True Stories of love across America’s Borders. Its a book that I found tucked away in the bookshelves of the Manna Project volunteer house, and I just finished reading it for the third time. Before moving to Ecuador I had never really thought about U.S. Immigration policy that much, even though I was living in New York City surrounded by new immigrants and had friends whose parents and other relatives were undocumented. I was studying Spanish and Latin American Studies in college, and for me that meant just Latin America– I wasn’t as interested in Latino populations in the United States. It wasn’t until I moved to Ecuador that I began to learn that such a simple distinction between Latin American issues and Latino issues isn’t so easy any more… they’re becoming more intertwined by the day.
Amor & Exile starts out slowly, with the authors setting a background of the history of Latin American immigration to the United States, moving through WWII and the Bracero program to NAFTA and the mass exodus from rural northern Mexico to the U.S. border states. The chapters then begin to alternate between the book’s two authors, an immigration law expert and a woman whose life has been impacted in every way by the immigration laws of our nation. They weave together their knowledge and experiences to show multiple perspectives of the issue: the big picture, and the individual, human side, which proves to be the most intriguing aspect of the book. Nicole Salgado’s heart-warming story of falling in love with her husband Marguerito turns heart-wrenching as she pulls back the complex layers of his story to reveal the impact that his undocumented crossing into America would later have on their marriage. Faced with a mandatory ten-year ban that would force them to self-exile from the US in hopes that a decade later he could finally get a visa to live legally in his wife’s nation, they moved to his hometown in Mexico, becoming victims of deeply flawed and unjust immigration system in the process.
Nicole was forced to choose between her marraige and her country, a decision that millions of spouses of undocumented immigrants in the United States are often forced to make, to heart-wrentching, life-changing consequences.
I’ve never felt personally closer to this issue of immigration in the United States, even though I’m living my life thousands of miles away in Ecuador. Its not uncommon to meet Ecuadorians that have connections to the United States through family and friends that have immigrated to California, Chicago, or New York. A lot of them express their desires to visit their families in the States, but the prohibitive U.S. visa process only lets the richest Ecuadorians do so. Many are trapped in limbo, as they can’t visit their relatives, and their undocumented relatives can’t visit them. It breaks my heart that due to the flaws in our immigration system, turned every election cycle into an unfulfilled promise, a bargaining chip to try to win the Latino vote, families are ripped apart, many in ways that will never have remedy.
In the age of Donald Trump and senseless, fear-motivated reactions to immigrants from a certain region, with a certain skin color, what we need are more stories like Nicole’s, more stories that I hear from Ecuadorians all the time. We need to see the human side of this issue. Our country has always believed in the sacred institution of the family, but when it comes down to living out this value, we seem to have a problem when that family speaks a different language than us, or was born in a different place. Instead of building walls we need to build bridges, we need to build understanding and compassion.
By 2050, 1 in every 3 Americans will be Latino. Did you know that? The United States is entering its greatest demographic shift ever… EVER. Its so common in the face of what we don’t know, or don’t understand, to respond with fear. But it is much more worthwhile to respond with compassion and empathy and love.