The afternoon my grandmother died was the same afternoon I saw her for the first time in twenty years. After a twelve-hour flight, she had arrived in Boston with that bitter taste in her mouth that anxiety leaves us. Since our last telephone conversation, I knew that everything said by that tender, hoarse voice had been an anticipated farewell. That Thursday in August, she was leading me towards the inevitable goodbye.
My grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1998 and left this world without having obtained a regular document to live in it. She was never able to return to Colombia because, if she had, she would have had to leave behind a life—clandestine, simple, and beautiful—that included her grandchildren born to her there. Her diagnosis of advanced and incurable cancer slipped, despite the fact that the medical office that saw her, saturated with immigrants in an irregular situation, would have mistakenly ruled out that her symptoms were the preamble to a disease. It was not her death that anguished me, but all the situations that in those two decades of migrant experience she will have had to live.
A few months after his death, I settled in Spain with my wife, who fled the Venezuelan regime at the age of 18, just after finishing her first year of university. Her family, suffocated by political reprisals, went into exile in Panama, from where she and three of her four brothers have emigrated to other territories. They are a family portrait cut by circumstance, disparate stories linked by blood and childhood.
Sometimes we talk about what he misses. The people, the landscapes, the Guaco orchestra and the bagpipes. That unrepeatable and irreplaceable context that makes us feel that we have a place in the world. She reminds me that sometimes emigrating is an umlaut about the immense loneliness that we carry inside. And although she dreams, fights and resists, although today she is a Spanish national, a residual of that feeling remains and is accentuated when she experiences the prejudices of an exclusive labor market, timid in the face of diversity and certainly precarious. She is a talented woman who has been asked to “work for free” to “get contacts”. To whom the professional paternalism that we foreigners experience denies her experiences and credentials. We have lived together prolonged unemployment, the virtues and disappointments of entrepreneurship, and also the joy of opening a window when all doors have been closed.
With her we have brought our first daughter into the world, who was stateless in the first three months of her life, the same ones that experts describe as essential to create the feeling that “the world is safe.” I recently thought about that and about all the children who live in that limbo, because of an incomprehensible legal design that still perceives migration as a conspiracy.
The truth is that before being Spanish, our daughter will always be —and despite everything— the heiress of our accents, of those foreign customs, of the otherness that defines us and with which those of us who come from abroad are delimited.
I would have to take the opportunity to write something that fits in the margins of International Migrants Day, such as the demographic and economic potential that human mobility represents for a State like Spain, where since 2015 those born in the country have fallen in year-on-year terms and the demographic growth is sustained exclusively by the increase of foreigners. And where 11% of its self-employed are immigrants, a figure that does not stop growing. This debate should be raised pending the need to promote systemic changes so that the recent reform to the Immigration Law has a real impact, or, better still, the urgent political participation of our voices so that these regulations do not remain in economic approaches and utilitarian. But it would also be necessary to address why, in a country where 11.6% of the registered population comes from other parts of the world, only three of the 350 deputies in Congress are of foreign origin.
However, I wanted to ignore those issues for once, and offer some raw words, as a small tribute to all migrants who, like my grandmother, live in fear of being persecuted by the law; who, like my wife, have experienced the frustration of being invisible to others; and who, like my daughter, write the first pages of their stories alongside the horrible concept of statelessness.