August 18, 2006

The Huicholes at the Border

An essay
by Heriberto Escamilla
Part 2

Tonight we are trying to extend his permit so that he can stay longer. Even though our guest already has a valid passport and visa, which are almost impossible to secure these days, we have to return back across the border into Mexico and then come back into the United States for a permit. This is actually our second attempt. A few minutes earlier we had taken a friend’s advice and tried to access the permit office by car. We made the U-turn that comes up right before crossing into Mexico. As we came to the stop before entering the secondary inspection area, a uniformed INS agent emerged from a one-person kiosk. With what appeared to be the flashlight he carried in his hand, he motioned for us to turn left and continue back into the States. I rolled the window down and tried to explain our objective. He wasn’t interested and simply repeated his command the second time with more conviction. We had no choice but to turn back.

“He looked more scared than angry”, I commented to my wife as we veered right onto Interstate 805. “I guess he’s pretty vulnerable there”, she quickly agrees. “Some crazy could just pull up and do whatever”.

We walk onto the sidewalk leading to the American port of entry. It’s 10 in the evening so the regular permit office situated underneath the big American flag and right outside of the port has long closed. The sign on the office door says they open sometime around 8 or 9. I am not sure of the exact time as I write this. I do remember the closing time, 2:30 in the afternoon. And the agents that work inside must have liked the siesta idea because they are also closed between 12 and 1. So if you are a citizen of some other country and you want to stay in the United States for more than a few days, or if you want to travel more than twenty-five miles from the border you had better hurry. The door opens and closes quickly.

I might be too critical. You can also buy the permit inside the port of entry, but that line tends to be longer and not without its perils as we soon learned.

It’s a slow night and there are only a few people crossing the border. We see a family, walking toward us. The children scurry around the man dragging a mop across the floor. It’s a young couple, with 3 children. They’re dressed nicely, carrying luggage. “Mexico’s middle class”, I think to myself, they’re probably trying to vacation in the U.S. I am middle class now, but most of the relatives that I left behind in Mexico started this lifetime as poor dirt farmers. I sometimes have trouble accepting my middle class identity. I’d like to believe that I still live close to the earth, but it’s not true.

Don Marcelino often laments that the Earth, Sun, Water and Air talk to us, but we no longer understand their language. “What do we have to do in order to listen?” I asked him the other day. “Whew, mucho, a lot”, he says, almost dismissing my question with his hands. I felt, as I often do when we talk, lost.

The young couple and the 3 children have been rejected. There seem to be more rejects at the border these days or maybe I didn’t pay much attention before.

Inside the port of entry, we find and enter the neatly arranged maze of plastic, orange dividers that head people toward a line of counters. The African-American agent sitting at the counter in front of us looks intently at us. He is a big man but his face projects friendliness. I feel myself relax a bit. I am a naturalized citizen of the United States, with absolutely nothing to declare. I have a constitutional right to be in this country, so why should I feel anxious in the first place. I focus my attention away from the agent, on the walls, the man mopping the floors, anything. It’s a long walk when the place is empty. I’ve never liked to be the center of attention. Eventually, I run out of distractions and look ahead. The officer’s gaze hasn’t moved away from us. It’s a quiet night. I suppose he has nothing else to look at.

(Next Week Part III)

Heriberto (Beto) Escamilla, originally from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico, was raised in Houston, Texas until moving to San Diego in 1984. He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego Campus.

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