Our Immigrant Journey

As you may remember, a short while back I mentioned that my mom’s permanent residency had came through. This was, and is, a deeply significant moment in our lives. But as I mentioned then, when I got the news I went numb. I could not process it –that would happen last week. Rather than include it in the usual weekly summary, I felt this deserved its own post, allowing me tell you the story properly, some parts of which I would never feel fully “safe” sharing until now.

A Story

My mom and I entered the country legally but eventually became undocumented and remained so for roughly 20 years, give or take a few months to a year. Well, me closer to 15. I was 18 years old then, and I am now almost 40.

Regardless of how you feel about “people like us”, the nightmarish situation of living in fear for this many years and the toll it takes on your emotional well-being cannot be overstated.

I am referring to things such as the constant fear of deportation to a country where you’ve lost it all and have little to no hope of anything other than the streets. Not getting to be by your father’s deathbed in my case, and in my mom’s, her mother’s (my grandma’s). Having to work on the days these deaths occurred because when you’re “an illegal” getting a job if you lose your current one is almost impossible: there is no time for grieving. Getting sexually harassed with on-camera proof and being unable to do anything for the same reason.

These are only some fun aspects of our immigrant experience, and until the day I die, I will still say the sacrifices were all worth it. I love this country. This is my home.

Yet, even once I became a permanent resident in 2020, and not very long after, a citizen in 2021, I could not truly rejoice or breathe easy. My mom could be snatched away from me at any time. She could be sent back to a country where she had nothing left, in her late 60s, and then be barred from returning, even to visit me, for a minimum of ten years.

I could not envision any sort of happiness if this were to happen to us. Even as a citizen I lived in fear and worry every day, for her sake. I lost my dad and my grandma when I came here –I never saw them again before they died. Losing my mom too would be an unimaginable grief.

And then the papers came through. And it was all over. I’m a citizen, my mom is a permanent resident. The years and years of living in fear are done. How to get used to this new normal, after so long?

Well, the first step was to celebrate. Actually, there was another step first. Do you remember how I said that back in 2008, there was that one big push toward immigration legislation that failed? And how that night I’d been watching An American Tail by myself at like 1:00 am?

Everything in this movie –the hopes and dreams of the little mouse and his family, the chorus of Give me your tired, your poor… as tempest-tossed Fievel first lays eyes upon the Statue of Liberty…

…the lyrics of Never Say Never, so reminiscent to me of how my mom and I tried to keep each other hopeful for so many years in the face of seemingly no solution to our security or futures, not only because we had that tenacity and resilience, but because as immigrants, we simply HAD no other choice…

…the topic of family separation, and above all the closing around the statue with Fievel being so excited to see all of the USA someday… that terrible night, all of this felt like a cruel mockery of my every childhood dream.

Every sacrifice had been for nothing. America would never be our home. We weren’t wanted, our contributions did not matter. That night I felt like maybe our dreams weren’t meant to ever come true. As the movie came to a close, I buried my face in a pillow and scream-sobbed in a heartbroken rage the likes of which I had not felt until that night and have not felt since.

And I told myself I would never watch that movie ever again (one of my favorite movies of all time) until my mom and I were both permanently legalized and free of fear. When that day came, I’d watch it with her.

Fourteen Years Later

It’s been fourteen years since that terrible night. This week, the day finally came. I reminded my mother about my promise to myself regarding that film. So on Wednesday she came to see me early in the day.

First, we went to see her lawyer, to thank him. My mom bought him an expensive bottle of wine –easily a full day of her wages. We wrote him and her paralegal heartfelt notes, as well as some chocolates for the paralegal.

When my mom sat down in the lawyer’s office, she managed to get exactly three words out before her voice cracked and she started crying and stammering her words of thanks. My heart broke for her in that moment, even though I was also very happy. It was a very emotional moment for everyone.

We discussed some stuff regarding my mom’s retirement and then went to have a happy little lunch, full of emotions and excitement about the cruise that we could now take together.

Then we went back to my house and I gave her the (early) Mother’s Day presents, and it was time to watch An American Tail.

When something is anticipated to this degree, I think it’s understandable not to have as strong a reaction as one might have imagined. This was not the case for me.

From the moment the violin music started to play, to Papa Mousekewitz’s very first mentions of fabled America, to their walk onto the ship with their few belongings on their backs –that was us, if on a plane– I barely held it together throughout the entire movie.

Henri’s encouraging words, “Never say never, whatever you do –if you believe that your dreams will come true, then that’s how it’s gonna be!” such clichรฉd words, but hopeful, trite clichรฉs are sometimes all people like us have. Every single time that Fievel got knocked down, repeatedly, but didn’t lose hope, until he finally did, and broke down in that alley surrounded by all the orphaned little mice, feeling sure that things would not turn out right for him –that was me, that terrible night in 2008. I was sure, too.

But we didn’t give in. It wasn’t a choice we could take. And things did turn out okay.

By the time the movie reached the closing scene that absolutely broke me that night years ago, I was having a hard time. When it actually ended, I basically exploded and ended with my head on my mom’s lap sobbing like she had not seen me do since I was a little girl. I think it was a bit of a shock for her, because it was the same devastated angry sobbing I did that night, and she hadn’t seen me cry like that as an adult. This time, the feelings behind it were joy and relief, but still some anger that it took SO LONG to get here.

I want to include the scene here because you really have to watch it, and listen to the dialog, to realize how cruelly mocking some of the closing words felt to me that day long ago.

“Look what you’re missing. You’re missing everything.”

When I last watched this film, it really felt like we were.

But now it’s over. Now we are safe. We would never have been here but for my mom: early on she sacrificed the most, and she did it all for me. My loving husband, our friends, our family… it took so much on their part, as well as thousands in fees for us both, affidavits written by our loved ones, and nightmarish processes with years of wait in between. Now it’s all over.

“What’s that over there?”

“That is more America,” Henri said to Fievel. Fievel asks him: “Can we go see it?” And Henri answers, “Someday”.

How I wanted to see it, too. How my mom wanted to see it. To us, it felt like that “someday” would never, ever come. Now, a whole TWENTY-ONE years after we arrived, the answer is yes for both of us. In August, we will travel to Alaska.

Just us two, without fear, knowing that we are welcome in our beloved home, the USA, knowing that we can come back. And then we can go somewhere else –and then somewhere else. And keep seeing it… the rest of America.


We had love, support, and assistance in many ways from our family and friends throughout this process. But no one went as far or risked so much as my dear husband. Not only that, but he agreed to take my mom out to one of the nicest dinners she’s ever had, at a very fancy restaurant (Jaya at the Setai). In the end, he and our partner split the bill. It was a wonderful evening.

The atmosphere and our seating were perfect and my mom got to see several dancing performances. I was so glad that everything went so perfectly and she had such a nice time.

My mom and I shared this wonderful dessert!

At one point, I was able to get away from the table and ask the waitress for a special little detail for my mom. She was surprised when it came!

The waitress, an immigrant herself, had waited for her permanent residency for seven years.


I want to close this post by sharing one more special thing with you. While I stopped hoping as much before after 2008, there was another attempt at immigration reform in 2012, that had my mom’s hopes very high. That was the year a certain song came out, and after the disappointment, my mom could not bear to hear this song anymore. It was a song that for us felt very personal to our journey.

I would still listen to it, because for me it gave me a fierce sort of courage that someday I would make it so my mom could be safe here. Ultimately, we would do that for each other, in different ways, during our immigrant journey.

Now she can listen to this song, and I can watch my movie, without feeling hopeless and heartbroken or afraid.

I’ve cried many times over the last week and also many times in the process of writing this post. It’s probably one of the most important ones that will ever appear on my blog, and I’m so grateful that you read it.

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