So Close to the United States, Yet So Far

Autumn Quezada-Grant Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic June 29, 2015 unnamed-1

Immigrants to the United States carry with them both aspirations and heavy hearts. To émigré from one’s home country is not an easy choice to make, but millions make those hard decisions.

As a white woman, a gringa (or as my Mexican family refers to me, güera) I recognize the outsider status I hold as the wife of a Dominican. But I’ve held a privileged position for 10 years now as the once wife of a Mexican undocumented immigrant (who passed away in 2009) and now the wife of a Dominican. This privileged position is that I’ve entered into worlds that few experience. I hold two statuses. First, I’m a woman and a wife of an immigrant(s). Second, I’m an academic, which means that I feel as that I’m in a modus operendi of constant observation; a strange reality to inhabit.

Academics usually observe and record ethnography and possibly move into a special position of quasi-family. My experience is that I am family, fully accepted.

But this blog is not about me, only in what I’m observing as the loved one of persons who made and are making the choice to leave their homes. My late husband Adan left Mexico in 2001 for the United States from his beloved Chiapas to look for work. His family, his lovely family was destitute. When moved to talk about it, Adan would tell me that often as a child his family could only provide corn tortillas and watered down chilies for filling. Christmas? There was none. Ever. Adan first flew to Mexico City and then to Nogales where he hid in a safe house before walking for four days through the desert with one-gallon jug of water to carry him through. Once in Arizona he collapsed and after a few days in a safe house run by a coyote was driven to Oxford, Mississippi. He did not remember the drive. Adan spent 8 years working 16-hour days 6 days a week to provide money for his family in Chiapas. After marrying me in 2007, he split his money with me (a graduate student specializing in Chiapan history) and his parents back home. During our years together I spent very little money. If I wanted to purchase something simple as a paperback book I thought hard about how many hours Adan needed to work for me to make a frivolous purchase.

I clearly understood the sacrifice he made to live and work in the United States. It was out of necessity. Adan always wanted to return to Chiapas to visit his mother and sisters, wanted to return with his daughter Naty (Xochitl) in his arms. Instead, he returned to Chiapas in a coffin, his wife incapacitated with an infant who had just learned to walk. Mexicans do not aspire to be North Americans. They are Mexicans and want to return to Mexico. As best represented in Espinoza Paz’s song Volveré Muy Pronto

I’m returning my beloved rancho, I will return very soon.

I miss your streets, my house, my people I will return to see you

How I miss you (Que me haces falta)

I want to see my family, my brothers

The Dominican experience is different. In the Dominican Republic I have never been in a country with such aspirations towards the United States despite the tremendous daño caused by the US (support of the dictator Rafael Trujillo (1933-1965); the US invasion in 1965; and then the support of Joaquin Balaguer (another quasi-dictator); not to mention the support of the current sugar barons and tourist/prostitution industry.

Dominicans know how dysfunctional their country is, they live this reality daily with power outages, corruption, complete craziness of the streets, and daily wages that are inhumane.

Dominicans love their country, in as much as they distain Haitians. Dominicans aspire to be or to go to America. This is a tragedy, a cultural tragedy. What a beautiful country, what beautiful open people who are forces through economic oppression and the robbery of their dignity – they are forced to aspire to be closer to the United States.

Today, I am married to a wonderfully talented Dominican man who loves family more than life. I straddle multiple worlds and am learning much. I am white woman, a gringa who is trying to maintain my family’s connections to their culture, language and worlds, which they left behind, but hold in their hearts. Naty’s father died, but lives in her. She loves Mexican food and she claims to be Mexican (not American).

And now she has a Dominican father who will teach her much – Spanish, to cook, to dance, and to appreciate how special she is, both American and something so much more.

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