We are fortunate to live just a few blocks from the U.S. Consulate, so I am able to walk to work every day. Even in the 100 degree heat I am able to get there quick enough that I don’t get too sweaty in my nice work clothes.
When I step out our front door I walk past the unique houses, palm trees, and decorative cacti of our neighborhhod. Kids play on the swings in the little park and ride their bikes to and fro. I walk out the gate past the guard shack with the tinted windows, waving hello in case the guard on the inside can see me. I walk through the parking lots of a few convenience stores, greeting the old men whose job is to make sure no one breaks into your car as you shop. They also have little flags that they wave to help you back out of your spot. This service costs you a tip of a few pesos…and it’s well worth it for the smile you get in return.
The sidewalk I travel isn’t much of a sidewalk. It’s a shoulder beside the main road that we pedestrians have worn a path along. There is garbage in the holes, and it gets quite muddy on the very few wet days that we have, but it works. The road beside me buzzes with all kinds of vehicles. Pickup trucks full of people, school buses that have been converted to brightly colored city buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and police vehicles that never switch off their flashing lights so you always think you’re being pulled over when you see them behind. The major intersections are full of people selling flowers, popsicle vendors, and even circus performers. The other day we saw a clown on top of a ladder in the middle of an intersection juggling flaming torches. I am told this is not an uncommon occurence. I must try to get a picture soon.
I can tell I’m getting close to the Consulate when I arrive at the strip of hotels, travel agencies, restaurants and other businesses that have risen up around it. Everything in this neighborhood revolves around the business we do at the office. Hotel rooms are filled by people who have traveled thousands of miles for a visa interview. Taxi drivers bring people in from everywhere. Three large clinics do a booming business by carrying out the medical exams we require for the hundreds of applicants who come every day. Travel agents sell tickets to people who pass their interviews. There is even a less than reputable side to this local economy: guides who help people cross the desert illegal (known as “coyotes”) have been known to advertise their services right outside our gates, as have many shady immigration attorneys. The Consulate really is the center of gravity around which this neighborhood orbits.
As I get closer to the gate I walk past the main waiting room, which after a few weeks still takes my breath away every morning. As I mentioned, hundreds of people show up each morning, and they all come to this waiting room. They don’t all fit inside, so the line flows out onto the sidewalk, flowing in both directions. They are young and old; rich and poor. Some are dressed in designer clothes while others are wearing what could be their only shirt. Some are in wheel chairs or on crutches. They come from every corner of Mexico, and the United States, many at great expense, many not knowing if they will be able to go back where they came from. Almost all of them look nervous, because it’s a big day. They have (almost) all come for the same purpose: to be interviewed and hopefully receive a visa to visit or move to the United States. It is like a modern day Ellis Island. You can taste the aspiration and hope in the air, right beside the diesel fumes and breakfast burritos.
And then I’m at the front gate, where I greet the guards, go through security, and start my day. It’s a humbling way to get started every day. There are a lot of people who have waited a long time (sometimes decades) and traveled a long way to stand in front of me or one of my colleagues to plead their case. Tomorrow I will conduct my first interview and make my first visa decision. I hope I do well.