Deportees' wives adjust to life in Mexico

By KELSEY SHEEHY, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI   |   June 8, 2011 at 4:53 PM

WASHINGTON, June 8 (UPI) -- When Cheryl Arredondo realized her husband, Salvador, would be deported to Mexico and barred from entering the United States for 10 years, she left her home, business and 19 year-old daughter in Waukegan, Ill., and drove 1,600 miles to Monterrey, Mexico.

She didn't speak Spanish. She had no friends outside of her husband and two dogs, Heidi and Lizzard, and the danger of drug cartel violence confined her to her home.

Living among 3 million people in Mexico's third largest city, Arredondo said she felt isolated -- so she opened her laptop and started typing.

"Google, if it could drink coffee and smoke Marlboro Lights, would be my best buddy," Arredondo wrote in her first blog post on Nov. 5, 2010, two months after she uprooted her life to save her marriage.

Arredondo is part of a growing online demographic: American-born wives of deported immigrants who are using blogs, forums and Facebook to find support and sanity. Their spouses entered the country illegally and, when the immigration system caught up with them, their wives relocated to Mexico to keep the family together.

Venting frustrations and feelings online offers a level of support and safety not available through journals or support groups, said John Grohol, a psychologist and the publisher of psychcentral.com.

"Putting something down on Facebook and Twitter or a blog, you have the ability to get feedback on those thoughts and feelings," Grohol said. "You can't get that in a diary."

Blogs and forums also allow people to reach a wider audience, increasing the odds of finding someone who can empathize with unique situation.

Arredondo's blog -- "Monterrey, What the Hell?" -- was a desperate attempt to find someone, anyone, who could relate to her situation.

"Somebody else has to be in my shoes. Hello, is there anybody in there?" Arredondo pleaded at the end of her first blog post.

The responses flooded in and Arredondo realized she wasn't alone.

"I was shocked to discover not only were there other people living this life but there were thousands more asking the same questions as me. What do I do? How do I survive?" Arredondo wrote. "I felt a kindred spirit in many of the women I was in contact with. We all complained, we all cried, we were all at least a little scared. And now, we were not alone."

One woman Arredondo connected with was Giselle Stern Hernandez. Living in Mexico since August 2001, Hernandez was a seasoned veteran of the life as a deported man's wife.

Hernandez's husband, Roberto, was deported April 27, 2001 -- 10 days after their wedding -- and banned from re-entering the United States for 20 years. She joined him in Mexico four months later but didn't start blogging about living as a deported man's wife until 2009.

Already adjusted to her circumstances and life in Mexico, Hernandez turned to blogging after a three-month U.S. tour in 2009 for her one-woman show, "The Deportee's Wife."

Confronted with an immigration climate vastly different from the one she knew pre-Sept. 11, Hernandez said she felt compelled to call attention to her immigration realities.

"Something snapped," she said in a telephone interview.

"There's this whole invisible community -- When you say deported man's wife, I'm not usually who pops into mind. English being my first language, being born and raised in the U.S., having a master's, being half Mexican and also half white. That's what really pushed me to starting speaking out more."

Arredondo and Hernandez's virtual friendship expanded into a web of support and mutual friendships.

Emily Cruz, a U.S. citizen and Arizona native, is one of those shared connections. Cruz moved to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico with her husband in August 2010. He has a lifetime ban from entering the United States.

In February Arredondo and her husband moved from Monterrey to Ciudad Juarez. Relocating from one city marred by drug cartel violence to another, Arredondo turned to her online connections.

"If it weren't for my blog, I don't know how we would have processed the whole move to Juarez, because it's through my blog that I met three American women that also live here and were extremely helpful through that process," she said.

Once in Juarez, their virtual connection developed into flesh-and-blood friendships -- the kind that has cookouts and commiserates about the daily commute across the bridge to El Paso, Texas, for work.

As Arredondo's life evolved into a new sense of normalcy in Juarez, her virtual life evolved as well.

She visits immigration forums and Facebook groups less frequently. She's moved from a place of bitterness and anger to acceptance. She's happy with where she is and who she's there with -- her husband.

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