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  • Writer's pictureliliahg

Chasing Papers

After posting last month’s “Object with a Story” a few people reached out through email and a couple through snail mail. I loved the sentiment behind them all, and I kept thinking about letters, postcards, and packages. There is so much intentionality behind sending someone a letter. The time and thought behind a letter or package is one of a kind.

When I was seven years old, my cousin, Mayra, sent me a letter from our hometown in Torreón, Coahuila, Mexico. This letter is currently framed on the wall of my studio and I consider it one of my most prized possessions. This letter was hand delivered to me by her father, when he arrived in Arkansas. The letter is dated December 9, 1995, so I can only assume he arrived in the States that month. She was also seven at the time and had been my best friend while living in Mexico; we did everything together. I arrived in the States on my 5th birthday, so by the time I received the letter it had been about 2 years since I had seen her.

As a kid, your whole life is dictated by the decisions your parents make. As an immigrant kid, sometimes those decisions means not having access to family or friends. As we grow up, we become used to people’s absence. Some of us are lucky enough to know the duality of both countries, some grow up not knowing their parent’s country of origin, and some grow up having left their country and never being able to go back.

It’s ironic to me that the decisions to move to the States were based on the need for money, the decisions to stay were based on becoming documented, yet we constantly chased letters and photos that would keep us connected to our families back home. The life of an immigrant is constantly chasing papers.

This month, I shredded my bills and made paper postcards. The paper is tinted slightly blue from the ink of the bills and is embedded with shreds of plastic from an old insurance card and an expired credit card. Some of the postcards have traces of watermarks from envelopes and some have typed text that is left over from undissolved ink.

I’ve painted marks that connect them as if they were one piece of paper. Together they form a family, a connected series. I even stitched them together to create a continuous green threaded line. But they can’t be sent as postcards all as one, they have to be separated.

The family of postcards now lay as a grid. The threads reaching beyond boundaries and the memory of the material touch one another, as if they remember what it was like to be connected.

I wonder where they will go, who they will reach and what they will say.

Growing up, I battled with the value of family vs. the value of individuality. The value of family was tied to Mexico, heritage, tradition and the weight of expectations. After all, what were your parent’s struggles worth, if not for a better life for you and your siblings. The value of individuality represented the United States and always seemed more liberating and unapologetic. It also seemed distant, lonely and disconnected to roots, family and ancestral ties.

Now, I see the value of both. I need them both to survive and sustain the life that I want. I need the anchor of family to keep me grounded and nourished, but I also need the freedom to be unapologetically me. Our immigrant parents may have wanted a steady job, a degree or social achievements for us kids. They may have wanted paper for us, as proof that the move was worth the struggle. Though unintentionally, they opened our eyes to higher possibilities, further distances and the audacity to want more or something else.

I think about my future children and what life I want for them. I want my children to be free to travel and reach people from afar. Free to be their authentic selves, but also have the memory of family and connection. To feel safe to come back home and feel nourished and rooted in the unconditional love I will have for them, just like my family has for me; a privilege I do not take lightly.

Like the postcards, I wonder where they will go, who they will reach and what they will say. I wonder if my parents think that of me, and if their parents thought that for them, too.

The papers that I want to chase are not ones of necessity, but ones of connectivity and love. The degrees, the money and the achievements are good for the mind and the hand, but I want papers that are good for the heart.

I hope you find connectivity today and always, whether it's your biological family or your chosen one, because although individuality is good, individuality surrounded by love and support is better, stronger and richer.

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