Zumba and I

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In an effort to raise my spirit and get me out of the house, my wife asked me to accompany her to one of her Zumba classes. For those who’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what Zumba is, allow me to enlighten you.

Zumba is a fitness program that’s all the rage right now. It was started way back in the 1990s by a Colombian immigrant called Alberto “Beto” Perez. Frankly, I don’t know what the big deal is about it, but what I know from experience is that it’s an hour session jam packed with loud music and atrocious dancing.

On the appointed day, I was yanked out of bed, shoved into our car and driven to the local gym by my loving wife. When we got there, I reluctantly emerged from our car and dragged my feet to the gym. The Zumba room was huge and jam-packed with women of all races, ages, shapes and sizes. On top of that, the walls had full-length mirrors so that everyone in the room could stare at their bad dancing and sweaty reflections.

Being the lone male, I positioned myself close to the exit so that I could make a run for it if someone yelled “fire!” Or if the dancing got too risqué for my taste. The last thing I wanted was my man card revoked because of allegedly dancing on an invisible pole to the rhythms of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.”

An eager instructor stood before us. She was fairly young and well–toned, just like the ladies on the late night fitness infomercials. The rest of us looked like we’d been rounded up from all the local fast food restaurants and dumped inside the gym. The instructor didn’t waste any time working us all to death. Before I knew it, I was belly dancing, dropping “it” like it’s hot, and shaking my “money maker.” My wife was in stitches the whole time, and that was fine with me. Hearing her laugh at my pathetic attempts to dance was worth the revocation of my man card.

Being in deportation proceedings hasn’t been easy for my wife and me. Every day is full of fear and uncertainty about our future. Most days, we both find ourselves on emotional roller-coasters, yet we consciously strive to find ways to cheer each other up. If you’re going through a really rough time, I encourage you to do a good and unselfish deed for a friend or random stranger. I promise that it will go a long way in making you feel better about yourself and your situation.

An Immigration Bill Has Emerged!

Exactly a year after I was put in deportation proceedings, an immigration bill has emerged. Drafted by 8 Senators known as the Gang of 8, the Border Security Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (phew, what a mouthful!) just might save me and others from getting deported…that’s if it is speedily passed and signed into law.

Immediately after being signed into law, the Department of Homeland security will have six months to come up with a plan to secure the US borders. I wish them luck. Meanwhile, the government will take those 6 months to prepare for the barrage of applications from undocumented immigrants desiring Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.

If eligible, we’ll all be allowed to live and work legally in the US, as well as travel outside of the country. We would also have to pay about $2,000 in fines over a 10y-year period. Learning English, taking a civics test and paying back taxes (if the IRS says we owe them) would also be requirements. The bill states that for 10 years, we will not be able to access the same federal benefits we never had access to in the first place. After 10 years of not joining a gang and not driving drunk, both of which would be grounds for deportation, we’ll then be able to apply for a green card. 3 years after that, we’d be allowed to petition for citizenship.

Those who came into the country after December 31, 2011, are simply out of luck and, when caught, will be processed and deported. The rest of us will have to prove that we have  lived continuously in the US since we got here, and we will have about a year to come out of the “shadows” and apply for RPI status.

If, like me, you are in removal proceedings, or have been ordered deported, have no fear. You, too, will be eligible to apply for RPI status, if you’re still around when the bill is passed. This is why it is wise to buy more time. If, at present, you haven’t yet been ordered deported, tell your lawyer to ask the judge to delay your deportation on the grounds that you are eligible for RPI status. Another thing that will come as a relief for many undocumented immigrants is that those who made false claims to US citizenship, misrepresented themselves or committed fraud will be given waivers. In other words, they’ll be forgiven!

The path to legality and, eventually , to citizenship won’t be easy. To quote Senator Bob Menendez, one of the authors of the bill, “This is a long pathway. It is a long pathway, but it is an achievable pathway.”

A year ago this month, when I was face to face with two ICE agents, the words Immigration Reform weren’t even in my vocabulary. A year later, I eat and breathe immigration reform. So much has happened so fast! Because of that, I’m hopeful that someday, somehow my deportation will be halted, and that this bill, which is still a bill and not yet law, will find its way into President Obama’s hands. I’m hopeful that it will be signed into law, making me and millions like me beneficiaries of immigration reform.

Visiting New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment.

rainbow_1The day after I got caught by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, my wife and I boarded a plane and headed to the state of New Mexico. We needed to get away from our new reality, even though it was for just a couple of days.

We landed in the beautiful desert city of Albuquerque, rented a car and headed straight to our hotel room to rest and relax. Being uncertain about our fate and future made us very scared. We knew that if we didn’t come up with a plan as soon as possible, we’d be in deep doodoo.

The next day my wife and I had complimentary breakfast in the hotel lobby. There, we listed down every single one of our worldly possessions. We discussed and deliberated over what we needed to get rid of and what we needed to sell. Both our dream cars had to go. No more romantic dinners at our favorite French restaurant and no more shopping at fancy clothing stores. Whether we liked it or not, the time had come for us to buckle down and live on a tight budget. The era of living large was over and a life of penury had just been ushered in, thanks to the good folks at ICE.

Allow me to geek out for a second. The artist Georgia Totto O’Keeffe is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest painters to ever grace God’s green earth. She resided in Taos and, later, Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she painted stunning landscapes and flowers. A lot of her work has been put up in an amazing museum in Santa Fe.

Visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe museum was a major priority for me, so my wife and I took a one-hour pilgrimage to pay it a visit. We rolled into Santa Fe, former home of the Pueblo Indians, full of excitement and anticipation. Almost all the modern buildings had flat roofs and were made of concrete, wood and adobe, just like the Pueblo Indians made them back in the day. After getting lost and sidetracked for hours (because asking for directions is for sissies), we finally found the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

I was giddy as a kid on Christmas morning when I entered the museum. After paying the entry fee, I bolted towards the gallery where O’Keeffe’s work was said to be exhibited, only to find it closed for renovation! Instantly, tears began to roll down my face and I broke down. I felt like nothing was working out for me and, on top of that, I was terrified that my future would probably be full of pain and suffering.

A couple of months later, my luck took a turn for the better, and my wife and I were able to hop into our ride and take a 13-hour drive back to Santa Fe. This time, I got to see every single one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works. It was a breathtaking experience.

On our drive back to the Lone Star State, we also got to witness a double rainbow, which was, to me, a sign that in the midst of these stormy circumstances, there were gonna be moments of beauty and respite. And no matter where I ended up, I was going to be just fine.

Cooking My Way Through My Deportation.

Before I got married, I was totally incompetent in the kitchen. I was so bad that I wasn’t even allowed to boil water.  After walking down the aisle, my wife encouraged me to learn my way around our kitchen. It wasn’t long before I began cooking complicated meals like fried eggs, homemade potato fries and even mac & cheese!

After the “visitation” by 2 uninvited ICE agents, our small grocery budget was cut in half. This little snafu hasn’t stopped me from channeling Chef Gordon Ramsay and making the occasional fancy meal for my wife. So without any further ado, I, Chef Sorabji Swaraj (cough cough), will share with you my favorite Tilapia recipe:

 Tilapia

// Sorabji’s Deportation Tilapia Bruschetta//

Serves 2-4 humans

Ingredients
4 Tilapia Fillets
1 lemon
Basil
Olive oil
sea salt and pepper
Cherry Tomatoes
Garlic
Cheddar Cheese (or your favorite cheese)

Method

Preheat you oven to 350ºF. Smear olive oil onto a casserole dish or aluminum pan and then slap your tilapia fillets on it. Don’t crowd the dish. Drizzle lemon juice all over the fillets and then season them with salt and pepper. Cover and place the dish in the fridge.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, chop the basil and as many garlic cloves as you can stand. Put them all into a bowl, drizzle olive oil over them and mix. Top the Tilapia fillets with your stunning mix, then throw it all into the preheated oven for about 25 minutes.

Check your email, surf the interwebs, and read my blog for those 25 minutes.

Take out the dish or pan and sprinkle plenty of cheese on that sucker. Put it back into the oven for 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Serve with a salad, rosemary potatoes (one of my favorites), or basmati rice. I’ve found that this meal pairs well with ChampagneGewurztraminer or any light white or red wine. ENJOY!