My Siblings Passports Said ‘Resident Alien’ While I Only Had To Say “U.S. Citizen!”

If you’re lucky enough to be Mexican-American through and through, there are way more pluses than there are negatives. I happen to be a legit half-and-half Mexican-American trying to live my best freaking life in the United States.

Both my parents are Mexican. I was born in Tucson, Arizona. I’m the youngest of my family and the only citizen by birth. My parents and siblings immigrated in the late 1970s and became naturalized citizens in the 90s. I lived in the border town of Nogales, Arizona. It borders Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, which is extremely confusing, I know. “Wait, there’s two Nogales-es?” Yes. Yes there are. I was raised on the American side of the border. My family moved from the Mexican side to the American side of Nogales in 1979, when I was two years old.

I remember musing at my siblings’ passport cards as a kid because they looked different than mine. Theirs read “Resident Alien” and had their very serious photos on them. I remember thinking it odd that my brother and sister had an official government card that referred to them as aliens. You see, E.T. had just come out. I didn’t know much, but I knew my siblings didn’t originate in other planets.

Their passport cards also had these weird blue squiggly lines that I now think must’ve been to prevent some type of counterfeit.

Mine was totally different. It was light green and looked like a credit card. It didn’t have my photo on it, which I now think is odd. It just had my name engraved on it with some sort of seal in the middle. But I never had to use it.

I remember the countless times my family and I crossed the border between the Mexican and American sides while visiting family, shopping, or simply having lunch in Mexico. I would simply said, “U.S. citizen” to the customs agents while the rest of my family had to produce their physical passport cards.

They weren’t the booklet type most are used to seeing when one travels abroad. I think that since it’s so common for folks (like us) who live on the border to go back and forth, that it was a matter of convenience for all parties involved to issue out convenient-to-carry cards for residents in Nogales, Arizona.

When referring to the other side of the border, we Nogalians always say “al otro lado,” which literally means “the other side.” That can be said whether you’re on the Mexican side or the American side. El otro lado means the side of Nogales you are not on. Yes, we are unique people with our own very own amusing vernacular and other small town cultural side effects.

My brother and sister’s passport cards presenting them as “aliens” later became unnecessary since they became naturalized American citizens. They no longer had to wear the scarlet letter.

I moved away from Nogales after graduation high school, and our simple little border culture completely changed. Now it feels like a completely different type of border checkpoint.

It’s been years since I’ve been on the Mexican side of the border for a proper visit. Now there’s an entirely new system. People who reside in Nogales, Arizona have to apply for a Sentri card. It costs about $350, and it allows us border residents to cross back and forth with more ease by using a “speedy” car line at the border, if you will.

The rest of the traffic picks one of four lanes that can take hours to reach the agent. Yes, I said hours. The ease of experiencing both cultures at once is no more.

I remember throngs of tourists wearing sombreros and carrying souvenirs coming back from Mexico even a decade ago. They’re long gone. The tourism in my hometown is now almost non-existent.

The rules have become too strict. Our borders have become too rigid, and this current administration’s outlook has become too narrow.

Still, I’m grateful my family members are no longer labeled “alien” on paper. I’m grateful to have experienced that culturally rich period of my life where the border was more of a formality than a matter of national security.

It’s important to hold on to a sense of self and security. Nogales was that to me. It was a reference point to home. Now it feels as though my dual national identity has been ripped in half by forces out of my control.

But I’m hopeful there will be better days ahead. I’m optimistically waiting for us turn the corner of our current societal ills and make our way towards a brighter, more culturally cohesive future. Because we deserve it.