Passports, Identity and the Expiration/Renewal of Each

For most of my elementary and teenage years in San Diego my Mexican passport was the most important document I owned. The multi-colored, stamped U.S. visa was the only way to get back into this country. Then, thanks to Ronald Reagan and Amnesty in 1986 those passports became obsolete. All the value I'd put in them - my identity as a Mexican and as an undocumented outsider in the U.S. - began to dissolve like a sandcastle into the ocean. The exclamation point came eleven years ago when I took the oath of U.S. citizenship. I haven't renewed my Mexican passport in seven years. What's the use? Aren't they objects of constructed nationalism? The passport's green cover and its Mexican coat of arms doesn't do it for me anymore.

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My mother saved five of these passports and told me about the hardship she'd gone through to secure each one of them. My friend Roberto Leni Olivares also has five passports. His were issued by Chile as he and his family arrived in the U.S. as refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship.

I sat down with him a few days ago to share our passport stories. The above video is of our game, "Passport Hold 'Em." We wrote the poem below.

All the passports I've ever loved before

Mi pasaporte
Mi sangre
Se va
Y vuelve a volar

Circula errante en la tierra
Y me enferma
Como a veces
En otras rio
Corre el agua entre las paginas visadas
No escurre la tinta

De Viña del Mar
Hacia Todo El Mundo
La promesa
Of the bureaucrat

Mejor loco con algo
Con sombrero
Sin alas ni vuelos
Mejor Val-paraiso
Mejor el mar
Y sin pasaporte

Toda la vida
I have a passport
Therefore I am
Always a passport
To be in this country
Always a passport
To stay
Always a passport
On my chest
The eagle
And green, thorny flesh
Now faded

Mi mama kept them all
Don't know for how long
Until she gave them to me
& U & I & We have them all
For you
For me
For them

Each one a painful walk
Each one in the darkness
Of a tunnel
Each one a light
Once in her hands

Nos podemos quedar
Hacer nuestra vida

Y las fotos de cada uno?
Y como es que la huella digital
Fue cambiando?
Pero no tod@s podiamos viajar

We are
Don't leave

Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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Interesting take on who we are, where we've been, where we belong and where we're going.


My mom was on a kick for a long time for me to get a dual Haitian citizenship. I didn't think much of it, but after the earthquake decided I wanted to become more involved in what was going on on-island. Unfortunately, my mom went and became a US citizen making the dual passport significant more difficult to get. That said, I might be able to sneak in under cover of the ongoing conversation going on in Haiti about enfranchising the diaspora. Given that a gigantic slice of the GDP comes in the form of remittances from the US, Haiti has a "taxation without representation" problem where Haitian-Americans help the keep the country afloat (sort of, not really) but don't have a say in its affairs. (Of course, Haitian American and Congressional Black Caucaus aligned business interests are all over the development plan being put together for Haiti by defacto pro consul Bill Clinton, but that is another story / post.)