After 48 trips to the immigration office and 12,000 copies of our passports, birth certificates, and other papers, including an English to Spanish translation of the entire screenplay of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," we are officially Mexican residents. I am now known to the republic as a unique series of alpha-numeric figures that grant me the rights to pay taxes, get married, adopt a child, and legally die in Mexico.
Since I'm not planning to do any of these things, you may ask why did I even bother to go through the hassle and frustration of multiple trips, copies, and ATM withdrawals to register with the government. I asked R that same question. She told me that by having official residency we don't have to exit the country after six months which we would have to do if we just had a tourist visa. Now we can stay for a whole year and then renew our residency permits a few times until we eventually are eligible to become permanent residents. Then we never have to leave.
R is much more qualified and interested in writing about our Mexican immigration experience and how it contrasts with her life's work trying to navigate clients through the U.S. immigration quagmire. I occasionally see her pecking away at the keyboard for our future blog post on the subject, so all of you immigration aficionados should stay tuned for her page turner on bureaucracy.
In the meantime, we celebrated Benito Juarez Day, our first national public holiday as official Mexican residents. This holiday is a bit like President's Day in the U.S.. It is celebrated on a Monday, even if that isn't the man's actual birthday, so government workers get a long weekend, and no one really knows or cares when the man's actual birthday is. To give this blog more authenticity, however, I did the research and learned that Benito Juarez was born on March 21, 1806. Benito Juarez Day is recognized each year on the third Monday in March to celebrate the birth of the man who is universally acknowledged as (dare I say) the only Mexican president who did not try to personally profit from his position. Instead, he instituted real reforms which declared all citizens (and residents!) equal before the law and restricted privileges of the Catholic Church and Mexican Army. Of course, the clergy and other Mexican elites didn't like this so the Juarez presidency was short-lived. Nevertheless, Benito Juarez is revered as an untainted national hero and his name adorns cities, streets, parks, schools, and even a tricky bedroom maneuver that R and I are still trying to get the timing down.
Amidst all of this civic awareness and pride, R and I realized that the city where we've chosen to live in Mexico - San Miguel de Allende - is also on a first name basis with the Mexican independence movement similarly to how the last city we chose to live in the States - Alexandria - was filled with the vestiges of colonial America. Subconsciously, we must be very patriotic in our city selections.
In Alexandria, famous political figures including George Washington, met for passionate discussions that ultimately led to the American Revolution. San Miguel de Allende is one of the cities where Mexico's version of the founding fathers - Manuel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende, and Juan Aldama, to name a few - met secretly to discuss plans to launch Mexico's movement for independence from Spain. In both places, men (note to women - as an illustration of my privilege, I am using the term "men" in a universal way to men "people") had to make hard choices between "the system" and what they believed to be right.
In a way, you could say that R and I faced a similar hard choice a year ago when we decided to eschew the comforts and familiarity of the U.S. for the uncertainty of moving to Mexico. Financially, we were well on the path to doing fine. We had privileges based on our education and race. Life was pretty good from the outside looking in, but it is the inside that matters and that's where we felt like we could be feeling better.
When we told our friends and family that we were packing up the homestead and moving it south, we heard a lot about how brave we were. We discounted that sentiment. When we thought about what it means to be brave, we considered feats of strength and courage on the battlefield. Quitting a six-figure job, uprooting your family, and voluntarily leaving a country where you can safely drink the water from a gas station lavatory wasn't brave, it was slightly irresponsible and dumb.
But in a way we've come around to the idea that we are brave. Having made the move overseas we realize that brave doesn't have to mean a tally of how many men we've killed with our bare hands. It can mean having the courage to change the path of your existence from a fine and comfortable but less than fulfilling lifestyle to something that is uncertain and sometimes difficult, but, hopefully, better.
Of course, we aren't trying to imply that we are national heroes or anything like that. Each of the Mexican founding fathers was part of the privileged social fabric - Allende was from a rich merchant family; Hidalgo was a priest; Aldama and others were part of the Mexican army. These guys ate flour tortillas, not corn tortillas. Yet they saw injustices that needed to be righted and took action that they knew might end all of their own privileges, or worse. All we did was quit our jobs so we had more time to goof off.
In fact, the Mexican revolution that they began in September 1810 from Dolores, a city nearby to San Miguel de Allende, ended for them less than a year later, in July 1811, when their decapitated heads were hung in cages from the corners of the armory in another nearby city, Guanajuato. We are hoping our revolution ends better.