We Mexicans from around here, the ones who live in the United States, didn’t leave our home country on a whim. We left Mexico because we had to. Some of us left for economic reasons, others because we were fleeing violence. All of us, however, were looking for new and better opportunities.
When I was a child, I never told my parents, “I want to be an immigrant when I grow up.” I wanted to be a soccer player, an astronaut or even a rock star. In my youth, I never dreamed of leaving Mexico. But as is the case with every immigrant, something chased me out of my country and into a new one. The list of my reasons for leaving is short but conclusive: censorship, a lack of democracy, too little space to grow.
But there isn’t a single day I don’t think about the country I left behind. Nobody likes leaving their family, their friends, the familiar streets or special places, the aromas and flavors. In my case, nostalgia begins in my mouth. I still love tacos al pastor — without the pineapple, please — but I can no longer endure the spiciest salsa. Bite after bite, I begin to feel a bit like a stranger.
After 35 years in the United States, I know I will never be Mexican enough for many Mexicans, just like I’m not American enough for many Americans. Mexicans who live here, however, are still connected to each other by a common history that never fades.
Before winning the Academy Award for best director earlier this month, Guillermo del Toro, another Mexican who exiled himself to the United States after his father was kidnapped in the 1990s, was asked how he was capable of mixing joy and terror in his storytelling. His answer was great: “I’m Mexican.”
We Mexicans have learned to reconcile a lust for life with the terrible violence happening in our home country. Almost 100,000 people have been killed under the current administration, and being surrounded by the specter of death can compel us to enjoy life more.
More than 36 million people of Mexican origin live in the United States, 12 million of whom were born in Mexico, and our connection with the homeland remains strong. We not only have family there, but we also send billions of dollars back, and we closely follow what’s happening in Mexican politics.
We also have the right to vote from abroad, and in 2006 we were able to cast ballots in the presidential election. Voting from abroad hasn’t been easy, and the system seems to be set up to restrict our participation. It might be working; even though there are millions of Mexicans in the U.S., only a little over 40,000 voted from abroad in the 2012 presidential election.
This year doesn’t look very promising either. As of January, only 40,759 Mexicans abroad had registered to vote, according to data from Mexico’s National Electoral Institute. I will cast my vote, but the process has been both bureaucratic and labyrinthine.
Mexicans in the U.S. can obtain a voter’s registration card at Mexican consulates (I got mine at the consulate in Miami after making an appointment by calling 1-877-639-4835). I couldn’t tell which saint was responsible for my finding my original birth certificate, but I did, and three weeks later my voter card arrived at the post office.
Then, card in hand, I signed up online to vote (at votoextranjero.mx). But the site is not very clear, and I had to call another number to make sure I was doing it correctly. In May, I will receive a ballot with which I can vote for president and for mayor of Mexico City. Once I cast my votes, my ballot must be mailed to Mexico by June 30.
The process has taken days, and Mexico will pay a lot of money for the international parcel service fees. I’m left wondering: Can’t we come up with an easier and more effective way to vote from abroad? And what can we do to facilitate voting for millions of Mexicans living abroad, not just a few? Other countries do this successfully, and without the risk of fraud.
After all, Mexicans from around here want to get closer to Mexico, si nos dejan (if they let us).
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision.