When I married my husband Ahmed, the breadth of my knowledge of the U.S. immigration system was no greater informed than what I remembered seeing in the movie “Green Card.”
In fact, the night before we were to appear at immigration services, I rented the movie for us to watch together. I thought it might give us some insights, some ways of being that we could carry with us to our appointment the next day, foolishly turning to a fictional movie with a bad plot in an attempt to find any point of identification with my own situation.
In defense of my much younger and foolish self: at the very least I probably believed that the movie would cheer us up. I thought I had seen the movie before and I remembered it being very light, a romantic comedy scenario where the American character played by Andie MacDowell marries the character played by Gerard Depardieu. I remembered a happily ever after kind of ending.
And while MacDowell’s character realizes she has actually fallen in love – albeit in a very unconventional way – the French Depardieu character is deported at the end of the movie.
The movie basically ends there.
“Well,” I remember saying to my husband. “That’s not quite how I thought it ended.”
Weeks later, Ahmed and I moved to the home of his family in Egypt, to the Nile Delta village where he was born and raised. It was a trip of forced departure as opposed to pleasure, a trip made of necessity to file Ahmed’s immigration paperwork from outside the country, as we were directed.
As a U.S. citizen, I still had no reason to doubt that the entire process to complete the visa application that would enable him – that would enable us – to live together in the United States could be anything but quick and easy and painless. All I knew of life as a white American woman was simple, streamlined, effortless.
Until that time, it never occurred to me that we would do anything except make our way through a process of reviews and stamps and approvals that were simply formalities – that there would be agencies and people along the way who would be ready and willing to help make this happen.
What I can tell you about that year and some odd months of waiting is that motion and productivity felt non-existent. I was depressed. We sat. We slept. We waited for Ahmed’s visa decision to be made.
We had no idea that it would take well over another year for him to return to the U.S. – and I had no idea that the timeline, in comparison to the wait of some, was quick. I had no idea how lucky we were.
How lucky we are.
This is a simplified snapshot of one immigration story – a short version without any details or complications, told from my very American perspective of almost 20 years ago.
Last year Ahmed became a naturalized U.S. citizen. We attended a huge ceremony to celebrate men and women and children from all over the world, and I wondered about all of them, about their families, as they took turns standing to be recognized. I didn’t need any movie to illustrate that my point of identification was simply sharing space with them that day.
Since then, and more recently, though, I’m thinking about the many narratives that get lost and fall between the cracks where there is no chance of being heard. Now, more than ever, we need conversation, perspective and diverse voices. Their stories are our own.