We received a letter from Social Security today. It was addressed to me, and to J. In it we are told to come to the Social Security office no later than the fifteenth of May to speak to a specific employee because J’s citizenship (his name stated incomplete) has not been proven.
I propel us to the house, and I grab the phone. The certain employee who has issued this letter isn’t available, but another employee will help me.
J’s Social Security number, J’s name, his birthdate, my name, my birthdate, my mother’s name, her birthdate, our address…all these questions are asked, and I answer them and, to top them off, I add the previous two addresses, our birthplaces… Yes, yes…I throw in my Social Security number…
Hold for a moment.
Ah, the letter is wrong. We just need to prove J’s identity.
Well, there’s an error in his file.
Recently. You have to bring him in with his ID.
Because we need to prove that he is who he is.
You realize that IDs can be acquired fraudulently.
Ye-ees. Then we can use a document from a medical services provider that states his identity has been confirmed.
Um…it’s just something we have to do. If you don’t want to come in, you can mail us his ID and we will return it to you.
NO!!!!!!!! We will be there Monday morning.
What I didn’t tell him is that I will be there Monday morning with a cart full of binders proving J is who he is; birth certificates (the original and a recent official copy,) his original Social Security card, his school records, his medical records, his Ident-A-Kid cards from when he was a mere tyke, our tax returns, everything!
The guy, of course, treated me like I was hyperbolizing but, and this I told him, considering the current social and political climate, can I be blamed for that?
Say J’s legal name is Javier Rolando Gómez-Torres (it isn’t, by the way,) and the letter is addressed to him and to me, his mother. In the body of the letter it reads “we have not been able to confirm citizenship for Javier Torres.” Why send the letter to Javier Rolando Gómez-Torres (with his correct Social Security number, which is issued in that full name) if you want to know about Javier Torres? If you don’t understand patronymics as applied in Hispanic countries, territories, cultures, etc., I will briefly explain: Javier and Rolando are first and middle name, of course; Gómez is the father’s last name and Torres is the mother’s maiden name. If you don’t use a hyphen here in the states, the name becomes Javier Rolando Torres Gómez, or Javier R Gómez. The mother’s maiden name disappears. Back home, and all over Latin America, we keep both. So when I read Javier Torres, that is not the same person the letter is addressed to, and it gives the impression that the agency is implying J’s name is not what it is, that we are saying he is someone he is not.
J is NOT Javier Torres…not even not literally; J uses both first and middle names, his father’s last name, and my maiden name. We hyphenated them because we want to make sure that both are in there. When I married Dada I hyphenated my name, too…so my kids would be easily identified as part of this same family unit. So…I am (again, not really) Margarita Isabel Torres-Sandoval, married to Diego A Sandoval, and my kids use Gómez-Torres connecting us all in one rather confusing mishmash.
There isn’t, nor has there ever been, in this household a Javier Torres using J’s Social Security number, and that this question is being raised NOW is not a particularly pleasant feeling.
“Why must you make this about politics????”
Well, that’s a tricky question. It is about politics because none of this had been questioned before people started fearing The Other as openly as they do now. When we first arrived in this town, in 2011, people were congenial, helpful, kind, charming. Over the past year, without becoming openly hostile, some of that has been lost. In general, the country has seen a shift to mistrust of The Other, and -sadly I must admit- it goes both ways. We, The Other, have started to wonder if all this delving is “normal.”
A few months ago I handed my ticket over at the dry cleaners, and all was chit-chat and charm until I got my items back, handed over my credit card, and there was my very undeniably Hispanic last name. The lady, bless her soul, clammed up and didn’t really talk congenially anymore. The cashier at the store who asked what a plantain was, and said, after I explained, “ah, foreigner food” didn’t help matters. Hearing people say things about how “their” country is being taken over by outsiders, and they want to “take it back” is kinda scary.
Whether this is in response to a primal fear of being overrun by The Other, or whether it’s because The Other might have his/her hackles raised in defensive awareness is anyone’s guess.
The truth is that I had never, in spite of several experiences as a small child learning English during trips to visit my grandmother in Florida, thought of myself as The Other. I thought, and I am starting to sense that it was pretty naive of me, that I was just who I am. I served in the Armed Forces. I speak the language fluently; I also read it, think in it, pray, do math, argue…I earned a M.A. in this second language of mine while never forgetting my own. I have a trace of an accent, but it’s not so much so that you’d not understand me when we have a conversation. I have lived on both sides of the continent. I am an American who also happens to be a Puerto Rican. It used to work just fine.
Seeing that letter shook me. Hearing that I have to physically produce J and his ID, and that I cannot -even as his legal guardian- prove who he is…he has to do it himself…either writing his name, or making his mark…it jarred me. If his name was John Smith, would this be happening? I am left to wonder if it is the fact that J lived in Puerto Rico, then North Carolina, then California and then New Mexico before coming here…there’s two “heavy on the immigrants” states in that list. Maybe we’ve snuck him in and passed him off as this Javier Torres person?
I don’t know.
I am trying to reconcile this knot in my stomach with my knowledge that we are honest, upright, loyal citizens. I am wondering if someone, out of spite, decided to say “hey, those people…,” just to see us squirm. Or because they can.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I am worried. I shouldn’t be, but I can’t help it…
Because the world is turned upside down, and people have lost track of things that used to be reasonable.