Linda Valdez

Valdez: My illegal immigration love story

Linda ValdezKristin Marquet
Linda Valdez

I wrote a love story about illegal immigration.

Let me explain why I think that could help break through the wall of ugly rhetoric.

What we’re doing now doesn’t work.

This country’s current approach uses escalating levels of law enforcement against a problem that is not a criminal problem. It’s a human issue.

And the rhetoric just keeps getting uglier.

The Republican presidential front-runner routinely insults Mexico and Mexicans as the crowd cheers.

I have a different perspective.

I married an undocumented Mexican immigrant 27-and-a-half years ago. We were married two weeks after he came through hole in the fence.

My husband is a U.S. citizen now, has a masters from University of Arizona and teaches elementary school. Our daughter is all grown up, fully bilingual and absolutely beautiful.

We are one face of the new American family.

So I know this issue from both sides.

As a journalist, I was writing commentary about the border before I got married.

Since then, I've seen attitudes harden as the border was militarized. I've seen the corrosive impact of efforts to dehumanize migrants.

In 2010, Arizona’s SB 1070 made “attrition through enforcement” state policy and mandated police practices that were virtually guaranteed to result in racial profiling.

The vast majority of Latinos in Arizona were not – and are not -- undocumented. They have deep roots here. They helped build this state.

But respect for their cultural heritage, language and contributions was considered acceptable collateral damage by border hard-liners who insisted we had to be "protected" from Mexico and Mexicans.

Respect for human life suffered, too.

I’ve written about the deaths of migrants crossing the border, and received messages from readers who say those who cross the border illegally deserve to die.

I was called “scum” for marrying a Mexican.

Such hatred typifies the extreme voices that hijacked a badly needed discussion about immigration reform.

It feeds on fear and anger – the most negative and poisonous of human emotions.

But I don’t think it represents the majority of Americans. I think a lot of people go along because they don’t know much about Mexico. It’s easy to fear the unknown.

So I wrote my love story.

When I see the positive impact my husband has on the lives of his students and their families, I know that he's one more immigrant helping to make this country of immigrants better.

It's an old and beautiful story.

When I got to know my husband’s family in Mexico – when I watched his family and my family get to know and love each other – I witnessed the most positive and nourishing of human emotions.

My mother, my sister and my nephew went with us to visit my mother-in-law one winter. It was an ill-fated trip. The first night, flood waters forced the entire rural village to evacuate to a small hill in the middle of agricultural fields.

I and my American family were of little help to those stranded on that hill while their homes filled up with muddy water.

But we were welcomed -- even by those we’d never met. They kept us safe.

Years later, on subsequent visits, people I didn’t remember would ask “How’s your mother?” and “How’s your sister?” and "How's the boy?" They kept us in their prayers.

That story is an antidote to the ugly rhetoric about migrants.

It’s one of many very personal stories I share in my book, “Crossing the Line: A Marriage across Borders.”

It gives love a chance to take a swing at the lies being heaped on Mexico and Mexicans.