By Roxi Guerrero
Ronald Reagan said it himself in his farewell speech in 1989, when he told the story about a prisoner of war who worked planting tomatoes and melons in an American field. This prisoner described this time as the “happiest of his life”. He fell in love with America by working in its fields. And at the end of this story Reagan said:
“Instead, I tell this story just to remind you of the magical, intoxicating power of America. We may sometimes forget it, but others do not. Even a man from a country at war with the United States, while held here as a prisoner, could fall in love with us. Those who become American citizens love this country even more. And that’s why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door.” (The Reagan Library)
I do not think I have ever felt as patriotic as when I listened and read this speech. Yes, my dear readers, I have fallen in love with America and I am not ashamed of it.
As many of you know I’m a proud Ecuadorian married to a proud American and we are raising our wonderful family in a mixed culture with the best of both cultures, habits, rules and traditions. Even though, sometimes cultural clashes take us on roads that are not easy to handle. We have learned that both of our ideas of how life should be collide to make decisions and that was what took us to The United States of America. The land of the free.
I’m not going to bore you with the whole trip but let me share a few experiences that helped us decide to plan our new dream: To eventually move to the States.
We travelled to Petersburg, Virginia. Let me tell you that even the trip from the Richmond airport to this wonderful small town was magical. As we were going down the highway, all I could see were huge trees. No matter where I looked, there were trees everywhere being blown from side to side by the freezing December wind. It felt like a freaking dream! My daughter and I couldn’t stop smiling; so much beauty almost brought a tear to my eye.
You see, the United States of America is presented like the most racist, hardest, white supremacist country in the world, so the real adventure began when I went out for a walk around the block. I was scared. I had read so many awful stories so I wondered: What if I am pulled over by a police? Should I take my passport with me? It was just a walk. Why would I take my passport with me? What if someone has a gun and sees a latina walking down the neighborhood? But no. Fear was not going to stop me from experiencing the snow, the cold and of course the magic of Christmas in the land where I was sure Santa would come.
So I took my phone with all the necessary information and I just prayed. I went with 3 jackets on, jeans and sneakers. I was feeling the snow crushing under my feet and suddenly I slipped. My butt hit the snow so hard and so fast; all I could see was the sky on top of me. A man was walking his dog and stopped to help me get up. “Are you ok ma’am?” he asked as he helped me to my feet. “Yes, I am. Thank you” but of course I felt so embarrassed. “You’re wearing the wrong shoes” he said, pointing at my sneakers. More embarrassment. “Yeah, I guess so” was the only thing I could say. “You are at Mrs. Wilson’s house aren’t you?” (That is my American’s family last name) “Welcome”. And we waived goodbye.
Nothing to be scared of. Every person I encountered or met was nothing but kind and nice to me. Always with a “How do you do ma’am?” and a “have a good one” (later I understood it meant to have a good day) and a smile on their faces. So walking became a daily thing to do.
My husband needed to run some errands which one day took us to the bank. You know what was weird for an Ecuadorian? Besides the bank looking like a small house instead of a huge building like they are in Ecuador, the tellers were not standing behind inch-thick glass making it hard to hear them. “Why? Aren’t they scared of be robbed?” I asked to my husband. He gave me that look and just shook his head. “We’re not in Ecuador anymore, honey.” he replied. While we are waiting to speak with one of the account managers, one of the tellers called my daughter with hand gestures. As an Ecuadorian mother, all I could think was that my daughter did something, touched something, she was not supposed to. But the lady was smiling and calling her to give her lollipops and a smiley face sticker. “The bank likes kids? They don’t have money” but my husband just told my daughter to say thank you. It was beyond bizarre for me as an Ecuadorian who is used to banks not liking kids to have lollipops and stickers ready to give to them when they visited banks with their parents. While waiting, I saw a man with what looked like pantyhose on his head. He was very tall, well built and wore a huge white shirt and his pants around knees. Do you know what happens when a man goes into an Ecuadorian bank with pantyhose on his head and looking like that? Most surely you’ll get robbed. I almost threw myself to the ground and took my daughter with me. My husband knows me so well that he said “That is not pantyhose, it’s a durag“. I felt like the most ignorant person in the world.
I should have known and I wondered what had happened to me? I think I have read the bad news too much and believe the picture the media painted for me. Different is bad. They will lash at you. They won’t like you. They will ask you a thousand times if you are in the country legally. You will be treated like a criminal. But that never happened. Not even once and I was the one who was being racist, ignorant and scared. So I kept learning my lesson. Be nice to people, greet, and be yourself.
I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact that I was in Petersburg. Maybe it does. But why would I feel scared? Why would I fear a country and a culture that I actually love? That I admire? So I decided it was time to go a little bit further; to the Capitol, where I could learn about the government, country and its people. Yes, my wonderful readers, we went to Washington D.C.
I visited the Capitol, with my wonderful family and “great” or “wonderful” do not describe or do justice to the patriotic heritage that Americans have engraved in their history. I went through the Capitol Rotunda and while I was there I heard the words that every mother who is touring the capitol wants to hear “Mom, I need to go to the bathroom” Oh boy. We were told not to lose the group and not to wonder around without being escorted. So I asked the tour guy where the nearest bathroom was. “Where we began the tour”, he replied. Oh boy, again. We went back and as soon as I was out of the bathroom I asked the first police officer I saw “Sir. I was in a tour and I want to go back to my group; I was told not wonder by myself”. “Please follow me and I will lead you to an elevator where you can go right up. Do you remember your tour guide’s name?”. “Mmm.. mustache guy?” I said and he just laughed. “I know where he is” the police officer said. Suddenly I saw the Capitol in a cool hidden way and in no time I was just behind my husband with our tour group. “Where did you come from?” My husband asked. “A police brought me back”. We smiled. Again, they didn’t seem rude or mean. He was so kind and even laughed.
As we went back to Petersburg and I could see my daughter hugging her astronaut bear from the Smithsonian, I turned and there it was: The Obelisk. Lightened by the soft yellow lights showing the immense history that Americans shared and it is wrapped in every state, town and corner around the country.
Before we traveled to the US, I had told my husband of the dreams I had and never got to experience. I wanted to be a US college student. I never got the chance and I already had a degree from an Ecuadorian university. But guess what, we were in the land of opportunities and freedom so he sent an email to one of his teachers from when he was in college, Dr. Morgan. She invited us to her psychology class at Richard Bland College of William and Mary. Of course I bought my Richard Bland sweater and walked through the halls like I was made of gold. And wow, the lecture was something I had never experienced before. For one day I was a college student and it felt amazing! The way she explained the theory, the facts, the human behavior, her way of teaching. I was blown away and of course so grateful to God for a husband that made my dream come true. This is The United States of America. The place where you fulfill your dreams. Even for a day. I was so happy; I couldn’t stop smiling the whole way home. I will cherish that moment forever because it took me 11 years to get to that college.
The next day, my husband and I were sitting outside while my daughter played in the snow in a fenceless, wall-less yard (my goodness! No fences, no walls!) listening to the trains come and go from less than a mile behind the house. I that point I realized that I wanted to live in the States. It just popped into my head. As it turns out, my husband was thinking the same thing. In a moment, while you admire the nature, while you see a kid laugh and play, suddenly the heart finds a home where it thought it was just a place to visit.
I think, sometimes, you realize what you really want for yourself and your family. You want the fenceless yard, the grass that does not die in the snow, the change of seasons, the fireplace, and the lovely church where you cry at the Christmas Eve service because people are so nice. They want to talk to you and you learn to love their southern accent. You go to Walmart and eat all the goodies you can just to find your favorite (pop tarts were my favorite). I want that. I want the American dream because I “reckon” it is my dream come true. Yeah! I learned that word and love it!
Can you see what was happening? I was falling in love like a young teenager. I fell in love with the fields, the smell of the cold wind, even with the cheap bargains at Food Lion. People greeting each other on the street, the snow, the small neighborhood feeling and my favorite: the sound of the train behind Nana’s house. It was like living in a movie. All the trees covered with snow, the squirrels, the snow fights and the Christmas lights. I couldn’t have asked for a better time with such nice people. This is the land were the brave soldiers are fighting for the dreamers like me, the proud Americans like my husband and the hopeful kids like my babies.
I’m sure you may be thinking: She does not know how hard it is. I know. At least a part of it. I know you have to pay electric bills between $200-300 and property taxes, etc. I know I need a good job. The education system varies depending on the state you are in. Maybe that is why (here goes the controversy) I want to do it legally. I want to file for residency and I want everything being done through the government and its immigration laws. I don’t want to go and be a burden on the government or be an outsider. Don’t get me wrong. I am proud to be an Ecuadorian. I love my heritage, my traditions, my language but I want to have the same rights and obligations as any other American citizen. As much as I learned my history when I was a kid, I want to learn yours. I want to be able to sing the national anthem with the same love and patriotism as I sing my own.
Does it spark a fire when we discuss the illegal immigration versus the legal one? Yes, it does but maybe you need a little context here. I leave in a country where I, personally, have a steady and secure job, I make enough to pay my bills, put my kid in school and have a house. I am not in constant fear. Of course, crime is something that happens and can happen to me. I pray it doesn’t, but do you see my point? I’m in a position where I can wait for the right time, to have enough money and for me to have a job offer to present my case to your government and see if they can consider that I will make a fine citizen. The reality for most illegal immigrants is that they don’t have the time or the resources to wait for the right opportunity like I do. So I respect their choices and I pray for them because as I do, they want the best for their families although the way they choose to make their dreams come true might not be the best.
And this is my newest dream and as the song from Micheal Crawford says “It only, takes a moment,for your eyes to meet, and then…Your heart knows” and mine knew. I am on my journey to become a proud American-Ecuadorian citizen.