Though I’ve lived my whole life on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border, I didn’t understand what a border was until I was eleven years old. That summer three of my cousins were allowed to come back from Chihuahua to Texas with my mom and me. I have ten cousins, four of whom are very close in age to me. I call them my first-batch cousins because we were all born one after the other. Then the parents waited a while and then came the second batch. Some of my second-batch cousins don’t like these designations, but it just makes it easier for me to communicate which cousins I’m talking about—because I talk about my cousins all the time. I can’t help it, they’re just that great!
Anyway, the summer before sixth grade almost all my first-batch cousins were allowed to come visit me for two weeks. Caren couldn’t come because she didn’t have her visa renewed in time, and you need a visa to come to the United States from Mexico. I was so excited! I was going to get to show my cousins my life in Texas. We’d just moved into an apartment complex with two pools and a playground and we would ice skate and go to Six Flags and go to the mall! It was the first time any of my cousins visited me instead of the other way around. But Caren couldn’t come. She didn’t have this little piece of paper. There was no way to get it in time. She couldn’t come.
The day we left, Caren and some of my aunts and uncles stood at the edge of the street, waving goodbye as we drove away. I remember Caren trying so hard to be a good sport. She was smiling, telling us to have fun even while she was crying, the tip of her nose red. That was the first time I felt the border. All things considered, it’s a pretty minor injustice. I have seen Caren almost every summer and Christmas season of my life. She eventually did come visit me in Texas. We spent a month together in France. Where borders are concerned, we are some of the luckiest people in the world. And we are definitely very highly privileged Mexicans.
Now that I’m older, I know that some of my compatriots hug their families goodbye and never get to hug them again. I can’t imagine how painful that must be, to leave your home and live the rest of your days in exile. Never having the everyday interactions you only have with your family when you see each other for a few days in a row. ¡Peinate, Kristina!…No sea flojita, mi niña…Enderezate…No tienes antojo, lo que tienes es hambre. Deja de comer porquerías.
I was excited when Mitt Romney was chosen to be the Republican nominee for president this year. You can probably surmise from reading anything I’ve ever written that I don’t usually agree with the Republican platform, and I didn’t think I would vote for Romney. However, I knew that Romney’s father was from Mexico—from my home state, in fact. And while I did not grow up in Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juárez, the little towns George Romney was from, I have been fortunate to spend time there. (I should probably disclose that I am not Mormon, in case you were wondering.) When I think of supportive communities, I think of those little towns. ‘So’, I thought, ‘Romney must have great things to say about Mexico. He’ll acknowledge that thanks to welcoming immigration policies, his ancestors were able to escape persecution in the late 1800s and his family got to live in a wonderful place. These facts will certainly influence his stance on immigration’.
Obviously, I was wrong. I watched a video in which Romney quips that if his father had been ethnically Mexican, the election would be a lot easier for him. I guess he thinks Latin@ voters would elect someone called Miguel Rámirez with no regard to the policies this ‘Mexican Romney’ would champion. Even if he talked about Latin America as nothing more than an opportunity for American companies to profit. Even if he didn’t acknowledge that many Americans, himself included, have strong connections to other countries.
I felt the same excitement when I learned about Barack Obama’s nomination in 2008. Not only is he the first president of color, he is the first president to have grown up in more than one country. Unfortunately, pundits have used this fact to tell lies and cast doubt on his citizenship—to paint him as un-American. But what’s more American than being raised by a single mother and a grandmother who worked her way up from secretary to vice-president of a bank? What’s more American than being allowed to move around the world freely? I mean, let’s not forget that if my cousins were from the American side of the U.S.–Mexico border, all of them would have been able to go visit me in Mexico.
I am proud to have a president who understands that globalization isn’t just economic. It’s a lived reality. As the world becomes more diverse, its politics must become more inclusive.
Someday the Republican Party will recognize the need to expand the notion of “American” to include transnational citizens who have grown up in an increasingly globalized world. Someday the Republican Party will realize that Latin America is more than just a source of revenue. Someday the Republican Party will realize that “illegal immigrants” are human beings with families, needs, and feelings. Someday. Not yet. Hopefully soon.