I'll be the first to admit that, growing up, I wasn't informed about a lot of social and political issues. A white, middle-class girl, I didn't have a lot invested in the larger issues going on around me. It doesn't excuse my ignorance, but I do think it was quite common. Despite the fact that my father immigrated from Mexico when he was 15, the topic of his citizenship status wasn't a common one. I'm a first-generation American on my dad's side of the family, yet I never really stopped to think about what that meant.
Right after I graduated high school, Obama and McCain took center stage. Having moved out to farm country where I knew almost no one, it was easy to become disconnected from everything. I tried to do my research and understand the election; I knew it was important, but ultimately, I felt overwhelmed. I withdrew and watched from the sidelines, crossing my fingers for a Democratic win, even if I wasn't entirely sure what that exactly meant.
Now it's 2016 and we're looking at another history-changing election. Only this time, I don't have the luxury of remaining oblivious.
Six months ago, I was blessed to marry the love of my life. The man I married is kind, intelligent, and hard-working. He's also not an American citizen.
Having immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, when he was 5, my husband has lived the bulk of his life as an undocumented immigrant. Thanks to Deferred Action, he has legally been able to work here for the past few years, earning his college degree in a blue-collar field. When we first began dating I remained blissfully unaware of what exactly that all meant. Only now I've run out of time to remain on the sidelines.
The word deportation always felt unreal — like a sort of bogeyman, lurking in the shadows and only ever really seen in dramatic movie sequences. Certainly something like that — so many people being forced to uproot their entire lives and everything they've ever known — could never really happen. Not now. We've come so far past that. Right?
Then Brexit happened. The bogeyman is real.
"If I had to go back to Mexico, would you come with me?"
I never thought we'd be having this conversation in earnest.
"Would we ever be able to come back to America?"
It still feels like some kind of warped joke. But as I read the hate-filled comments on Facebook and Tumblr, the racist slurs and xenophobic accusations spread across the media, it's impossible to hide my head in the sand. While I never realized just how living in a country that devalues brown skin has affected my father, I have a front-row seat in understanding just what it means for my husband.
We began the citizenship process only a few weeks after we said our vows. Miles of paperwork and over $1,500 in fees was just the beginning. It's only been a few months, and since then we've encountered hidden fees, endless paperwork, and phone calls hung up in our faces. I expect to be dealing with this for at least another year and possibly longer. We have absolutely no control over our future.
I'm not proud of my previous ignorance. And I'm not saying that even now I fully grasp the details and nuances of what's happening in this country. What I do know, however, is that this election poses a very real threat not only to my family, but to thousands of people in my community. Living in a state with a large Mexican population, it's pretty much impossible to pretend not to notice just how many people are living in the same precarious situation that I could potentially find myself in.
The thought of losing my husband chills me to my very core. It seeps into my thoughts and sends me reeling down a path of what-ifs. In my head, I've played scenario after scenario about what we might do if we were ever really forced to separate, yet it does nothing to help ease the rising fear that's growing stronger inside me with each passing day.
We all know someone else that bad things could happen to, someone else that will have to deal with the consequences of an election with an ominous possible outcome. But now, I don't just know someone else. It's me. The possibility of losing the one I love the most isn't just some bad dream or fictional story. It's real.
I'm doing what I can to stay informed, watching and reading the news. But more importantly, I'm trying to have empathy, even for those I don't understand. It's the lack of empathy, understanding and respect toward people who are different from ourselves that is tearing my country apart. I don't want to be a part of that problem. There are some things I won't ever agree with them on, but I'm not going to treat them with the same poisonous and nonsensical hatred I've seen spewed at people like my husband.
Instead, I'm going to stand my ground on what's important to me and those around me: keeping our families together.