I've been reading a lot about refugees and whether Americans want to let them into the United States or not. There are basically two sides to the argument. The first being that they are human beings so we should have compassion for them. The second being that ISIS militants could sneak into the country with them and we can't take that risk. I think one of the really important pieces to the puzzle here is that most Americans have no idea how immigration works. Why should they, really? Most Americans will never have to go through the system and experience immigration - via the Unites States immigration system with a spouse or other relative or themselves emigrating to another country. [Let's talk vocab real quick. Immigration = going into. Emigration = leaving.]
Can I tell you guys something? It's very hard and very expensive. The first time my husband came to the United States it cost him over $10,000. That's $10,000 earned by someone who lived in Brazil. Remember, most people only earn about US$12/day. Can you actually fathom how much money that is to someone here in Brazil? It's about three to four years' salaries. Then, he said goodbye to everyone and everything he knew, boarded a plane, and landed in a country where he didn't understand the culture and didn't speak the language. Now, let me stop you before you say, "Well that was his choice (doesn't make it less hard). He came to a better place (that's subjective). He should have assimilated (he did, it takes time)." Or maybe you want to go the far less empathetic route and say you don't want South American immigrants in the U.S. at all? Well, my husband was a tax-paying, employed, charity-oriented, productive member of society, who never used a single penny of government assistance. Additionally, he cared for our children while I, a military member, was called to TDYs to serve the country. He was a very big supporter of the military. He purchased meals for the homeless, he volunteered to build houses with charities, and he always went annoyingly above and beyond to help people. And he learned English. Can you speak that highly for all Americans? My point in this rant/rave is that too many people are blessed with citizenship by simply being born in America. I'm not saying we should take away citizenship by birthright. But actions, to me, are much more important, if you want to talk about "who deserves to be here."
From my side of the coin immigrating is probably the scariest thing you can do in your life. Scarier than having kids. I thought I spoke pretty good Portuguese, I thought I was used to Brazilian food, I thought I was used to Brazilian culture. The absence of American culture - my native culture - has been extremely difficult. No one here speaks English or even pretends to accommodate me (which I don't expect them to, but I think it's awesome and also important that we do that in the U.S.). And I really, really miss the amalgamation of cultures in the United States. Everyone here is brown. Everyone here speaks Portuguese. It's very homogeneous. That didn't sink in until we were at a little luncheonette owned by a Japanese family (Brazil has a large immigrant Japanese population) and they started speaking Japanese. I realized that it was the first time in Brazil that I saw non-Brazilians speaking non-Portuguese. I can't walk into Target in the United States without hearing at least three different languages and walking past a Turkish woman, a Mexican man, a black teenage hipster, and a Starbucks and Uggs toting blonde. Oh my gosh how I miss the diversity! Even the buildings and the dirt here are brown. Brown, brown, everywhere.
I renewed my tourist visa and again, it was very, very difficult. I've found that a combination of having an adorable white, blonde, blue-eyed baby and lots and lots of tears will get me far in Brazil. We went to the Federal Police 10 minutes outside of town to inquire as to which documents I need for my permanent visa and were informed that they no longer provide those services and that we had to do it back in town where we came from. To make a long post short, we spend a day gathering required documents, paying required fees (across the city at the bank), almost killing each other, and I got a nice little stamp in my passport. Phew - good for another 90 days. Now to get my permanent visa. This is a little more tricky, in part because the government here likes to randomly shut down due to lack of funding. After another trip to the visa office, we gathered all our documents, made all our photocopies, paid over R$120 and spent half a day getting them notarized. Side note: I needed a document notarized that said I am my kids' mother and they are dependent on me. The notary asked if I spoke Portuguese and when I said a little, she responded, "Well, you're going to have to read that document back to me in Portuguese, but in your own words so I know you understand what you're signing." Queue my panic attack and forgetting everything I know. Thankfully I muddled my way through it. So the next time you come across an immigrant who fumbles their English, consider that they might be trying their best and just super nervous. Save the "speak English or get out" rant. End side note. Now I just need to pay another R$450 to the bank for my visa fees, bring the documents in, pass an inspection, and hopefully get my visa. PHEW!