Rudy was nineteen years old when he left Honduras and came to the United States for the first time. His dad had died a few years before and though he had no real reason to leave his homeland, and especially his mom, he knew the time had come for him to be proactive about his own future. Conversations began with a sister of his who was living in Shreveport, Louisiana, and very much willing to greet Rudy with open arms. Thus began the process of applying for a Passport and a Visa, which would allow him to travel out of the country. A month or so later, before boarding his flight, mom and son embraced, each feeling the weight of a heavy heart.
The Visa, stamped into his Passport, would expire four years from the issue date. But, within the four years he was only able to travel back and forth to the states in six month intervals. Meaning, he could not stay in the United States for the total duration of those four years, but rather use the Passport and Visa as traveling documents. After about five and a half months of living in Shreveport, Rudy decided he wanted to visit some friends in California for a few weeks, before heading back to Honduras. His sister helped him apply for an extension on his Visa, which would allow him to continue his travels until he heard back from them, either yes or no. Aside from filling out paperwork, Rudy was asked to send a copy of both his Passport and Visa and the original Immigrant Declaration declaring he was legally allowed to travel. All good, but also worrisome. Rudy was worried that without the mandatory Declaration to speak for him, if for some reason someone questioned him, he wouldn’t know how to explain himself. You see, his English skills were basic, at best.
Not to be deterred, Rudy boarded a greyhound bus bound for Orange County, California. At the immigrant checkpoint in El Paso, Texas, an authority figure walked up and down the aisle asking random people for some type of documentation. Passports, Licenses, ID’s and such. Two guys were taken off the bus, never to return. After that, the man-in-charge waved the driver on. Rudy felt relief, figured he’d make it through, no problem. Little did he know, he still had San Clemente’s checkpoint to conquer. But, because he wasn’t aware of what was going to happen, he slept sweetly.
“Excuse me, Sir?” he heard a voice say, loudly, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Sí,” Rudy answered nervously. He was asked to show his documents. He gulped, cast his eyes down towards his lap. Not because he was doing anything wrong or illegal, but because he was trying to figure out how to explain why he didn’t have his Immigrant Declaration paper. Rudy’s speech stumbled. Hand signals and basic words were how he communicated. But this didn’t help as he tried to explain himself to the officer. So, the authority figure waved his hand in a follow-me motion. Outside, in a small tollbooth-like office, a Spanish-speaking translator listened as Rudy told him about the extension for his Visa. There was no computer to check the validity of his story nor were there cell phones to make a quick call. But, maybe it was Rudy’s demeanor and honest tone, because the official cleared everything, believed he was in the process of extending his Visa, and wished him “Good Luck” in Southern California.
Shortly after he arrived to my birthplace, Rudy and I met, and began to have serious feelings for each other. Soon after that he got a call from his sister stating she had received an answer to his request for an extension. “They denied it,” she told him. And then, Rudy told me the truth. That he was no longer legal in the United States. Not surprisingly, I honestly didn’t care. In my opinion, in those early days, I felt immediately that Rudy was an honest and loyal person. And I completely trusted him when he told me I meant a lot to him. And, anyway, at that point, it was the romance that meant everything.
One day, as we were driving to my brother’s house down south, Rudy noticed the very familiar San Clemente checkpoint. He stared at those officers scanning cars, looking for people entering California illegally. He swallowed hard, just as I realized I had made the mistake of thinking my brother lived further north of the checkpoint. Rudy spent most of the visit taming his nervous ticks. But, luck was on his (our) side. He now jokes that it was my blond hair and my cute ’67 yellow Volkswagen Bug that allowed us to sail right through the span of immigration officers, without a second thought. We married about a year and a half later, not because getting him an Alien Resident card was our priority, which was a definite plus, but because we knew we were meant to spend our lives together.
Seven years ago, after we had been married for twenty-one years, with the encouragement of myself and our children, Rudy finally became a US citizen.