“You have the papers to cross back and forth freely” says the woman who hasn’t seen her brothers for the 15 years that they have been in the US and who longs for them to be able to enjoy the December celebrations in the town. “You have the papers” says the mother of 6 children, one of whom has been in the US for 5 years, another who returned for December festivities two years ago and in spite of 5 crossing attempts hasn’t made it back across, and another two who have been deported trying to cross the border. Her husband, the breadwinner, died 5 years ago and none of the children have been able to study past elementary school. “You have the papers” says the mom of three sons who have all at some point been in the US and are now back in Mexico, trying to scrape by working in the fields.
Even when I don’t hear the phrase, I often say it to myself. Who am I to receive reliable pay checks for doing this research, when the people who I am interviewing are only paid if the harvest goes well, and paid very little at that. Who am I to be visiting my family for Christmas, when it is during these days that families here most long to be with their loved ones who are en el otro lado (on the other side). Who am I to have a university degree and a scholarship waiting in the wings to pay for a Master’s when a family that I am close to here is barely able to pay the bus fare so that their children can go to secundaria (middle school). Prepa (high school) is only a far off dream for them. Who am I to be tired of washing my clothing by hand, not having good Internet access, and taking bucket showers when I own an abundance of clothing, a laptop, and surely will be able to enjoy a showerhead for years to come.
I have been welcomed warmly here and I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality of all those whom I have met. But it seems that nothing will change the fact that I am different. Because of where I was born and who I was born to, people apologize for their “pobre casa” (poor house) as I enter, with an edge of shame that I am to see it. It is easy to say that we are all human beings, all equal, all created in God’s image. I do believe that as we are reconciled in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” But it is a lot harder to navigate the differences that humans themselves. There is a certain loneliness in feeling different, even if that difference is allegedly positive or at least one of more privilege. I despair sometimes that I will always be the girl with papers, the one who came to visit that one time. What I want is to simply be a sister in Christ.