In 1960’s Mexico, kids were getting married at extremely young ages; 13 years old was not uncommon. In 1960’s Mexico, Nabor and Emilia had two kids who were already teenagers. In 1960’s Mexico, there was no welfare, no food stamps, and no real help for the poor beyond the church and family. Despite all these things, Nabor still had several reasons for not wanting to move to America. First of all, the last time he was there he nearly died. Secondly, his father was locked up in America when he was just a boy. Finally, we Preciado men are extremely dependable…which is a nice way of saying that we fight change tooth and nail!
Fortunately, an extra push to change came in the form of his brother Ramon taking the initiative and beginning the process of getting Nabor his green card. Ramon did this by going to a notary public shortly after Nabor’s close call the last time he crossed the border illegally. Ramon apparently became fed up after Nabor’s appendix burst and decided to “force” his brother to get his papers.
Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t like my grandpa just sat back and did nothing. He had to hustle quite a bit to become a legal resident of the United States. First of all, he needed a letter from one of his former employers vouching for him as an excellent employee and stating that he had a job waiting for him in the States once he got his green card. For some strange reason, Nabor decided to go to some agricultural contractor to get a fake letter written up. This contractor (what in the world is an agricultural contractor anyways?) promised that for the small fee of $50, Nabor would fulfill this portion of the green card process without any problems.
Apparently, La Migra was very familiar with this guy and his letters which he didn’t change very much from client to client; and he had many, many clients.
“Did you ever get your money back,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” Grandpa said.
“Oh good,” I said, not realizing that he was joking. Actually, I’m never quite sure when Grandpa Next Door is joking.
“No,” Grandpa said. “I never got my money back.”
This did not help to motivate an already reluctant Nabor. Ramon decided to step in again and ask Nabor’s old boss at the lemon packing company to write the letter. He did.
“He wrote it for free,” Grandpa said endearingly.
This letter worked which meant that Nabor had to hustle even more now. Nabor had to race from his home in Magdalena to the consulate in Nogales for a physical examination and to have his fingerprints taken. After all that, he was rewarded by being told that the consulate was closing for the day and he would have to come back. So Nabor rushed back to Magdalena to sleep in his own bed for one more night before possibly returning to America where he had almost died not too long ago.
The next day, Nabor went back to Nogales for an interview. After the interview, he was issued temporary papers that needed to be stamped by La Migra at the border within thirty days or he would have to start the entire process over again. Nabor didn’t even return home. He got on a ten hour bus ride to Tijuana that very day, not knowing how many more months it was going to be before he saw his family again.
“It all happened very fast,” Grandpa said. “I got to Tijuana with my papers which were sealed and couldn’t be opened or they were no good. I gave the immigration my papers and they stamped them and let me in. I went to La Colonia and started working packing the lemons and in two weeks, I got my green card.”
Nabor was now a legal resident of the United States of America. If he got sick again he could go to a hospital without any worries of being deported. He wasn’t restricted to San Diego or LA during his stay in America. He could now legally roam anywhere in the United States if he wanted to. Shoot! He could walk straight up to La Migra with no fear now. You would think that all of these things would bring relief to young Nabor.
“I felt terrible,” Grandpa Next Door said.
“¿Serio?” I asked just to make sure he wasn’t joking again.
“Serio,” he said. “I never wanted to stay here. But Ramon…”
“Tío Ramon kind of made you?” I said finishing a sentence that I knew he would never finish himself.
“At first I felt terrible,” Grandpa said. “Pero, now I think it was a good decision. What was I going to do in Mexico? There was no work. No nothing. But at first I felt terrible.”
I guess that’s just the way it goes. No matter how imperfect your home may be it is still your home. Magdalena was where Nabor and Emilia had made their first home together as a family. That’s not an easy thing to just leave behind. In 1960’s Mexico there weren’t many opportunities to improve your life, but for Nabor, his son Toribio, and the rest of the family, it was home.