If you were to ask me what home means to me, I would probably answer with some type of cliche like “home is where the heart is,” “home is a happy place,” or my favorite: “home is not a place, but a feeling.” Those three would probably be one of my responses thrown at you to mask the fact that in fact, home is a place for me, a place across the United States-Mexico border.
Ever since I left my hometown in Queretaro, Mexico, building a place that feels like home in the U.S. has been an ongoing task. Today, the idea of home feels even further away because my father, an immigrant who spent almost two decades in the U.S., will be returning to Mexico.
He bought a one-way ticket, not knowing that part of my heart will also be boarding the plane with him. Like him, I’m also undocumented, therefore leaving the U.S. legally, or traveling in and out of the country, is not an option for me. I will soon say goodbye to him, not knowing when I will see him again.
Family separation is a very present and familiar reality for the approximately 44.9 million immigrants living in the U.S. A report released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in June stated that President Joe Biden’s administration determined that more than 3,900 children were separated from their families in the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy.
Unlike the majority of those children, I can care for myself now. Nonetheless, navigating life without my father, even as a 24-year-old, will be so hard.
Learning to live without the people you love because of immigration laws is something many of us have mastered.
For me, the absence of my father in this country is bittersweet. I know we won’t be able to share a hug or eat chilaquiles for breakfast every Sunday, but he will be returning to what he considers home and finally be able to reunite with his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, some of whom he has never met before.
I’m so sadly happy for him.
I know my father never dreamed of coming to the U.S. He once dreamed of becoming a lawyer and having a big family. But after my mother and I immigrated to the U.S., a year later, he did too.
My grandfather said that when my dad told the family he was leaving for the U.S., he wasn’t surprised. “I told him, ‘“Son, the moment your daughter left, I knew we would soon see you leave too.’” Throughout those years, he never remarried, his grandparents died, and he was diagnosed with diabetes, a chronic illness that landed him in the hospital and in bed for six months last year.
He mentioned he wanted to return to Mexico during that time in the hospital. “You’re older now and I know soon you will have to spread your own wings and fly to the life that awaits you,” he told me. We both cried that day, as we held hands and wiped each other’s tears. That was the beginning of an end.
I know that the concept of time has never before been so substantial for him, especially as my grandmother is becoming sicker and sicker with time. I had my father for the first 24 years of my life, now I know that my grandma needs him more than I do.
Today my father lets go of the so-called “American Dream,” something that he had already given up on a long time ago. Today the reality of holding his family is better than any other dream.
I’ve met the feeling of a hard goodbye before in my life. Once, when I was just a kid and I had to leave my family in Mexico who throughout the years I have seen grow older through video calls and pictures.
The ache that exists in my heart rapidly turns to anger, knowing the urgency that exists, not just for me but for other undocumented people and families of mixed status, to see immigration reform become a reality. President Biden’s campaign promise to build a “fair and humane,” immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMERS, feels forgotten. With a fair and equitable path to citizenship, many of us would not feel torn between two countries.
I don’t know how much time I will last without seeing my father. Maybe a year, maybe three or twelve, but I know there will come a time that like my father, I too will wake up one day with the uttermost necessity to see my family and return back home, with or without papers.
I know my dad’s motherland awaits. It’s waiting for his feet to help soften the edges of the town that saw him grow up. It’s waiting for his laugh to give light to the dark corners of the house I once ran through.
Like him, I also deeply love the small town that saw me grow up. I miss running through my abuelas backyards, the smell of citruses and flowers staying on my shirt. I miss sneaking into my abuelas tiendita and grabbing a basket bull of pan dulce for my cousins and me.
I’m dreading our goodbye. But it makes me feel better to think that when he returns to Queretaro, it would be like a piece of me did, too. I’m happy seeing him happy and I know he feels the same.
For now, we will love from afar until our hearts meet again and until a border is no longer an obstacle to coming together.