It had been 23 years since my family migrated to the U.S., but now, I had the opportunity to go back. I didn’t know how to react because there were so many questions going through my mind. I felt excited and confused. I could not believe that I would get to go back to Mexico before my parents, but I also felt a lot of pressure; so I decided not to tell them until I submitted my application for advanced parole. At that point, the decision would no longer be in my hands and so I couldn’t disappoint my family. My application was approved and through this opportunity, I learned a lot about myself, Mexico and advanced parole.
1) Advanced Parole takes time, usually 2 to 3 months, so track everything.
From the day you fill out the application to the day you receive approval or denial, copy and share your timeline. This includes when USCIS sends you a receipt of having received your application and so on. The process usually takes an average of 3 months. This is not a common experience for our community thus sharing our experiences is important.
2) You might experience fear on various levels.
One of my fears was not being able to come back into the U.S. A second fear was not knowing how my family would react when they saw me.I wondered if we would have things to talk about. I also feared that my Spanish would sound weird or that I wouldn’t be able to find the right words. Now, I know that it’s okay that I didn’t know enough about Mexico and that it took me a while to switch my brain into thinking and speaking in Spanish because we are “de aqui y de alla” (from here and from there). I also found that our blood knows family and once we see /hug them, that it is as if you never left even if it’s been 23 years and you don’t remember them.
3) Exchange your money before leaving the airport.
Make sure that you take cash and exchange it to Mexican pesos at the airport. Most locations in Mexico will only take cash (pesos) not credit or debit cards, especially if you are buying stuff from the street. So be prepared. And don’t worry if you run out of money, you can find some locations that exchange money around the city. One thing that surprised me was the value of the U.S. dollar, $1 = $15.2 pesos, yikes! If you have pesos left over you can exchange your money back into dollars at the airport. I kept mine for memory sakes.
4) You will be asked to fill out a customs declaration form before landing in Mexico (From Mexico government) and on your return to the U.S. (from U.S. government).
When I got this form upon arriving to Mexico, I was confused and got a little scared because I didn’t know this was part of the process. Not to worry, these forms will be passed out either at the beginning of your flight or at the end before landing. This is basically to track people and what is brought in and out of each country. If you have questions ask the flight attendant. You will have to write down your passport # and turn it in upon arriving, before exiting the airport.
5) Ease in on eating delicious street food.
As much as I wanted to have all my meals be sopes, tortas, tacos, corn, fruit and everything delicious from street vendors, the reality is that the way our food is grown, processed and cooked in the U.S. is different than in Mexico. So take it slow and eat a few things here and there from street vendors. Trust me you don’t want to get sick and have to take days off during your stay because you are bedridden/sick.
6) Be respectful of street vendor prices.
Most likely our family and friends will want you to bring them gifts because they haven’t seen Mexico in a long time, especially if they are undocumented and/or low income. So you might feel pressured to make the most of your money when buying things. This feeling might lead to wanting to negotiate prices on everything. I suggest to be cautious so that you don’t get ripped off. But also understand that this is people’s jobs, it’s how they make their daily earnings so respect their prices and the time it took them to make it. I asked my family what a good price on things were so that I could budget my money. Also, keep in mind that everything that you want to take back to the U.S. must be packaged and sealed when it comes to food. You don’t want what you bring back to the states get thrown away at the airport and you definitely don’t want it to be a barrier for your parole back in. For more info check here.
7) Take the time to process your day.
On my trip, I found all my senses experiencing new things,I had reactions to things I have never encountered before and memories that I had not recalled in a while. I advise you to take the time reflect on everything including the conversations you hear between local folk, what makes the news channels, what the headlines on the newspaper read, the way you find yourself code switching and so on. You owe it to yourself to understand your newfound emotions and senses. It’s a powerful, overwhelming, beautiful and at times challenging experience, own it.
8) If your family is near enjoy them.
I left Mexico when I was four years old, I am about to turn 27, this means that I knew nothing about my family besides what I could gather from them on FB and the few stories that my parents would share. Since my family lives in Mexico City, I was able to share several meals, ask questions about my family growing up, visit the house I grew up in, look at old family photos and update them about my job as well as my family. Cherish the moment and your family!
9) Book your connecting flight into the U.S. with at least a 2-3 hour layover.
You will have go through various steps upon your re-entry into the United States. You will have to wait in line for at least 30 min where they will check your passport, take your fingerprints, maybe a picture. You will then be prompted to a second inspection by another Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer usually in a room where they might question your visit and return to the U.S. this can take from 15min to 2hrs You might also have to do a double inspection of your luggage.- there is no standardized process for this so everyone’s experience is different which is why it is important to share and document your experience being paroled back into the U.S. If you face discrimination, racism or anything from dignity and respect we encourage you to file a complaint here.
10) Mexico is beautiful and so are all of it’s people, culture and history.
People in Mexico were a lot more chill, affectionate and centered around the concept of family. They were focused on providing for their family, making ends meet and enjoying each other’s company. When I asked my family their opinions about recent comments against Mexicans, they laughed and said, “we aren’t putting much attention to what Donald Trump said because he’s not worth our time. There are bigger things to worry about and fight for.” They are right.