November 1, 2011

Mi Mexicana (Major Mexican Holidays, Mexican Citizenship, & Me)

Big things always seem to happen to me around major holidays here in Mexico. This past Dia de la Independencia in September, I got word that my Mexican naturalization certificate was issued, and I would not have to go back to Immigration (Instituto Nacional de Inmigracion) ever again (whew!). The only problem was that although the document was printed in Mexico City, it'd still take a month or more to be delivered, a situation which left me a bit vulnerable in terms of traveling—it'd been a last minute scramble to issue the document before my Mexican visa expired, and while I was waiting for the naturalization document to get a passport, I'd be without traveling papers for on my way back into Mexico. It was unlikely I'd have to travel, since I had no plans to do so, but the prospect of being grounded in the case of an emergency was a concern in the back of my mind.

Today, on Dia de los Muertos, another major Mexican holiday that gives Halloween a serious run for its money, it was just another typical day at home with the baby while my husband went to work. I was getting ready to put the baby down for a nap when I got a phone call on my cell. It was my contact at the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores, calling to tell me that he just received my carta de naturalizacion. "Yay!" I exclaimed immediately. "Can you come pick it up before 3," he asked. Can I ever, I thought.

Soon, I was rushing about to get the baby's diaper bag ready, change my clothes, and pack a little gift bag for my liason at the agency. Noe Lujan has been truly one of the most professional, responsive, compassionate, efficient government representatives I've ever been attended by at a Mexican government agency. And that's saying a lot, because it hasn't always been a pleasurable experience (not just to be a complainer, but most "routine" visits are difficult to a level that Americans who haven't spent time abroad would be hard-pressed to imagine, although some agencies are definitely improving). I loaded the baby into the truck and got on the road as fast as possible, to avoid the late lunch traffic.

What I didn't expect was the range of emotions I would feel on my way there. First, I felt an overwhelming wave of joy. I was all smiles. I felt warm all over and super excited. "Damn, I don't feel this awesome very often anymore," I noted to myself, but I let it last. The end of all my visits to immigration aside, what this really means to me started to sink in. Honestly, I think that'll be something that'll take years to happen.

Then the tears started to flow. Looking back over the years of frustrating visits to immigration, the difficult year of applying for citizenship, and then wondering if it'd ever really happen, and now it finally was. And how I had this opportunity, here in Mexico, one that I wonder whether my husband will have ever have in my country of origin. I felt basically filled with emotion and excited up through parking, walking down the street to the SRE building, and up the steps to the door. Then I finally came down off my cloud of elation.

The guard inside, an older fellow, waved his hand vigorously, motioning me away. He wanted me to go downstairs to the passport office entry, since the office I was going to doesn't let people in after 12 pm, and it was 1:30 pm. But I knew since Noe had called me, I needed to be let in. I stood there waving my own hand, as if asking him to open the door. We did this a few times and I started to get annoyed. Finally he reluctantly came over, opened the door, and I explained my situation, he went and confirmed it, and let me in, not without taking my ID# and signature, of course. At that point the principal emotion was feeling rather smug.

I continued down the hall, where they knew I was coming and waved me in. My heightened sense of anticipation endured. I sat at Noe's desk with the baby on my lap, we exchanged our pleasantries and then we got down to business. I stared at the pile of papers emanating from his mountains of file folders, and felt a mixture of deep appreciation, pity for kind-hearted bureacrats, and relief. After signing several documents, I remarked that I felt like I was buying a car. He laughed and said that this was much better. He explained the documents one by one, and the new stipulations I'll have now that I'm officially Mexican. It's an interesting list, one I'll probably write more about in the future. I gave him his gift, he said I shouldn't have, and we chatted for a while longer. The baby was extra squirmy, so I said my goodbyes and was on my way out.

He'd recommended I stop in to the passport office to ask about the documentation required. Referring to my naturalization certificate gave me that feeling of accomplishment. Then I started to think about voter registration cards. And my mind started racing off in many directions. Is there something in particular I should do to celebrate my new Mexicanness? How do I identify myself now? Does this change anything? If anything, my sense of responsibility as a participating member of Mexican society. It was an exciting, if not worrisome feeling.

Then, of course, life kicked back in. Errands, a whiny baby, and a drive home. A creeping feeling of exhaustion as I finally got her off for her nap. But before I could attempt my own, I had to corral some stray chickens in the garden, give the rabbit some grass, swat a couple flies in the living room. I contemplated logging on immediately to share my pile of new feelings about my new status with the world, one that way exceeds a single tweet or Facebook post...but the desire to try and nap won over. So I kicked off my sandals and contentedly curled up on the couch.

I was just...drifting... off... to sleep... when Margo got home. I couldn't pretend I was sleeping, and I had to share the news—I'd wanted to keep the surprise for an in-person delivery. "Really?!" he exclaimed delightedly when I told him. "Aw...Mi Mexicana," he said, leaning over to give me a kiss. And I smiled and thought to myself, damn! He's right, and yet I still just can't believe it.

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