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Alex Villa
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I am a Nomad, I am an Immigrant

December 12, 2020

The San Francisco Bay

I was born being a nomad, with Mexico City as a place of birth, only to be taken, along with my older sister, by my parents to Tijuana, a city in northern Mexico, The land of no one. A city of opportunities thanks to its closeness to the sea and California, and at the same time, condemned to be the unintentional destination of stranded immigrants that never made it further north.

Tijuana is about 2,800 kilometers away from Mexico City, or a 50 hour bus trip…which we did. One of my first memories of the world is crossing Mexico on a hot bus, and seeing the change from the greener farms and good climate of central Mexico, fading away to desert landscapes full of mosquitos.

We made it to Tijuana, and stayed to build a life. After a short 2-year era in a 3-room house that was too expensive for my parents, while working waitering and teaching jobs at the same time. So we move to the 1-bedroom mini apartment that used to be the single-flat of a younger brother of my dad.

We stayed in this crowded place for 8 years, while having moments of peace while driving to San Diego with our dogs, to play in the parks, walk on the beach, share an ice cream for the entire family and get a feeling of what peace of mind felt like.

Crossing the border was no easy business tho, they would check us every time we crossed. The worst crossing of all came on day, where I dog fixated in our car (we lived in a segregated neighborhood in Tijuana with a lot of drug users, the car did smell like weed, but it wasn’t ours). Yet, the police cuffed my dad in front of my eyes, interrogated us, broke all of our stuff in the car, just to let us know there had been a mistake without even saying “sorry”.

It’s peculiar that my only two arrests have been mistakes by border police officers driven by their biases. But more on the second experience later.

Yet, my memory is filled with wonderful memories of my childhood in Tijuana. We didn’t have a lot, but I had music, books, dogs and the chance to travel and start trying to understand the dual and contrasting nature of life, beauty and sadness while taking in the staggering differences

When I was 10 years old, my parents sent me on vacation to Mexico City with my aunt, uncles and grandma. Once I was there, I decided I was going to stay. I told my uncle and aunt, I told my parents, they ironed out the details, and I stayed for a year in a Mexico City primary school. Just as in Tijuana I was the outsider from the capital, in the promised land of the Aztec capital, I was a foreigner from the north.

This pattern of movement would repeat for about 4 cycles after I decided to settle down in Mexico City, following my first, deeply tragic love.

Took me 12 years to move away from this relationship, but when it happened, after I was already a web developer in a privileged industry looking for website makers like me. And I heard about the beautiful concept that changed my life: “digital nomad”. That privileged race of remote workers that were telecommuting on decently-paid jobs while soaking in new cultures and optimizing the cost of living (I didn’t make a lot in Mexico, so the second part wasn’t as important as being able to survive).

First it was Mazunte, a hippie beach in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Went to other Mexican beaches, went to South America and fell in love forever with El Puerto de Buenos Aires, the place where I gave permission to myself to cease this form of freedom and never settle down back in the capital that had swallowed my spirit.

And so it goes…

Traveling eventually lead me to meet the love of my life, in a highly unlikely story, another software developer, a wonderful Portuguese woman whose hearts rocks my world every day, and the woman I married.

We settled down in Berlin for now, we know that as mixed-race couple, neutral places are important while we have the privilege to try this. But we are aching to get back on the road, even while Berlin remains our home base, to understand more of the world.

But while we are here, we are learning to be immigrants, exploring integration.

Whatever my parents provoked in me by making movement a part of my psyche, stayed forever. It was a big sacrifice for them. My mom ended up going back to Mexico City on her own when I was 13, she is still there, in the house I spent the first 3 years of my life.

My dad stayed in Tijuana, the restaurant where he thrived as a manager and enabled him to buy 2 houses in the outskirts of Tijuana went broke, he eventually lost a lot and lives in a rented apartment in the outskirts of Tijuana. He always said that humans should be like dogs, and that we should only aim for a ceiling on our heads, some love and enough food. Yet he also taught me that my origins were not as important as the destination I planned.

On a very “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” speech, before the book was even written, my dad enabled me to move and be ok with not conforming. To be ok with comfort while valuing the basics, while my mom taught me to always take care of others.

My parents sacrificed a lot for my sister and I. Ultimately, we thrived as the next generation, with a lot of emotional struggles and far from big economical freedom, but enough comfort and possibilities, which sometimes, takes years of years, pain and movement.

All I know is that the way I normalized being the underrepresented minority that was targeted by those in power, also enabled me to take some fear off from their biases, and made me care about leveling the field with every fiber of me, while also aiming to be the most helpful and caring I can be of others (and oh, how I fail, but I do try with all of me).

The most beautiful landscape picture I own on my phone may as well be an Icelandic landscape. But the most meaningful is the picture of the 1-bedroom house that I took when my sister took me for a trip when I came back to Tijuana after 12 years of absence.

This picture explains why I trained myself for finding beauty in tragedy.

My childhood also trained me to find freedom in movement and belonging in being a different piece in between many other non-homogenous pieces.

I was born an immigrant. I never stopped. I still am.

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