Traveling with Hispanics

Guatemala City, Guatemala. Heading home with Juan Jose’.

It started when Juan was eight months old. I was sure that at any moment, gun wielding policemen would climb aboard the airplane and snatch our baby from Jody’s arms. We were on the flight home from Guatemala. Everyone on the plane could tell Juan wasn’t our baby. We were white and he was brown. I was in terror that Juan could be taken away from us, even though he was legally ours.

This fear has continued, though it hasn’t stopped our family from traveling. Internationally, we have traveled four times to Guatemala and once to Mexico. In a week, we will be boarding a plane for our third trip to Florida.

Peten, Guatemala Juan Jose’ age 7

The fear starts about the time we book our flights, whether international or domestic. I start thinking of all the documents to bring: passports, adoption paperwork, name change documents, birth certificates, citizenship papers, and photos of us as a family. All the paperwork that will prove that Juan and Crystel are our children.

We have not been questioned or stopped at airport security. That hasn’t ended my heart from beating furiously as our passports are studied, then we’re looked over, and finally the returned gaze back to our passports.

Cozumel, Mexico Crystel age 10

Even Juan and Crystel have questioned their citizenship. The first time they asked, I was driving them home from grade school. “Are we citizens?” Crystel asked casually. She is usually the one who brings these types of things up. Juan just sits quietly next to her, listening intently all the same. Once we were home, I opened our lock box. Showed them their Certificate of Citizenship documents and the welcome letter from President Bush. I described to them how I had laid out a train of documents on the floor, ten in all, sent them in, to make sure that they would receive their citizenship.

Even though we’ve been on 7 flights, I’m still afraid. My latest fear is that Juan and Crystel could be separated from us and questioned. That would be traumatic for them. For all of us. And, isn’t it our job as parents to raise our kids with the least trauma possible?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Crystel Age 11

I was thinking about this with our upcoming flight to Florida. It came to me that there are two additional things that I could do. I could apply for TSA precheck and Global entry. That would be proof to security that Juan and Crystel have already been vetted and have proved their citizenship. I immediately applied online, received our appointments, and took them out of school to meet with the agency. As of this writing, I’ve been approved. Juan and Crystel have not yet even though we applied at the same time and were at the same appointment. Jody has been approved even though she filed several days after us.

Florida, Age 3

When the renewal comes up in 5 years, I hope that we can simply complete a renewal form and pay a fee.

I finished applying for Global entry for us this morning.

I don’t ever think that it will be easy for Juan and Crystel to travel our world for the simple reason that they are Hispanic. As their parent, I’ll do what I can for as long as I can to make it not traumatic. That’s my job.

Two Moms, A Sister, and a Boy Scout

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Anitqua, Guatemala

Taking the dental supplies to the clinic through the streets of Antiqua

When Juan Jose was ten, he was dumped in the Brule River not once, but twice when I was at the helm of our canoe. Without help from strangers, we would not have made it to the landing.

He’s almost 14, and he recently completed a comprehensive water-based safety course that involved practicing self-rescue and rescuing other kayakers with his Boy Scout troop in Lake Superior. These are necessary skills for the wilderness cold water kayaking that he’ll be doing in Alaska with the Scouts this August.

Juan didn’t join Scouts to learn how to navigate water. He joined Scouts to learn what his two moms and sister couldn’t teach him.

I became a Cub Scout leader by default. He wouldn’t let me drop him off while I ran errands for an hour.

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygenist

Dentist Hugo, Juan Jose, Hygienist

When it was time for him to cross over to Boy Scouts, he decided to stay in scouting. This surprised me. I was preparing myself for a free evening. Instead, I trained to be an assistant Boy Scout leader. He still wasn’t ready for a parent to drop and run.

Juan was pulling away from me though. I no longer went to all of his campouts. When I did go, he was caught up in the flow of scouts running from one event to another.

Today, he completed his Eagle Scout project in Guatemala. He raised funds for children to receive dental care, and he collected over 130 lbs. of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and dental supplies .

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn't be blinded by the light. That's how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

Juan gave the children sunglasses so they wouldn’t be blinded by the light. That’s how it is done at his dentist in Richfield.

The money he raised enabled 14 dental cleanings, 34 extractions, 31 fillings, and 28 sealants. Care that these children would not have received otherwise.

He gave one suitcase of dental supplies to the dentist and a suitcase of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss to De Familia a Familia. This organization is a link between birth and adoptive families. They have over 260 families that they are currently working with.

Juan couldn’t have done this project without help from relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

And, his two moms and sister.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Six teeth extracted and a dental cleaning.

Because of all of us, he’s learned to navigate waters and to pull himself back into his kayak.

Thank you.

The Birth of Juan Jose’

Juan Jose' and Crystel

Juan Jose’ and Crystel

The best part of Antonio’s name change was when Crystel stood up in the courtroom and said, “I want each of you to tell me something you like about me.” She stood confidently, her hand resting on the bar that divided the gallery from the well of the courtroom. She faced the nine people, including Antonio, who came to support his name change. Aunts, Uncles, Antonio and his girlfriend, were sitting with their back against the wall. She pointed to her Aunt Kathy. “Start there.”

This surprised and delighted me. She was asking for what she needed. And, in this moment what she needed was to know that she was as important as Antonio who within minutes would legally be named Juan Jose’.

She didn’t share his need to change her name. Her Guatemalan birth mother had told her that she named her Crystel.

 

Waiting for the judge.

Waiting for the judge.

The birth search and visit report that Jody and I had done in 2011 when her and Antonio were 9 years old said, Mayra (her birth mom) remembered exactly the date of Crystel’s birth. Most birth mothers do not, not for lack of interest but because dates are usually not important in Guatemala. She named her Crystel Rocio. Crystel because:  “I felt she was a little fragile thing as crystal, and Rocio (dew in English), because as I was walking the day I gave birth to her, it was cloudy and it had rained during the night, and I saw the leaves with drops of dew on them”.

When Jody and I adopted our children, we felt it was important that we keep the names that they were given at birth. We wanted to honor the birth mothers. At the time we didn’t know what their birth names would be and I fretted if I would be able to pronounce their Guatemalan given names. I refused to name my baby boy even though my social worker said that I could. I didn’t want to give him, one more thing that could be taken away from him. He was already losing his mother.

IMG_0425A few months later, we received the results of Antonio’s birth search. His birth mom, Rosa, was asked if she named Antonio. She said no, that she wanted to name him Juan Jose’ (Juan to honor her father and Jose’ to honor her grandfather), but the adoption people named him Antonio. Her father Juan died in 1982 during the Guatemalan Civil War. It is estimated that at least

5, 000 Mayans in the Rabinal area were massacred in 1981-1982. Rosa is indigenous and belongs to the Mayan Achi ethnia.

Ever since Antonio learned that Rosa wanted to name him Juan Jose’, he felt that was his real name.

Jody and I supported Antonio’s name change, nudged him even. We wanted to honor his heritage and his birth mother. We understood how central a name can be to a person’s identity. Both of us have changed our names.

A door opened. “All rise. This court is now in session. The honorable Judge Bernhardson, presiding.”

Just minutes before, Crystel had each person, including her brother and his girlfriend say something they liked about her.

What I witnessed that afternoon was two 13-year-olds asking for what they needed.

They’ll do well in the world, I thought. If a person can identify and then ask for what they need, they can navigate the road ahead of them. Jody and I have taught our children well.

Renewing Passports for Children? Be Aware!

passport[1]

I woke up startled. Filled with dread.

“Jody, I didn’t make a copy of the kids’ citizenship papers.”

I sank into our mattress. “Remember, we never did get Crystel’s green card back.”

Antonio and Crystel’s citizenship papers were issued February 19, 2008. They were six years old.

When Crystel was nine she asked me if I wished I were white or brown, or Mexican or American or Guatemalan. I knew then that it was time that she saw her citizenship papers.

“You’re an American,” I told her. “You have a Welcome letter from President Bush.”

“Do I have a green card?”

2012 Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala

2012 Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala

“Well,” I said.

Climbing Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala was easier than gathering the 20 documents that were required for her citizenship. Her green card was among them.

I had laid the trail of documents on the floor because the table wasn’t large enough. I methodically checked off each requirement before placing the paperwork into the envelope to be mailed.

Antonio’s train of documents was next to hers.

Seems like losing government documents is not unheard of, maybe not even uncommon. When I explained to the Chicago Passport Agency that I didn’t receive Crystel’s green card back – which was a requirement for her passport – they must have believed me because they issued her a passport anyway for our first trip to Guatemala when she was 7.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 2014

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 2014

Now, it would be logical to think that once you received a passport for your children that when it came up for renewal you could just show the about to be expired passport.

It’s never that easy.

Antonio, Crystel, and I arrived at the government office. Waited for our turn. An hour later, I learned that I needed Jody there as well as birth certificates, citizenship papers, etc….

While we were leaving one of the kids asked me why we needed Mama Jody. “So, they know that I’m not stealing you,” I told them.

Getting two parents and two teenagers together at one time can be challenging.

More challenging though and what will keep you up at night is if you don’t ask for a copy of everything that you turn over.

It might not come back.

The Perils of Being a Writer and Other Favorites

This month marks WordSisters’ three-year anniversary. To celebrate, we’re sharing a selection of blogs—our favorites and yours.

crazyquiltWe hope our new readers will enjoy getting to know us better. If you’ve been reading WordSisters from the beginning, we hope you’ll enjoy rediscovering some of our perspectives on parenting, families and relationships, working women, and the writing life.

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) 

My friend C. mentioned that after years of freelance writing, she was interviewing to be a marketing communications manager—a position she’s eminently qualified for. During the preliminary phone interview, the interviewer expressed concern that C. wouldn’t be satisfied with being a mid-level manager. We both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. More

The Perils of Being a Writer

“I knew it,” she says. “I knew it! I knew you were going to say it one day!” She jumps up and runs out of the room.

“What!” I say, alarmed.

I look down at the writing on my laptop and immediately know what happened. There in black and white it says Antonio and Crystel aren’t my children….More

It’s a Good Day When I Kick Somebody in the Head

I started Tae Kwon Do, at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do School when I was 50 years old. Yes, it was an age thing, time to do something new, challenge myself, and show the world that I’m really not all that old. More

Competing with Friends for Writing Awards

Earlier this month, I applied for an Emerging Writer’s Grant and a Loft Creative Prose Mentorship, knowing full well that I’m competing with my good friends for these honors. I really want to win. So do the women in my creative nonfiction writers group. More

Your Moms Can Get Married Now

I imagine someone at school saying that to Antonio and Crystel and them responding, “Huh?” As far as they are concerned, we are already married, and Crystel, much to her chagrin, wasn’t a part of the wedding that we had before she and Antonio came home from Guatemala. She can hardly believe that we had a life before them. More

God Bless Middle-Aged Daughters

As I walk into the skilled nursing center where Mom is rehabilitating, I see other women like myself and think, “God bless middle-aged daughters.” We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen. More

When we launched this blog, we envisioned making new friends and sharing our perspectives. But the reality of our weekly conversations with you has exceeded our expectations. Thank you for reading WordSisters and sharing your thoughts!