the denouement

December 5, 2010

Friday and Saturday the snow fell, accumulating for the first time this year. When we got up yesterday, I opened the blind so Gabey could look outside. He went: “Ooooooooooohhhh.” Super adorable. We went and looked out the porch window, overlooking the chilling lake, black ducks huddled together, snow very gently falling. He wanted to touch the snowflakes.

This little bit of snow really had to fall. It’s the universe effecting parallelism. During my 1L exam period, we had a huge snowstorm. There was talk of campus closing, but I don’t think it happened that year. I remember trekking to school for my first law school exam, enjoying the quiet morning, the snow falling, the solitude of walking alone. Last year, we had the biggest snowstorm in years during the finals period. The campus and the city basically shut down for a whole day. No buses, no work for most people, everyone in the streets, digging out, making snowmen, enjoying a real, old-fashioned snow day. We put Gabey in a big, furry, aquamarine bunny snow suit. We left our car in its curbside snow cave and walked a mile to meet some friends for brunch. It was fabulous.

This year, just a little snow. And it did not interrupt anyone’s finals. It just made things a little prettier. In Wisconsin, snow is generally beloved in December. It’s in February that we resent it, restless for the next season.


This morning I took my last law school final ever. I have never been less prepared for a test. At least that’s how I felt. Still, I took it pass-fail, and though I had my doubts about this last night, I do feel at this point like I passed. I have been doing almost nothing but writing for the past month. First I had a 30-page research paper draft, then an eight-page memo, immediately followed by an appellate brief that ended up being 30 pages. I also wrote probably 30-4o pages of response and essay-type papers this semester. I mean, I like writing, but come on. Scheduling fail a little bit. Ahhhh well, it is really almost over now.

There’s just rewriting the memo, revising my research paper, arguing my appellate brief and then, lord help me, another six-page reflection essay. But it’s nothing compared to the insanity of the last few days. Which is why, waking up yesterday morning and watching the snow with Gabey was extra sweet. I should have been working all day again, but he was with F or the babysitter most of the week. So yesterday we just got to hang out, playing, watching some cartoons, reading books, enjoying the view.


return to Madison

April 25, 2008

I’ve loved Madison since I stepped onto the University of Wisconsin campus more than (gulp) ten years ago. I remember the gorgeous fall day my alum dad and a few friends visited the campus, a warm breeze flowing as we walked up Bascom Hill. I was taken with the details of the historic buildings, Abraham Lincoln overlooking the large swaths of green space, students hustling to class, or reading with their backs on the grass, chatting, enjoying what could be the last warm day, leaves gently falling.

It may have been, in reality, somewhat less idyllic, but in my memory it is like falling in love, the beginning of my first trip away from a home, the same sense I felt when I first biked the streets of Beijing, or sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Mexico, taking in the earthiness of her homemade tortillas.

Places have always been important to me, immersing myself in the context of somewhere to which I am not accustomed. I grew up conservative and suburban, then moved to Madison, a place where liberal discussion and the sharing of ideas was the norm. Discussing environmental conservation or human rights was every day business. Madison was the sort of place where an east coast prep, a hippie, a hipster, a jock, a conservative business major, a few future beat reporters and an evangelical Christian would run a newspaper together for a year.

Last fall I couldn’t shake the idea of going to law school. I talked to a few law-student acquaintances who encouraged me to go for it, offering tips on studying for the Law School Admissions Test and applying to a top school like UW. I knew it was a long shot, and I was not confident.

After I took the test, recalling far too many frustrating minutes when a woman stricken with the flu coughed and sneezed her way to the front of the room, five feet in front of my desk, whispering under her breath, tic, tic, tic, I’m distracted, knowing the section was going terribly, the proctor coming to finally remove her from the room, she argues, I’m fuming, she finally leaves and her coughing can still be heard from the hallway. Then getting to the second problem on the logic games section and realizing it’s something I’m surprisingly unfamiliar with, after all my preparing, I was surprised. Leaving the test, thinking, “oh well,” Marquette will be good enough. I’ll keep working, I’ll get to live at home, yes, it will be fine. I almost didn’t bother to complete my UW application, thinking I had no chance. Then I got into Marquette in February and nearly sent a check to accept and hold my spot. A month later I received the shocking e-mail acceptance to UW.

In the myriad of thoughts and opinions I have had and shared with Fermin and others in the past six months, it boils down to the education, and the opportunities, and the environment. The weekend after I received my acceptance to UW I headed to Madison for the law school’s admitted student’s weekend, a mini-conference designed to help accepted students decide whether UW is the law school for them.

I shouldn’t have expected anything less than to be wowed. But I wondered if there would be a disproportionate number of 22-year old frat boys running around, or if all the women would be wearing power suits or if the professors would seem detached and boring. Not the case at all. Most of the other prospective students I met were not 22. Many, like me, were in their late 20s, some were married, and just about all were friendly and down-to-earth.

At dinner I sat next to a recent graduate who had started law school when she was 29 (like me). Her husband had lived in Eau Claire and they had commuted to see each other every other weekend for the first two years. She had graduated and almost immediately had her first baby, something I am quite likely to attempt myself, unless, like several other women I heard about during the weekend, I attempt to have a baby mid semester my second or third year. My impression from the weekend was that it wasn’t a big deal to be a 29-year-old married law student or even a 49-year-old married law student, and it didn’t seem like a big deal to have a baby during school. It didn’t even seem like a big deal to voluntarily live apart from your husband for most of the year.

The professors I heard speak on Saturday morning were wonderful. The first one mentioned how badly the school needs an immigration clinical program, and how there were so many opportunities for students to run with things they were passionate about. I got excited about being back in a classroom. I even got excited about spending hours in the law library, with its glass atrium overlooking Bascom Hall.

Much to Fermin’s relief, I came home without any more worries about commuting. It didn’t seem foolish anymore to keep our house in Milwaukee, which is what we both want anyway (with the market as it is, with all our stuff, and just because we like our house). And it all just fell into place. I scoured craigslist for an affordable living situation in Madison and found something nearly ideal – great location, cool roommate, free parking, very affordable rent with utilities included. My roommate will be an environmental sciences grad student whose fiance is graduating from the law school and will begin working in Waukesha very shortly. He will mostly be in Madison on weekends, when I will mostly be gone. They seem laid-back and cool, and I think her and I will live well together and become friends.

So back to Madison it will be. My dear friend Sara commented that I “glow” (like a pregnant lady I guess) when I talk about Madison. I have always loved it. I look forward to walking up and down Bascom Hill, attending classes with a laptop (technology has saved me from atrocious handwriting!) enjoying even closer proximity to two lakes, late nights studying, weekends back to life in Milwaukee and looking for my niche in the school. I’m not sure what my practical immigration experience in Madison will be, but I plan to blaze my own trail when the time comes.

the difference a year makes

April 19, 2007

Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee’s most prominent organization for immigration and other Latino issues, has officially announced Milwaukee’s May 1st immigration march and city-wide work boycott. According to the Journal Sentinel’s newswatch from this afternoon, the march is more or less a repeat of last year, starting on the South side and ending in Veteran’s Park. However, a few higher-profile attendees, including Ricardo Chavez, brother of United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez, will speak at the rally.

Last year, still managing a restaurant at this time, I was put in the awkward position of having to try and convince my Mexican employees to stay and work that day, or risk a complete disaster at the restaurant. (For the record, I feel bad about that now). But those are the sorts of compromises that helped drive me out of full-time restaurant work, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. Needless to say though, I could not take the day off to go to the march in Milwaukee, which turned out to be one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in the city in decades.

A few weeks later, when Madison had a similar march and rally, I had the day off, and headed west to wander about the Capitol, taking photos of families draped in red, white, blue (and green) flags, holding signs, chanting and just generally gathered for a cause. Later that afternoon, sitting on the Monona Terrace reading and enjoying the spring sunshine, I received a phone call offering me my current job, which in turn, changed my life.

The biggest change from a year ago is that my new job has freed me from the exhaustion of restaurant work and allowed time to pursue more blogging, and more recently, freelancing. Were I still with Qdoba full-time, there is no way I would have ever taken the continuing education classes I’ve taken the last few months, or had time to stay up on the news enough to write for the Journal Sentinel, and I may not have found Immigrate2us which also changed my life.

Besides that, I think feeling conflicted, stressed and hateful about my job and being ridiculously busy would have made this long separation from Fermin far worse. I also wouldn’t have been able to go to Mexico twice and would have been in direr financial straits. Wow, there are really a lot of pluses.

Anyway, this year I’m very much looking forward to attending the march and rally in Milwaukee. I’ll have photos and have already reserved May 3 for a community column on the subject.

in response to a response

April 13, 2007

This post is largely a response to Monty, who somehow found my blog after reading the story I wrote for the Isthmus and inexplicably hearing it on a Madison radio station. The story does not link to this site, and I still haven’t found out what sort of coverage there was for it on WTDY.

First of all, thank you for the compliment. And now some answers to your sincerely asked questions (there are links throughout the text to further official and unofficial information):

Millions of Mexicans and Central Americans are in this country using invalid Social Security numbers. In my experience, the vast majority simply make up a number, and get a very cheap “Social Security” card made. They are not using the documents of an actual U.S. Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident, not stealing the identity of another person. The fact is, employers, as the other Laura alluded to, are more than happy to accept these false papers and hire people. Yes, it’s illegal, but some blame, in my opinion, must be placed on the vast number of companies, universities, etc, that hire people and eventually know they are not working legally, but continue to employ them. I can attest to the fact that the companies, after at the very most a years time, will know one way or another that they are employing someone without valid documents. In many cases, nothing is done about it.

I also have to say that Lopez is not taking the job of a homeless person. Why has the homeless person not gone and gotten a job? Or the single mother? Certainly there are opportunities, the problem is often that Americans do not want these jobs. Some argue that were the millions of undocumented workers not in the U.S. these jobs would be filled with Americans, but I do not believe that is true in most cases. I used to manage restaurants and I had an extremely difficult time finding employees who would work in low-wage “front of the house” positions. It was easy for me to find cooks, after all, they didn’t need to speak English, but it was remarkably difficult to find responsible Americans who would work hard in a very entry-level moderately labor-intensive position. Now, there is a reason I am not in that industry anymore, and it has a lot to do with all the moral dilemnas that come in that situation. I didn’t want to be the employer making those sort of decisions, I didn’t want to pay people only ~$7 per hour, but when you work for a corporation, you don’t really have a choice. Anyway, that is a big tangent.

Next, maybe it wasn’t crystal clear in the story, but Mr. Lopez is applying for lawful permanent residency (this is necessary before applying for citizenship) through his fiance relationship with Laura Braun. However, were he not involved with her (or another U.S. Citizen), there would be no avenue for him to legalize. Even if he had never been in the country illegally and been deported, he would have had to be an extremely educated or exceptionally skilled foreign worder to immigrate here legally. I appreciate your sincere questions on this issue, but I have to admit I am always shocked when I realize that there are still many who believe Mexicans (and other low-skilled foreign workers) have some legal way to immigrate to the U.S. They very simply do not.

There is, most definitely, limits on the number of people who can apply for citizenship. The main paths for immigrating to the U.S. are either family or employment based. As I said above, it is only exceptionally skilled people who even have a chance at immigrating through employment. There are also a small number of temporary worker visas, that again require exceptional skills in most cases. Generally only large corporations are able to do this, which is why, for example, General Electric or Johnson Controls, from where my dad recently retired, have large numbers of brilliant foreign engineers and scientists working for them.

Family-based immigration encompasses the spouses and fiances of U.S. Citizens and some other family members. For example, if Mr. Lopez somehow had a naturalized U.S. Citizen brother or sister (through marriage to a U.S. Citizen), that person could petition for him, but it would take many years, perhaps ten, for a visa to become available. Fiance and spouse visas are guaranteed “immediate” consideration (that usually means within a year), but in this case, could be denied. You can read more about this situation here and here.

There is something called a visa lottery, which allows 50,000 foreigner to enter every year. However, this is a very small number, and Mexicans, and nationals of a whole list of countries that already have a large number of immigrants to the U.S., are not eligible.

Regarding Mexico, I would not say the conditions are savage, only very poor for the vast majority of the population. There are certainly many very rich people in Mexico. It has tourism, great natural resources, and has been a destination for U.S. companies seeking cheap labor. There is also the problem of what NAFTA has done to Mexico’s agriculture, creating a situation where heavily government subsidized U.S.-grown corn (for example) is now cheaper in Mexico than Mexico’s own home-grown corn. There is a good summary of NAFTA’s effects on Mexico here.

Finally, in response to this statement: “Please tell me what we are doing wrong to Mr. L√≥pez when all we ask is that HE do the right thing,” I would direct you to this excellent piece on the debate over migration. It may not answer all your questions, but it is certainly enlightening, agree or disagree.

Monty – thank you for your comments, and the chance to discuss these issues.

Isthmus story

April 12, 2007

Well, the long-awaited link to my story for Madison’s Isthmus newspaper has finally arrived.