Circle Pines

Last year my daughter got to experience something I never thought I’d be able to give her: a week at summer camp. This year she’s going back for two.

I’ve always been wary of summer camps. It’s cultural, but it’s also marginalization. Camp always felt like a thing for Rich White People and not a thing for queer undocumented Arabs who make less than most people’s car payments per month.

So when I found Circle Pines, through a couple different friends I was thrilled.

This is a camp that teaches the same values I hold: community, justice, social responsibility. It’s a camp where I can talk to the director and the intake volunteers about being worried that my ex might show up, and being assured that he won’t be able to take my kiddo. It’s a place where my daughter can talk about the things that worry her, the cultural biases, the gender prejudices, and the experiences of navigating then world as a mixed race child of an undocumented parent. She can learn about good stewardship, about community management of shared resources. She can go on hikes and explore nature and learn about bugs and plants and biology and all the lovely science things she reads about.

She can socialize and make friends and teach the different cultural songs and dances she’s learned with friends that have never been exposed to them. And she can learn theirs.

I’m not sure I can ever adequately describe the impact this camp has had on our family. It’s been massive, and wholesome, and appreciated.

So if you’re like me, wanting to give your kids an opportunity that is in line with your values and ethics, and struggling to find a place where you know your kids pronouns and gender will be accepted and appreciated, where their cultures will be shared and respected and not appropriated, where they’ll learn the value of community, and their responsibilities as community members? Send them here. I promise it’s worth it.

*note, I don’t get paid or benefit in any way from this post. In case you were worried.https://www.circlepinescenter.org/summer-camp/

On Immigration

CONTENT NOTE: MENTION OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE AND IMMIGRATION

Last week I met with the local branch of Justice For Our Neighbors, a legal clinic that helps undocumented and other immigrants with their immigration process.

I’m applying for status under the Violence Against Women Act. I qualify for this pathway because of how I ended up undocumented in this country to begin with. It’s a long, messy story.

I haven’t heard back yet if they’re going to take my case or not. In the meantime, I’ve been forcing myself to write out my affidavit.

I ended up in the US after flying to New Mexico for what I thought was my honeymoon. My husband and I were planning on visiting his parents, then road tripping back to Toronto. That’s not what happened though. He kept delaying our return until out of fear of becoming undocumented, I finally agreed to stay in the US. He took my passport, the immigration paperwork I had downloaded from the internet and filled out, and the money for the fees and never filed. I don’t know what he did with it all.

Years later, when the abuse was evident, I tried to leave. He told me if I did, he would call the police, and I would be arrested immediately and deported, and I would lose my kids. He told me he never filed the immigration paperwork.

I stayed. I kept hoping I could convince him to go back to Toronto with me. I thought if I could be a better wife, then he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.

Part of the VAWA application for status involves breaking down in detail the abuse that happened in my marriage. It’s a messy and triggering affair, and I have yet to sit down for a writing session without being hit with all the emotional ups and downs that come with talking about it. Even now, four years removed from my husband, I still find myself caught in the gaslighting and the anxiety. Could it be my fault? Did I make him hit me?

Logically, I know better. I know from working with other domestic violence survivors that we all have these feelings, and that they never really fully go away for some of us. They’re there, in the back of our minds, reminding us that we’re never going to be fully free, that everything is our fault, even when it isn’t.

One of the biggest obstacles to healing from domestic violence is learning to love yourself again. Learning to trust your gut, to have faith in your abilities. That asking for help to achieve your goals, and protect your autonomy doesn’t make you incapable or weak. In fact, it makes you stronger.

So here I am, looking at the fear I left behind, and comparing it to the love I have ahead of me. I need to keep reminding myself that things are better now, and they’re going to be even better once I get my immigration sorted.

I’m surrounded by people who love me. Despite my husband’s best attempts to convince me otherwise, I am lovable, and loved. I am not useless, I am not worthless, I contribute to my community. My kindness isn’t a lack of intelligence, it’s a willful choice to see the best in people, and to want to do the best for my community. And letting my community support me through this process doesn’t make me a terrible person. It just means I’m welcome, and I’m not alone.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraiser my community put together for me, you can do so here.