Becoming legal in Oaxaca is such a pain that I would just as soon be undocumented. George never liked that idea, he thinks we should have papers.
“But George,” I say “we’ve been here seven years and nobody has ever asked to see our papers. When I went to ask for a senior identification card for discounts on the bus I had to beg them to look at my documents. They took my white hair as proof!”
But George insists. He claims he’s macho, but he really wants to follow the rules. Okay!
Day one: we go to the immigration office, a forty-minute walk, and I have a bad back. The immigration office has moved.
Day two: we go to the immigration office. The office is closed because it’s a holiday we didn’t know about.
Day three: we go to the immigration office. We wait our turn, seated among the other foreigners in jeans and Tee shirts. Finally, the official speaks to us. We need to fill in eight forms each, provide four photos, two face-on and two of the right profile. We must go to the bank and pay $2247 pesos for each legal visa, good for one year. After four annual renewals we can claim the status of Immigrants.
We set about preparing the forms. At the bank, I took my number for service (number 360) and waited ninety minutes for the electronic red board to summon me. I went to window number four with my money in my hand, and a pleasant smile on my face. The bank teller told me the form was incorrect because it was filled in half with machine type (the immigration official gave it to me like that) and half printed by hand. No, it wouldn’t do.
I went to the papelería and bought three new forms. I filled them in, and returned to the bank. I pulled from the number dispenser number 187, but it was the same ninety minutes wait. The bank teller said, “Good morning, no, you have two numbers in black ink and one number in blue ink. That won’t do.”
The third time I went to the bank I went directly to the supervisor. I said, “Look at these documents, please. I don’t want to wait ninety minutes for the teller to say it’s wrong.”
“Oh, these are fine,” said the supervisor. So I waited ninety minutes, paid my $2247 pesos, and went home happy.
Happiness was brief. We needed two people willing to sign as witnesses that George and I have been living together as a family. “How long have we been living together?” I asked him. Who remembers, at our age? We agreed to write down fourteen years. Later we found last year’s documents that affirmed that in the year 2004 we had been living together for fifteen years. By then, it was too late to change the numbers. George took our Declaration of Concubinato to the papelería, and asked the owners to sign as testigos. They didn’t have with them their own credentials, which are also necessary, photocopied twice, once for each of our files. George went back the next day, and also brought home the clean laundry on the same trip.
Then I filled in my forms attesting that my skin is white, my nose is narrow, my mouth is small, and my hair is white. The most difficult part was reconciling my apellidos paternal and maternal with what my US passport says – not the same! As it happens, in the space where one writes married, divorced, single, widowed, etcetera, our first year in Oaxaca I wrote “single”. That was because I thought it was none of the Mexican government’s business that my marriage ended badly in 1968. It was the custom in the USA, when I married in 1953, for a woman to change her apellido to her husband’s. My father’s name vanished. Half a century later all I have left of my marriage is three middle-aged daughters and some guy’s –not my father’s– apellido, plus a sworn statement that I am single. How was I to know that we would stay in Oaxaca forever?
The immigration officer asked to see my birth certificate. Instead of complaining that the apellido on my passport is not the same as the apellido on my birth certificate, this madman said, “We have to have an official birth certificate in Spanish.” Oh, God! In the USA the birth certificate does not come in Spanish.
I went back to the papelería. I bought some fancy paper, the kind certificates are printed on. I sat down at my computer. Magic! I had a birth certificate in Spanish. I cut out of a magazine a round picture similar to a government seal. I pasted the cut-out onto the “certificate”. I went back to the papelería and made a photocopy for the immigration official.
I can tell you that this entire process continued for three weeks, with five different trips to the immigration office, and twice as many to the papelería. I cannot tell you how many crimes I have committed. The couple who run the papelería appreciate our business and never mention that George and I live in concubinato, and that we are too old to remember for how many years.
The bad part is, we have no health insurance. That’s a serious matter, because by the time we obtain our four years worth of refrendos, George will be eighty-five years old, and I will be seventy-five. The good thing to be said, is that I have a very nice pediatrician who thinks of me like his mother.
The other good thing to be said, is that each year the immigration officials become more intelligent. Or maybe my Spanish skills are improving.