Friday, November 28, 2008

The Photo Opp

There was the time when I was in the back of a limo with John Leguizamo. And the time I ran into Tommy Hilfiger at what used to be Marshall Field's in downtown Chicago. And then there was the time when I met Michelle Kwan in the press room at a Champions on Ice event.

Those were times when I really wished I had my camera. Yes, even the most jaded, cynical ex-PR gal is sometimes a sucker for the token photo opp.

But these lame celebrity run-ins pale to the time when, two years ago, I was doing an interview at a little storefront church on the west side of Chicago. The interview subject was Elvira Arellano, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who, defying deportation orders, took up sanctuary in a church instead of reporting to INS. She wanted to stay in the United States to care for her then-7-year-old, US-born son, Saul. After all, deporting her would mean deporting him, because she wasn't leaving without him.

I really, really, really wanted my camera. But I'd forgotten it.

Arellano's not a celebrity, per se, but her story inspired me. No matter how you feel about the United States' immigration policy (or lack thereof), you have to admire Arellano's courage to stand up -- as an individual, as a worker, as a mother -- against what she thought was unjust.

I decided to do my M.A. thesis on Elvira Arellano's story, and how it was covered in the media in Chicago. Writing a thesis is kind of like having a baby -- it takes about 9 months, it makes you emotional, it keeps you awake at weird hours and it makes you gain weight. And then, when it's all over, there's this strange letdown. Postpartum depression, if you will.

Anyway, the thesis began (and, thus, my 'normal life' ended) at that little church, back in October 2006. By the time May 2007 rolled around, I'd written 170 pages on the woman. I'd darted all over Chicago collecting interviews and data. The walls of my tiny studio apartment were covered with newspaper clippings. My fingers were permanently black from newsprint. My back and wrists ached from being hunched over my little laptop. I'd developed a slight twitch in my left eye from staring at a computer screen.

At that point, I'd thought more about Elvira Arellano than can probably be considered healthy (as a friend so delicately put it, I am "neurotically obsessed" with the poor woman) . But I'd missed the photo opp.

Fast forward two years, to this week, and I'm attending an immigration conference in Mexico City. I'd heard that Arellano -- who has since been deported, despite her very public struggles -- was also going to be there. Arellano is still on my mind because I'm working on an article for a journal. And I'm still jumping through hoops to interview her: This time, instead of taking a bus across Chicago to meet her at a church, I've taken a bus across four Mexican states -- a 13-hour-round trip from Oaxaca -- to talk to her.

But I met Arellano. Again. We had lunch. We talked about her son. We shared a few laughs. She gave me her email address. And, two years, 170 pages, and 13 hours on a bus later, I finally got my photo. Woo-woo!

Thanks for everything, Elvira.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Sarita, you are awesome. I'm so happy you finally got another chance to meet Elvira and have your photo op!!!! Congratulations!