I am very happily ceding my normal blog space here at G92.org today to my good friend, Sarah Quezada. Sarah works with Mission Year—a fantastic organization providing year-long urban ministry placements for young adults—and has served in a leadership cohort with me through the Christian Community Development Association. Over the next five days, Sarah has graciously allowed us to run a series of posts chronicling her relationship with and eventual marriage to her husband Billy, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Guatemala. I think you’ll agree that their story is both hilarious and thought-provoking. –Matthew Soerens
Editor’s note: This is the 1st part of a 5 part series written by Sarah Quezada from her blog A Life With Subtitles. In this series Sarah is chronicling her relationship with and eventual marriage to her husband Billy, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Guatemala. By hearing their story, we hope that you can better understand the lives of immigrants, their loved ones, and the challenges they face.
I don’t know.
I don’t really remember meeting him.
I am therefore going to assume that this means no.
What I do remember is standing in the back of church on the day my housemates’ daughter was being dedicated. A couple of months prior, I had to move from my apartment after my roommate and our landlord had a miscommunication that resulted in an eviction notice taped to the door.
Thankfully, when I shared my sad, sad story with a couple at my church, they offered me temporary sanctuary in their upstairs apartment. They are a terrific family, and I enjoyed sharing life with them, including the dedication of their daughter. And it was this fine Sunday when I found myself standing in the back of the church, trying to think through a blessing to write on a note card.
Then, a guy I had seen visiting at the church a couple times came walking over to me. He began talking, and I just remember thinking, “Now I really can’t think of anything to write.” Hmmm… too practical? Perhaps. I also was thinking, “Who is this person? And why is he talking to me?”
So I did what I thought was normal. I said, “Hi. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
His response? “Yes, Sarah, we have.”
So here I stand. Five minutes into my first memory of meeting Billy… and it’s awkward.
I think I responded with, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.” But I was so embarrassed that I didn’t pay attention when he told me again. This distraction would come back to me later.
After church, everyone gathered for the birthday celebration, and Billy had joined the party. He was laughing and talking with the husband of my friend. I signaled over to Billy and asked her, “What’s the name of your husband’s friend?”
“Billy,” she told me. Pause. “Why are you asking?” And so it began….
I explained my story, but she wasn’t buying it.
I would spend the rest of that day with Billy, a day which consisted of unexpected trips to the movies and the bookstore, and an exchange of phone numbers. You can read about it in full here.
Some time after this awkward day I found myself on a second date with Billy. (You can read about the first date here). I have this very distinct memory of riding up an escalator with him at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. If you asked me to bet if an escalator actually exists in this place, I wouldn’t put money on it. But that’s where I’m standing, nevertheless.
It was in this moment that he hinted to me that he may not have all the proper, legal documentation to be living and working in the United States.
Our trip to Santa Monica was about our second date, that is if you (like me) do not count when he tricked me into a date. And while I knew very little about the importance of immigration status at that time, I knew that he was taking some risk by telling me, basically a complete stranger.
Standing on that escalator I remember having the thought, “Well, I don’t exactly know what that means. But I hope that if this relationship goes anywhere, he gets that worked out.”
I was so clueless.
Legitimately, I thought that being an undocumented immigrant was a paperwork issue. I’ve always been a pretty organized person, a lover of detailed lists and clean forms. And, thanks to my father, I understand the dire importance of government processes like changing your driver’s license within thirty days of moving because, you know, you have nothing else to do when you first move.
But I know not everyone is like me. I’ve processed admissions applications for two different employers over the last six years, and I often find that people struggle to complete checklists and fill out all the information and mail papers to the same person who asked for them.
I figured undocumented immigrants had suffered similar organizational oversights.
I had no idea that, for immigrants from countries like Guatemala, waiting lists to enter the US legal can be fifteen years or more. I’ve since heard it said that parents will add their newborns to the list in case they decide they want to travel north when they get older.
I really didn’t know what any of it meant… illegal, visa, green card, undocumented… all I knew was I had met a guy at church named Billy. And he laughed at all my jokes.
At first, I really didn’t understand why Billy told me about his immigration situation so early in our relationship. I knew being undocumented was not the ideal way to be working in the U.S., but since I also assumed he could adjust his status with a little bit of attention to detail and form filling-out, I really didn’t see how it involved me in any way.
But I could tell by the way Billy kept bringing it up, that there was a message I was not receiving.
One evening he finally explained it to me in words I could understand: “The only possible option for me to get legal status in the States is to marry a US citizen.”
Oh. Now I get it.
Is it awkward to talk about the legal ramifications of your potential future marriage when you’ve been dating for about two months? Yes.
But Billy wanted me to understand the implications up front. He assured me over and over that he was not dating me “for papers,” or legalized status. He was quick to inform me that if I believed that’s why he was interested in me that we should immediately stop seeing each other.
My husband is very emotional, so while he’s practically breaking up with me, I’m still processing all the information he’s sharing. Of course I don’t think that’s why you’re dating me… I didn’t even know a social security card was a dynamic in our relationship until about five minutes ago.
He warned me that other people might try to tell me that he was only in our relationship for the papers. He wanted me to move forward soberly, knowing that I could handle potential accusations that might come our way. I felt like I was being prepped for battle, but I didn’t even know who was fighting.
Did I ever wonder about Billy’s motives?
Maybe. But I don’t think it was any different than how anyone analyzes a serious relationship. Does he really love me? Is he as into me and as I am into him? Will this work out? Will he stay committed in the long run? Everything I was learning about Billy told me yes to these questions.
I prayed a lot about our relationship as it became more serious, and God gave me such deep and joyful peace about Billy. (Later I would flip out about marriage itself, but I always felt peace about Billy.)
Now I recognize how grateful I am that he was open from the very beginning. I don’t know how our relationship would’ve been affected if I had learned about our situation from a third party or another source. He trusted me with the delicate details, and I am glad that he prepared me. Immigration would turn out to be ever present in our dating and marriage experience, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
Oh, but first, I need to tell you how Billy came to the US in the first place. Next time.
Sarah Quezada works with Mission Year, a year-long urban service program for young adults. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Billy and daughter Gabriella. Stories and reflections on their cross-cultural life and ministry together can be found at her blog, A Life with Subtitles.
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