

Most of my neighbor's windows were dark but I headed across the hall. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a man in his mid-40's. His face was dark and weathered. He donned a heavily worn Western button-up and faded blue jeans, lightly covered in thin coat of dust. The Hispanic man instantly smiled at me, revealing slightly yellowed teeth, one gold, and a gleam in his eye.

Hi! I just moved upstairs. This is a little embarrassing, but do you have a plunger?

Awkward pause.

I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to interrupt....

Es que... mi no speake English...


Ohhh... Ummm... lo siento! Ummm... baño... muy full. No flush. Tu... understand?

Awkward pause.

Baño no hacer schhh schhh schhhhhh... 

(making cyclone-like motions with my hand)

Awkward pause.

You know... Nevermind. I'm so sorry to bother you. Nevermind...

I ran back to my apartment, completely embarrassed, silently chastising myself for not paying more attention to Señor Brown. My face was buried in my hands when I suddenly remembered that although I didn't have any shampoo, I was pretty sure I had a Spanish to English dictionary in my box of random books. Sure enough, there it was. Stacked right between Betty Crocker's New Cookbook and Anthony de Mello's Song of the Bird. I'm pretty sure it's a stolen dictionary as the sides read "WHS," and who knows where that school is, but whatever. I quickly looked up plunger and ran back downstairs.

I knocked again, with a little bit more confidence behind my fist this time. My neighbor opened the door and that same smile spread across his face again.

¡Guera! ¿Que te pasó?


Laughter burst out of that apartment like thunder. It was only then that I realized there were several other men in the living room. And then that I realized they were all laughing at me. They couldn't stop laughing.

¡La guera tapó su pinche baño guey! ¡Dale el destapador!

They may have been laughing, but that moment is something I still remember to this day. There was something about their laughter that stuck out to me. I didn't feel like they were making fun of me. Their laughter was sympathetic, almost appreciative. And maybe I was just really high, but that thought stuck with me throughout the years. In all of the times when I should have or could have been self-conscious of my shitty language skills, I remember that day and remember not to be embarrassed and to try my damndest.

It's worked out pretty well for me so far.

After moving to Pioneer Park my entire social circle shifted. The park may be across from an impressive Mormon Temple but it's a whole different world my friends. I hung out with Mexican immigrants almost exclusively. Most were from Sinaloa. Los Mochis. Mazatlan. El Fuerte. Choix. They were day laborers during the week, eagerly posted outside of Home Depot or in front of the Circle K on Mesa Drive and Broadway, hoping to earn $50 for a day's worth of landscaping or construction work. But on the weekends? They would order Domino's and watch English movies and make small talk with as many of their gringo neighbors as possible.

I quickly became enamored with their language and culture. It was easily the most exciting time in my life. I was going through a lot at that point and subsequently made some of the most fantastic friends. I will never forget them or that fucking park or the memories we made. I'm not in contact with any of them now. Migrant workers don't really delve into the online world so we haven't been able to stay in touch. But those friendships and all that they entailed led me to meet Ray. And they changed my life forever.

When I met my now husband, I had just broken up with Antonio from Choix and still spoke very broken Spanish. I decided to make a major life change and move 2 miles down Mesa Drive to Mesa Villages. I hadn't yet learned how to conjugate verbs which made conversations with me quite difficult. There were a lot of misunderstandings. I was determined though. I eventually learned how to properly conjugate the verb "estar" and started using "iendo" and "ando" to get through conversations. I didn't know how to say "I ate," (Comí,) so I would say "Estaba comiendo." I couldn't say, "I worked all day," (Trabaje todo el dia,) so I would say, "Estaba trabajando todo el dia." I tiptoed around verbs in this manner for quite some time.

I'm not going to lie, being on drugs played a role in all of this. I was uber focused and had no responsibilities and all the time in the world. I would stay up until dawn writing vocabulary lists and translating songs I heard on 105.9. I would write poetry in Spanish, pressing my pen into the page until it almost broke through the paper. I'm not saying you should give up on Rosetta Stone and pick up a pipe. I'm just saying.

My dictionary and I were attached at the hip. I took it everywhere with me. It was small enough to fit in my purse and to this day it is dog-eared and highlighted and marked up like a college text book. I was determined to be understood by my new group of friends, Gordo included. It was even harder with him. He wasn't that impressed with me and my attempts to speak Spanish so I had to try even more so. Although we connected immediately I also knew immediately that he was different. He wasn't like the rest of the lot.

We began to argue right away, just as we bicker back and forth today. I love to argue but I hated arguing with him then because I felt so misunderstood. And so I began writing him letters in English and then using my dictionary to translate the letters word for word. This was in 2005 but Google Translate was still foreign to me. I could barely afford toothpaste, much less Internet or a computer. I would write these long, dramatic letters to him, talking about some disagreement we had had the day before. Surely he thought I was insane.

But he loved me all the same.

A year or so later I finally stopped using drugs for the last time and began to look for work. I think I saw the ad in the Arizona Republic. It was for a receptionist position. Bilingual a plus, it read. The office was close to the bodega Gordo worked in and since we only had one car, it seemed perfect. I didn't even have a phone at the time but my mom put the last of her hopes in me and my promise of sobriety and set me up with a Cricket phone so I could put a contact number on my application. I fudged a bit during my interview and said I was bilingual. I wasn't quite there yet, so it was quite a risk. But what did I have to lose?

I got the job and once again, my life changed forever.

I instantly felt bad for lying on my application and became newly dedicated to learning Spanish. It was around this time that the novela, "La Fea Más Bella," aired on Univision and the Conceptos set was the perfect place for me to learn Spanish for the workplace. Professional Spanish. I tuned in Monday through Friday, without fail. As I fell in love with Jaime Camil and practically died in the anticipation that lead to Leticia's makeover, I began to really learn Spanish. Verb conjugation and all.

I immersed myself in the language and gave up English television and music for quite some time. I fell in love with El Coyote y Su Banda and skipped the 6 o'clock news on ABC for Noticias Univision. I passed on Dr. Phil and opted for Cristina instead. Slowly but surely, I became "bilingual," for the most part. Finally.

I still don't consider myself to be completely bilingual and know that I have so much to learn. I would guess that I have about a 5th grade vocabulary. Enough to get through life with but not quite enough to completely understand a lawyer or doctor. I have frequent slip ups and there are plenty of words that I continue to confuse, even years later. I say alimendras instead of almendras, cascara instead of cráneo, pulgas instead of pulgadas, condicionacion instead of acondicionador... I really could go on and on.

Some bad habits are hard to break.

Ray is good to me though and rarely laughs at me like I laugh at him when he says things like "peanut botet," (peanut butter.) I aspire to have his understanding and seriousness and much more. Maybe that's why I've been able to learn his language while he still struggles with mine? Maybe my laughter is too much for his ego? I still can't quite figure that out.