Tag Archives: Intercultural Relationship

American by Birth, Nepali by Marriage

I’m kind of outing myself a little, but I recently wrote a story for a new Nepali magazine. I wanted to share it (I hope the magazine folks don’t mind) as I really liked how it came together. I was asked to talk about my views as a non-Nepali married to a Nepali, and I see the article as a nice introduction to how I see my world today.

——-

“Can you see Mount Everest from your house?” I asked my friend, a native of Kathmandu. We were sharing French fries in the campus cafeteria, and I was making conversation. I remembered the glossy photos of past Everest expeditions in the National Geographic I received each month, like a prize, from my grandfather after he had finished reading. Every article on Everest started with the expedition team departing from Kathmandu; a yellow star on the map followed by dotted lines that connected the city to the top of the world. I assumed the giant mountain towered on the outskirts of the capital, like an ancient skyscraper of rock and ice.

My friend narrowed his eyes, searching my face for signs of sarcasm. Finding none he smirked, and responded, “Oh yeah, and some times during gym class we hiked to the summit to have a glass of tea.”

I had only been at the university for a few weeks, so I was almost naïve enough to believe him. I knew very little about his country aside from the magazine pictures, an unfortunate side effect of 1990s American public education. High school curricula simply weren’t very “global,” at least when it came to non-Western countries.

A year later I would meet my future husband, not more than a few hundred feet from the cafeteria where I first began to learn about Nepal. He was bean-pole skinny, with medium-length black hair, and glasses that tinted in bright sunlight. He was quiet, and sweet, and would occasionally leave a sticky note on my dormitory door that inquired, “के छ?”

It has now been almost nine years, and not only have I been to Nepal, I have seen Mount Everest with my own eyes—while panting for breath on the steep upward climb to Namche Bazar. From Kathmandu it took a small plane and two days of hiking to catch a misty glimpse of the mountain, and would take several more days of hiking if I wanted to touch its feet.

I have journeyed far in other ways too. I am now part of a Nepali family and my identity includes words like buhari and bhauju. I celebrate American Thanksgiving and Dashain, Christmas and Tihar. Our home is often filled with laughter and conversations with friends in both English and Nepali.

I have fallen in love with a man, but also a country.

My journey has not been without bumps. I cringe each time my father-in-law greets me at the airport by pinching my arm and exclaiming joyfully about how “fat” I have become. Ironically my mother-in-law compares the amount of rice I eat to that of a five-year-old child, but I have to surrender; I will never be able to keep up in the daal-bhat department.

My biggest hurdle has been language—that same hungry five-year-old would clearly beat me in a Nepali oratory contest—but I lumber on, still feeding my mind a few new words every day.

In many ways I have become a hybrid. I am American by birth and Nepali by marriage.  As the years unfold, our cultures are better interwoven, pulling two worlds together with a tighter thread.

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USCIS Round Eight… Green Card Interview

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound FourRound FiveRound Six, Round Seven

Before I left my office I asked my boss, “Any last minute advice?”

“Don’t get mad at the interview. Try to separate everything that has happened and the interview itself.”

Probably wise advice.

As we were driving to the interview P echoed my boss’s sentiments, “Try not to say too much.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you like to say too much sometimes, give too much background, and tell the whole story. Let’s just keep it simple. This person doesn’t need to know the whole saga. We don’t need to complicate things.”

I guess that was true too.

We got to the Lawrence office, walked through the metal detector, and up to the counter where a man with small glasses and a plaid shirt was sitting at reception (I thought back to my comment to Extension 7654 Man about the woman with gray hair, and wondered if she was the regular person or a substitute. Maybe he thought I was telling a story?) I told the reception guy, “We had an appointment for 9am, but it was rescheduled for 1pm today, here is our original notice.”

He looked at the schedule and said, “Yep, rescheduled, please have a seat around the corner in the waiting room and the agent that will help you will call your name.” He started walking away with the interview notice in his hand and I called out, “Do we need that? Will we get it back? Should we have a photocopy?”

“No, it goes in your file and the agent uses it. You no longer need it.”

“Okay.” I said, and wondered if I was asking too many questions, or if I looked anxious or suspicious. I didn’t want anything to screw up our chances.

P and I sat in the waiting area. There were several others already there, including a college-aged-looking Asian man dressed in a black suit.

“Some people are really dressed up, huh?” P said, looking down at the informal collared shirt and gray sweater he threw on in the morning. I was wearing pants and a shorter kurta top with pote and sweater, something I threw on thinking I was just going to the office for the day.

We waited about half an hour. Every time an “agent” came to the door I held my breath to see if they would call “P P?”

Finally a large white woman with short brown hair called P, and we both got up and walked over to the door.

“Do you want both of us, or just one of us?” I asked.

“I’ll just bring you back first.” She said to me, “Then I’ll call P later. Please bring all your documents.”

I started worrying again. I was thinking too much about everything. I thought, Maybe they need to bring me back first because they found a problem with my record? I had to submit three years’ worth of tax paperwork as part of the application, maybe they found an exemption I did wrong a few years ago, or a misfiled piece of paperwork?

I walked back to the woman’s office and she had me raise my right hand and swear an oath that everything I was going to say was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. “Yes,” I responded, “Um, so help me god? Or, um, just yes?”

Breath C, chill out.

The woman smiled and opened the file. She asked to see my driver’s license, and asked me my name and address, verified my social security number and mine and P’s place of work, checking each answer off on my application with a red pen.

“I see you got married here and abroad?” she asked. I had included pictures of both our July 9th Nepali wedding and our July 10th American wedding as proof of our real marriage (instead of a fake marriage for immigration documents) in our Green Card application, but was careful to label everything on the 9th as a “cultural wedding” and everything on the 10th as a “legal wedding.”

“No—we got married only in the US, we did both Nepali and American ceremonies but both in Massachusetts. July 10th was our legal wedding where we signed our paperwork.”

The woman used her red pen to check something else off the application, “Ah yes, I see. So, how did you meet?”

We went to undergraduate together, and have known each other a long time.”

“And where was that?” she asked. I answered and she checked more things off the application with her pen.

“Did he propose marriage to you, or did you just get married one day?” This question made me nervous. As an international student advisor I know that F-1 student visas are non-immigrant intent, so I know if (technically) your intention to immigrate changes—such as proposing marriage to an American citizen— then you can’t really leave the country and come back in the same F-1 status. But our engagement was so long, P had traveled a few times. I took an oath, so I knew I couldn’t lie, but I was also worried this question would get us in trouble, and I knew if I said something different then the truth, if they asked P the same question and he answered it differently, then we would be in trouble anyway.

“He informally proposed in 2008 while on a cross-country road trip. We were in Arches National Park, Utah. But we were together for a long time after that without any concrete marriage plans until just recently.” Even though the “informal” part was stretching the truth a little, I hoped that this answered the question well enough. I felt my stomach doing flip flops.

Her: “Do you have any additional documents or proof of marriage you want to show me today?”

Me: “Everything I have in my own file is a photocopy of all the documentation in your file. We have a CD of wedding photos if you want to see it, and extra notarized copies of our marriage certificate, but otherwise you have everything. Do you need to see anything else?”

Her: “Do you have any extra passport photos of yourself for the immigration file?”

I didn’t even think of extra passport photos, but luckily when I got my picture taken for the original application I printed a few extras so I would have one for my Nepali visa, and additional pictures on hand just in case. I pulled out two photos and handed them over. Then I remembered why they needed photos of me… they used the only one I had attached to the application to put on P’s Advanced Parole. She didn’t say anything about that, and I didn’t either. I remembered P’s advice and bit my tongue.

“Thank you C, please wait here while I go get P.”

I sat for a few minutes while she went to the waiting room and returned with P. My stomach was still doing backflips as P sat down.

“Can you please tell me your name and address and verify your social security number?” She asked P, check marking things off our application with her red pen.

“Can you tell me your wife’s birthday?” Red check. Good boy.

“Where did you live before your current address? When did you move to your current address? Where did you live in 2006?” Red check, red check, red check.

“Are you working? Where are you working?” Two more red checks.

She asked P the long list of crazy questions that he already answered in his I-485 PR application, looking him in the eye as he answered, and checking them off as she went. The questions included things like:

Do you intend to engage in espionage in the United States?

Do you intend to engage in any activity that would attempt the control or overthrow of the US Government?

Have you ever ordered, incited, called for, committed, assisted, helped with, or otherwise participated in a) acts of torture or genocide, b) killing any person, c) engaging in any kind of sexual contact or relations with any person who was being forced or threatened? d) limited or denied any person’s ability to exercise religious beliefs?

Have you ever been a member of a vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group or militia?

The list goes on, but it’s almost comical to hear these things asked of P, whose nature is so gentle. I also thought about people who might make an application to the US that do fall in these categories, like former child soldiers… do they say yes? What’s the follow up question?

Once the lady was satisfied with all her red check marks she smiled, shut the file and said, “I am recommending that your Permanent Residency application is approved. It will be approved from today, although you will not receive the card for up to 4 weeks in the mail. Two years from today you will have to file a renewal since an initial family based permanent residency application is conditional, then you can reapply for a ten year card. Three years from today, if you so wish, Mr. P, you will be eligible to apply for US citizenship.”

And just like that, everything was over. The application was approved.

She collected P’s I-94 card, his EAD work authorization that we received while in Nepal, and the stamped Advanced Parole document that created so much drama in the past month. She put all these things in his file, smiled again and stood up. “You are all set.” And lead us out of her office into the waiting area.

I felt so jovial in the car… such a huge release. I guess kind of like when a woman is giving birth— while in labor she feels so much pain, and thinks “this is crazy, never again, how can I do this?” but then once the baby is born, all the pain of the labor is nearly forgotten—if the mothers out there reading can forgive my comparison—I almost felt similar, like, I’m so happy we have the card, I don’t even care about all the other frustrations leading up to it now that we have it!

[Although, as my boss recommended, I plan to write a letter to the USCIS ombudsmen about this experience.]

We drove home; planning a celebratory dinner at a new restaurant in town (we still don’t have electricity from the storm anyway).

When I got back to the office my boss said, “So? Did you get it?”

“Yes! I feel so relieved!”

“And they stamped his passport with the temporary authorization until his card comes in the mail?”

My eyes grew wide, “I don’t think they did anything to his passport except take out the I-94 card.” I ran out to the car and pulled out P’s passport and flipped through every page. No new stamps. I showed the passport to my boss.

“Maybe they don’t do that anymore.” He tried to comfort me, “But if you think about it logically, they collected all his documents, right? His I-94 [which proved his legal entry into the US], his Advanced Parole [which also proved his legal entry and immigration status in the US], and his work permit. So right now on paper P has no legal status. He can’t prove to anyone he has Permanent Residency other than you saying, ‘USICS told us he does!’ until the card comes in the mail in up to 4 weeks, and with your luck, it will definitely be 4 weeks.”

The immigration lawyer we know at work was out on Monday, but we called him on Tuesday to double check. Apparently USCIS stopped stamping temporary Permanent Residency into passports a few years back because there was too much fraud, and that USCIS actually does leave you without any documented proof of your status until your Green Card comes in the mail. If P got a new job tomorrow, he couldn’t prove to the company that he is eligible to work, even though he is. My boss advised me not to have P tell his university that he has a Green Card until it comes in the mail, because they could potentially make him stop working and stop paying his research stipend until it comes.

My sister had other advice, “Just don’t go to Arizona.”

So—P is now a Permanent Resident in the United States, although we have to wait a little longer for documented proof.

I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Preparing for Bhoj

It’s about time I start back in with some of the Nepal posts…

We started preparing for the Bhoj around 12:15 when P’s younger cousin walked me to the local beauty parlor, a small shop tucked off one of the main neighborhood roads. The shop was barely big enough to fit the four parlor chairs (which were computer/office chairs) and the small sitting area for waiting customers.

The beautician seemed excited to work on a foreigner, and commented that my hair was “ramro” [nice] and soft (I’ve been told quite a few times my hair was “so nice” and “so soft” this trip. I’ve never really thought of my hair as nice, but kind of thin, stringy and frizzy; instead I’m jealous of many of my South Asian friends’ hair which I think of as “so nice” and “so thick.” I was told my hair was “so soft” in East Africa, but compared to tightly curled Sub-Saharan African hair my straight longer hair probably does seem “soft,” so I didn’t seem as surprised.)

Since my hair was “so soft” and apparently slippery to handle, the beautician slicked my hair with about a bucket of hair gel, then divided my ponytail into sections and rolled each section into a tight loop and secured it with bobby pins so that the final product was a large circular pun that looked weaved together at the center. She added small pearl pins and small red fabric flower pins to give it some color and design, and finished it off with glittery hair spray.

I was happy I could follow most of the conversation between the hairdresser and P’s cousin. They spoke sparingly and in short sentences:

“Is this for a wedding or a bhoj?”

“Where is your bhauju [sister-in-law] from?”

“How long has your dai been in America?”

“How does she like Nepal?”

When I got back to P’s place, his mother told me it was time to do the rest of my preparation. The two women who help in the house sat me down in P’s parents’ bedroom. One woman—L Didi—gently strung a long red pote necklace over my head and new hair style while the other painted my toe nails and finger nails fire engine red. As my fingers and toes dried P’s cousin (the one who took me to the beauty parlor) and the women who painted my nails debated over what make-up would look good on me–in a place where my pale-as-a-ghost skin color sticks out like a sore thumb, make-up shades take some deliberation. The nail polish woman powdered my face and P’s cousin started putting pale sparkly eye shadow on my eyelids. The woman took some kajol (eye liner) and lightly lined my eyes and put mascara on, while P’s aunt and mother debated over what shade of lipstick I should wear. I vetoed the first bright red one, and agreed to the lighter more natural looking pink.

What the 'naya buhari" should look like was a group decision...

Borrowed some gold bangle bling from mamu, although that thick one was a tight squeeze that scraped the back of my hand as it was forced over my thumb

With makeup done the extra women left the room while I put on my red petticoat and blouse. L Didi is the resident sari expert in the house and generally helps Mamu tie her saris (Mamu feels more comfortable in salwar kameze and usually wears those instead of sari on a daily basis). The last time I was here L Didi tied my saris, not because I didn’t know how, but because I was too slow, and her sari fixing looked nicer.

L Didi wrapped me up and made sure everything looked correct, occasionally patting me on the hip and saying, “dheri ramro cha” [very nice].

L Didi, getting the job done nicely.

Getting wrapped and fluffed up by others makes me feel like a living doll, but this was their family’s wedding party and I was ready to go with the flow. Everything looked so nice once they were done anyhow. One I was finished everyone else had to get ready—P’s mom’s hair was done by the woman who painted my nails, P’s cousins got in their saris– hair was curled, makeup applied, high heeled shoes put on. By 4:30 we were all ready to go.

With P and his grandfather, waiting for the car to the Bhoj venue.

A “Horrible Mediator” ;)

At our white wedding, instead of a traditional guest book, P and I set up a digital camera with a ten second timer on a tripod and set beside it an erasable marker/white board. We asked people to leave us photo messages in our “digital guest book.” A lot of people didn’t notice it (unfortunately), but a few did… and at the end of the night had about 30 pictures of different people posing with messages for us. (I stole the idea from our Canadian friend–you know who you are!)

I wanted to share one of my favorite pictures. It looks a little like a mug shot, but the message is absolutely priceless and hilarious. Our friend AD made the perfect choice.

The white board reads, "I'm glad today happened despite me being a horrible mediator."

I told the story over a year and a half ago in the post “The Main 3” but it warrents a retelling in honor of the pic:

Shortly after P told his family (“He Told Them!“) about our relationship our friend AD (pictured above) traveled to Kathmandu to visit family. During his trip he was also charged with the task of “talking me up” (positive reinforcement) to the P family.

At the time P’s parents and aunt had kept P’s “I’m in love with a white American” story secret from P’s talkative Grandfather in case P was just “going through a phase” and would eventually leave me and marry a Nepali someday. When AD and KS showed up for lunch that fateful afternoon in January 2005, every time AD dutifully brought me up in conversation one of the “Main 3” (mostly J Phupu) would shut him down or change topics to deflect the “match maker/mediator” role that AD was not so subtly fulfilling.

Six and a half years later, Mamu, Daddy, and AD sat in the audience watching P and I get married. It made me laugh to think about AD’s message concerning his skills as a mediator (it wasn’t his fault he kept getting deflected!).

:)

Filing for a Green Card

Gori Wife Life wrote a post today about her ordeal with her husband’s Green Card application. The poor American/Pakistani family suffered through the process for about four years before her husband’s card came in the mail. Today he was naturalized as a US Citizen (congrats to the GWL family!)

It’s so challenging because some people get through the process quickly with no problems (I’ve heard the “oh, it only took me four months” stories), and some people seem to hit every road block known to man (like GWL).

As an international student advisor I’m used to working with USCIS on a daily basis. In particular I interface with USCIS’s SEVIS system almost every day, and I help students file their OPT and CPT paperwork along with visa and travel advising, etc. I am not an immigration attorney, so I am not versed in every immigration status, but I feel pretty comfortable with the student statuses and paperwork I am generally responsible for. Yet even for someone who considers themselves a “student immigration specialist,” compiling a green card application can seem daunting, heck, let’s me honest, downright scary. Heaven forbid if you make one small mistake on the form, it could hold you up for ages in red tape.

I spent the first two weeks after our wedding organizing P’s Green Card paperwork. I compiled a cover letter listing all the documents needed for the application and it was literally two pages long. I contacted my mother for an “affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides” of our marriage, and her response was, “What? What in the world is that?” I sent her my cover letter detailing all the paperwork and she couldn’t believe it… “This is to become a citizen?” she asked. “No—just a permanent resident!” I responded.

In fact, I think it is hard for us “American by birth” people to realize how complicated the “Getting to America by other means” paths can be. I was talking once to an uncle about what P and I have to do after marriage. He thought that simply marrying an American was enough, that your marriage certificate pretty much guaranteed your new American citizenship. Whaaa? Maybe back in 1850. Or my Grandmother, who used to tell me that she wouldn’t marry my Irish born Grandfather until he became an American citizen. That was back in the early 1950s. A very different,  and  a few layers of red tape earlier, time in the US immigration world.

I was nervous when compiling P’s info because I was afraid I would leave something out. Luckily I occasionally work with an immigration attorney through programming at my university, and over a dinner earlier in the year he offered to quickly check my cover letter and offer suggestions if he saw any gaps in my documentation. I was relieved to have a second set of eyes double checking my work. So I thought it might be helpful to others in a similar situation if I put my laundry list of documents here.

I have to add the caveat that USCIS forms can change, so depending on when you are reading this fees or requirements might have changed. It is always important to carefully read through the instructions for each form before you start filling out paperwork. Also, USCIS is very picky about whether the version of the form you are submitting has expired—so double check that the forms you submit are current (dates are usually in the top or bottom right hand corner– trust me, I had a student’s I-765 returned because the form expired a month before even though not a single line of information on the form had changed). Lastly this Permanent Resident Application is based on an F-1 Student to PR Change of Status, not an H1B –>PR, so your significant other’s situation might also require additional/different paperwork as well if he/she is in a different status than my significant other.

So—what applications did I need to file?

The main three are the I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), the I-130 (Petition for an Alien Relative), and the I-864 (Affidavit of Support–did you know if you sponsor your spouse you are pledging to take care of them financially for ten years, even if you divorce!).

I also included an I-131 (Application for a Travel Document) and an I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) because the forms are free if you include them with your I-485 and $360 and $380, respectively, if you file them separately, plus we would ideally like to travel later in the year.

The I-485 also requires an I-693 (Civil Surgeon Medical Examination and Vaccination Record Report). This must be filled out by an approved civil surgeon and the documentation must be given to you in a sealed and initialed envelope or it will not be accepted by USCIS. You can search for a civil surgeon near you HERE.

The I-130 and the I-864 are essentially the American spouse’s paperwork, while the I-485 is the foreign born spouse’s paperwork.

The Cover letter:
(I like sending cover letters with immigration documents to keep everything organized:)

July 25, 2011
RE: P’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence
To Whom It May Concern:

Within this packet are all the documents for P (A # ___-___-___)’s I-485 Application for Permanent Residence based on C’s I-130 Petition for Alien Relative through marriage.

Included here in:

I-130

  • 1 passport sized photo for C
  • 1 passport sized photo for P
  • $420 Filing Fee
  • Form G-325A (Biographic information) for C
  • Form G-325A for P
  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)
  • Copy of C’s US birth certificate
  • Copy of C’s US passport [optional]
  • Copy of C and P’s US marriage certificate
  • Copy of our joint lease agreement [optional- although they like proof that you live together or have shared financials]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from C’s mother Mrs ________[optional]
  • An affidavit of personal knowledge of the bona fides of C and P’s marriage from P’s father Mr. ________[optional]
  • Picture samples from C and P’s July 10, 2011 wedding[optional]

I-485

  • 2 passport sized photos of P
  • Biometrics fee $85
  • Filing fee $985
  • Sealed I-693 Medical Examination Form
  • P’s Form G-325A
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s Nepali birth certificate and a certified translation
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of C and P’s marriage certificate
  • Copy of P’s I-94 card
  • Copy of P’s most recent Form I-20 [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Copy of P’s unofficial phd transcript [not asked for, but recommended by the immigration attorney]
  • Form I-864 Affidavit of Support (see below)

I-864

  • Recent promotion letter with updated salary information from C’s employer [optional]
  • Six months of C’s work pay stubs
  • Copy of C’s Federal Tax Form 1040 and W-2 (2010)[REQUIRED]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2009)[optional, but the immigration attorney said that if you don’t submit the previous three years tax forms initially, but just the required first year, they generally ask for the two previous years anyway, so better to just send from the beginning to have less delay in the processing time]
  • Copy of C’s 1040 (2008)[optional—see above]
  • Copy of C’s most recent bank statement [optional]

I-131

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Form G-1145
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s most recent I-20
  • Letter from P explaining the nature of his travel [phd research data collection]
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

I-765

  • No fee—filing with I-485
  • Copy of P’s I-94
  • Copy of P’s passport ID page and US visa page
  • Copy of P’s previously issued EAD
  • 2 passport sized photos of P

If you require any additional information please contact P at (___-___-___) or____@____.edu or C at (___-___-___) or ______@_____.com.

Sincerely,

C & P

—–

So the forms have been officially sent. Wish us luck in the process!