Hi, my name’s Nicole Salgado. I’m from Syracuse, NY but now live in Queretaro, Mexico.
I originally came to Mexico to build a house here with my husband. My husband and I met in the SF Bay Area after we both migrated there for work in 1999. He was an undocumented immigrant and we weren’t able to adjust his status in the U.S., so the plan was we would leave the U.S. for 10 years until we could submit his green card application.
Well, now I feel like an expat, someone who has left their home country. In our case it wasn’t by choice – I would have preferred to stay and live and work in the United States, where I am from. But, by honoring my marriage vows and accompanying my husband to a place where we both can be 1st class citizens, my life has changed accordingly.
One funny thing that happened to me as a result of living in Mexico is that I have an adopted a lot of cultural customs that once exasperated me – for example, I have a flexible relationship with punctuality now. I also use indirect communication more now than I ever used to – I am by nature pretty direct, but since the culture here has a different way of being in many ways, I’ve adapted.
My beliefs haven’t changed much – I still highly value friends, family, the environment, culture, artistic expression and individuality, social justice, a strong work ethic, continual improvement, and the like.
I have had to become much more patient. I have had to accept governmental corruption and non-enforcement of laws. I have had to accept less time outdoors and more time in cities and in an office. Queretaro is a pretty big city, and even though we get a little more country exposure living on the outskirts, at the end of the day it’s still a metropolis. I have also learned to embrace the Mexican culture much more than before. Although I had a grandfather who was born in Tijuana, we really weren’t steeped in the culture like I am now.
I think everyone has their stuff to deal with as a kid, in my case, I overcome typical adolescent taunts about my poor eyesight and my weight by getting into sports and being more social, and learning to ignore “the haters,” so to say.
At the university level, I overcome stiff competition at an Ivy League school and being the first in my family to complete a 4-year college education by seeking out allies and mentors, and never giving up – and also, by giving back to my community as a volunteer and in socially and environmentally conscious activities, which has rewarded me multifold. While I don’t currently volunteer, there are many worthy causes that one can participate in. I do make both in-kind and monetary donations to a variety of things such as progressive political campaigns, migrant relief, and youth empowerment efforts, and of course environmental conservation.
As a young adult, I overcame the emotional burden of being far from my family by maintaining good long distance communication, and again, relying on and trusting friends to support me in many aspects of my life.
In Mexico, many things have been hard. For one, I am a naturalist, biologist, environmental activist, and outdoor enthusiast, so it’s been strange not having immediate access to as many natural, green, or wilderness areas as I did in New York and California, where a high value is placed on environmental conservation and enjoying nature as recreation. Here, most people are just struggling to get by or build their businesses or the local economy so it’s harder to place emphasis on conservation.
Another thing that was difficult was finding myself again professionally, but again, I had to just keep putting myself out there and believing in a positive outcome, and it eventually happened.
Finally, I have had a lot of health challenges, several of which I think are related to stress and our move south, but I have tried to see the silver lining by focusing on different ways I can get and stay healthy.
It still affects me and depresses me that American immigration laws and public perception are just getting more and more xenophobic, and they are making our country less and less welcoming to immigrants worldwide. The prospect of never being able to (or wanting to, due to our perception of how unwelcoming the U.S. is getting for immigrants and brown and black people) go back to the U.S. is a little frightening. Not because our life here isn’t good, but because I would like to be closer to my family in the States, and I always dreamed of my daughter experiencing the culture and wonderful things I grew up with at some point – and all the anti-immigrant rhetoric just is really threatening to my family and our prospects in general. I miss all the time outdoors and spending time with family and friends in the States.
My father once said one of my worst characteristics is also my best, and that is that I am very stubborn, or headstrong, so to say. That’s how I persevere.
My family, my friends, my coworkers keep me going. So does my conviction that there is a better way. I believe in myself and others. Having contributed directly to many positive outcomes in the past convinces me that I/we can do so again in the future, with the right approach, or mindset, and sometimes even surrendering to divine will.
It is hard to say what accomplishment I am most proud of. I am quite proud of my education and profession, but I am also very proud of my marriage, and my daughter.
I still laugh when I think back to my teenage years and how much I coveted material items, fancy dresses, cars, big houses, etc. I think a lot of that was because of marketing, advertising, and catalogs. Seeing ads and comparing it to what you have makes you feel almost incomplete, inadequate. I no longer feel that my status or quality of life is determined by what I don’t have. That’s not to say I never like to get new things, but I do believe the mantra “live simply so others may simply live” can inform our lives if we let it.
While living in Mexico, there came a time when I had to let go of toxic relationships – with certain in-laws, with certain friends/acquaintances, etc. I had to realize the role I was playing in continuing negative thought processes and/or relationships with negative people. By starting to meditate, and distance myself from toxic or dysfunctional individuals, although at first, I felt guilty as if I were neglecting something/someone, I actually found a lot more freedom to be myself, make progress, and experience less drama.
I work full time for Peace Corps Mexico, whose office is in Queretaro. We have a team of a couple dozen staff and over 70 volunteers serving in over 9 states in Mexico. I am in charge of the environmental education program, I help to select sites, train, and provide follow-up support for EE volunteers, who do a lot of really great work in conjunction with our partners in the SEMARNAT (National Protected Areas Commission, National Forestry Commission, others). I am pretty much exclusively working with and for Peace Corps Mexico at this time, due to the full-time schedule. Previously, I offered workshops on urban gardening and a few other speaking engagements on environmental topics and my two books.
A couple things have changed that affect how I spend my free time. I have very long work hours and travel a lot, so on the weekends I am pretty tired out and spend a lot of it recuperating. Before, I used to garden and do yoga more, but now I like to read, spend time with my family, be in touch with friends, and cook if I have the energy. I also enjoy ecotourism and “puebleando” (visiting quaint small towns in Mexico) as they call it and luckily I can still do that when we get long weekends or I take vacation time. Photography is a pastime I have always been able to maintain and enjoy, luckily. I have also recently taken up learning piano.
To me, it’s important to balance opportunities for work, free time, and friends and family. It’s also very important for me to express myself creatively, whether through art, writing, or currently, I am learning about music through the piano. I also like to think that I am part of a movement for sustainability on this planet, although I’m aware we could always be doing more.
I have co-authored 2 books in Mexico. In 2009 I self-published “The Bajio’s Bounty: Home cooking for the Queretaro, Mexico Region” which is essentially a collection of family recipes (my husband’s family were farmers, and his father still is) and fusion recipes. In 2011 I began co-authoring “Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders” with Nathaniel Hoffman, Boise-based journalist and friend/colleague from Cornell. We published under our own imprint, Cordillera West Books, in 2013. The Kindle version is available here. Even though our project was self-financed, we did have a successful crowdfunded kickoff campaign where we raised enough funds to take our book to Washington, DC and deliver a copy to every Congressperson, Supreme Court justice, and the President and First Lady. You can read about that here. We still blog from time to time and recently launched a new project, #buildbridgesnotwalls which we are hoping will gain more participation.
A wise midwife friend once told me: fear is F.E.A.R.: false expectations approaching reality. I think I was less fearful and more adventurous as a young adult. Now as a mother and wife, I have to remember I am thinking for the rest of my family. But on the other hand, letting fear get the upper hand can cloud your decision-making ability or prevent you from making positive changes in life, so you have to find a balance in your relationship to things that intimidate or frighten you.
I am inspired by people who live their principles. People who rise out of poverty, abuse, or addiction, and break cycles of negativity and/or violence. People who dedicate their lives to serving others.
I am angered by people who don’t appreciate their blessings. Greedy, violent people. I especially am angered by those who take advantage of others, especially those who hurt women and children. People who don’t respect Mother Earth or their neighbors. Hypocrisy, double standards, disrespectful attitudes bother me a lot.
The most important thing for me right now is to continue putting food on the table for my family, making sure my daughter gets a good education. I am currently pretty happy with what I am doing, but I am also interested in working for myself again, more with plants, art, writing, and maybe helping my husband to grow his own business. We’re not sure where the future will lead in terms of geographical locations, so any future plans have to have a certain level of flexibility built into them.
There are a number of misconceptions about the process of legal immigration to the US. Amor and Exile not only provides personal accounts of couples trying to negotiate the shaky and ever-changing landscape of immigration but also provides a history of US immigration and explanation of current laws. Find out more on Nicole’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages.