Always in Exile (non-fiction)
By Fernando Romero
Fernando, is a co-founding member of Dreamers Adrift. Co-founding member of the AB 540 group FUEL @ Cal State Long Beach. He is also the Coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California, an immigrant-rights organization in the Inland Empire. He is also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post on the Dream Activist series.
It had been 20 years since I had last been out of the country. During these two decades, this quasi exile, has led to the conclusion that as undocumented people, we are bound to always be searching and longing to go down the road less traveled.
Nonetheless, for me, it was momentous occasion. It’s not every day that a DREAMer travels outside of the United States. And I always told myself that if I ever obtained permanent residency in this country, the very first thing I would do upon getting my green card would be to get away from the United States. (And that’s exactly what I did). My permanent resident card found its way to my mailbox the second week of June. It was a very cathartic moment. I felt the cleansing of 20 years of shame, of guilt and the suppression of my identity just washing over me. For the first in a long time I felt invincible.
A few weeks later in late July, I found myself on an airplane heading to Nicaragua. I was part of a contingent of 100 or so people that included medical doctors, surgeons, dentists, registered nurses and other practitioners, who traveled to Jinotega, Nicaragua to provide medical and humanitarian relief to the people there.
The flight into Nicaragua (the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere) was a pensive one for me. I reminded myself of the privilege I had in being able to make this trip. I thought about the DREAM Act movement. I thought about an entire generation of dreamers and especially all whom I’ve met for the last ten years or so; I’d wished that dreamers were on that plane with us as we flew down to Central America.
Entering Nicaragua was no hassle. When you exit the airplane, we went through customs, I presented my Mexican passport, shelled out 10 bucks and we’re in. On the return flight, we had a layover in Miami. It is here where the scrutiny from Immigration and Customs is beamed upon you as if though you’re on stage and limelight is shining on you and you only.
As one of the few non-American citizens on the medical mission, I went through customs through the line which read “Visitors” opposite to the one that read “U.S. Citizens.” The term visitor made me scoff; I had never considered myself as a visitor in the U.S. Part of me wanted to be escorted into an interrogation room. (The layover was two and half hours, so I figured we had time to kill). I wanted to have the full of experience of traveling outside of the U.S. for the first time I figured that it included getting hassled by the customs at the airport. A Mexican national with a permanent residency card coming in from Nicaragua?! I was expecting that it would’ve been enough to raise some flags; but it wasn’t.
When I got to the front of the line, the questioning was pretty standard;
- what was the purpose of your visit?
- how long were you there?
- what’s in your bags?
- did you pack your bags yourself? (this one actually did throw me off a bit…)
- where did you stay in Nicaragua?
The officer scanned my green card, took my fingerprints, and took a picture of me. And that was it. I made it into the U.S. (it was a lot easier and less complicated than the first time I came into the U.S. 20 years ago).
It was no hassle.
Perhaps, it is the founding tenet of the DREAM Act movement; to not be hassled and be able to come and go as we please. To be able to drive without the fear of being hassled by the police if we get pulled over, to be able to go into a bar with the certainty that you won’t be denied entrance and humiliated.
I do believe that as dreamers, our movement is encased with the issues of education, immigrant rights and the advocacy for legalization to countless undocumented students. At the same time, it is movement that aims to empower us with certain liberties that have been denied to us. Simply being alive is a hassle. And whether our dream is to be an engineer, or a lawyer or a school teacher, at the end of it all, we just want not be hassled and live our lives to the fullest.