I watched the election on TV, alone in a hotel room at the end of a trip in a red state. I texted with my parents, a few friends, and watched dumbfounded as my world changed. I cried until I landed home in New York City the next morning, as gray and sad as me.
Everything was different. There was a sullen panic buzzing through the streets of my East Village community, a diverse and tolerant part of the city. Ron* (my fiancé) and I hadn't spoken the night before, there was nothing to say over the phone, and when I got home we hugged silently, fighting back tears.
I quickly realized that the next few months were the last of a social climate I had since taken for granted, and vowed to enjoy them. Thanksgiving and the holidays masked the worry and sense of dread. I tried not to think about the fact that it could be my last Thanksgiving in the United States, at least for a while. Friends assured me that it wasn't going to be like that. We focused on holiday cookies and seasonal punch bowls. The idea that his campaign promises were empty rhetoric still existed.
Inauguration came in the deep of winter, and the spectacle of 2017 was a jolting blow. Uncertainty started to penetrate deeper into every moment of my life—our lives—as the reality of the situation grew uglier than anticipated.
For the decade Ron has been here he has contributed invaluably to award-winning restaurants, like so many other immigrants. He pays taxes, has never been arrested, and sends most of his money home to his family in Puebla. We want to start our own family soon, and hope to get his status changed to legal permanent resident. The process is long and expensive even in the best of cases, and starts with a FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act), where a lawyer sends an inquiry to the FBI and US Customs & Border control to get an official status report. We sent his in in October 2016.
As reports of ICE showing up to houses of otherwise peaceful, hardworking people started to roll in, we grew tense. Was sending in the FOIA a mistake? Will they send back information of whether or not he has a deportation, or just show up and bang on our door? So far that has not happened in Manhattan, but it's happening in Brooklyn. We sat down with our roommate to tell him what to do if ICE shows up, and explained that he should not open the door unless they provide a signed document with a checklist of specifications.
I am lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded people who support freedom for all, but even in a sea of friends, I find myself alone and terrified. I would be lying if I said my situation hasn't caused distance between me and my friends. I get annoyed now at tweets about a new taco spot a friend is dying to try, because that same friend never has time to tag along to a rally for immigrant rights. The casual hypocrisy of indulging in Latin American culture but not defending its presence, especially in a city like New York, has become a glaring character flaw where it was once a subtle omission.
I see so many people who are just too tired to care now that the initial shock has worn off, and since they are not directly affected (yet), it's business as usual. My less political friends who tend toward complacency have become acquaintances, whereas my more outspoken friends have become part of my inner circle.
Even so, I feel isolated. When I hear news that ICE has started to target people in New York City boroughs, I hyperventilate and lose sleep to recurring nightmares of federal police tearing Ron away from me on the street. While my activist friends react strongly to the same news, they don't feel it the same way I do. They are distraught for their country, imagining a sad future for America; I am panicked over the safety of my fiancé, imagining him being beaten and detained in the elusive detention centers that deportees go to.
If you are lucky enough to have found the love of your life, you know how deeply wonderful and terrifying it is. While we find comfort and strength in each other during difficult situations, we cannot find total comfort in each other over this. We are not in the same situation, I am a citizen, he is not. He is isolated in a different way, concerned on levels I cannot even begin to understand. Even as partners, we experience the reality separately. While he has been estranged from his country and family for a decade, I am just beginning to contemplate being the stranger in a foreign land.
On one hand I am an American citizen with a high level of education, living the dream in New York City. On the other hand I am the partner of an undocumented immigrant who could be deported at a moment's notice. I feel torn between two worlds, unsure of my identity and place in society. Faced with the decision to choose between my country and my partner, I imagine what life would be like in Mexico.
We don't know what's going to happen. We've discussed our emergency plans for all of the different scenarios, and I keep the number to track someone in detention centers in my phone contacts, just in case. There are certain parts of the city that are off limits now. I've had to say goodbye to small things, like the taco place we love in Sunset Park, and big things, like traveling outside of the city.
There is a chance that within two years Ron will have a green card and we will be free to travel in and out of the country together, something that has only been a dream so far. There's also the chance that he will be deported. Right now all we can do is be vigilant, stay informed, and behave intelligently.
The stress of the situation strains us sometimes, but mostly it draws us closer together. We are a team, all in, whether we stay and move to a burgeoning town upstate, or are forced to leave our home and community behind and start anew in Mexico, Canada, or somewhere else. What we do know is that we will make the best of what we have, and face the many possible futures as prepared as possible with grace and courage. Whatever happens, I have no regrets.
*Name has been changed