USA-Mexico Relations and Mazatlán

UPDATE: Consul General Karen Ogle of the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo will be visiting Mazatlan and extends an invitation to meet her for coffee and to speak informally to members of the American citizen community.  She will be at Rico’s Cafe.  Ave. Marina #2216 Petroplazas from noon to 1pm on Thursday, March 16, 2017.
consular districts mexico.jpgIt is a difficult time for many US Americans who reside in Mexico. Our newly elected President has not ingratiated himself with our southern neighbor, long-time adopted home for many of us. I found it encouraging this morning, then, to read a newsletter that we receive from the USA Consulate General in Hermosillo (serving Sonora and Sinaloa), which included news on a collaborative project to support binational citizens. We get the newsletter because Greg and I are wardens, meaning we have a responsibility to help communicate information that can aid US American citizens in Mazatlán. Often times that is an unsavory role, as we find ourselves not agreeing with many of the legally mandated “warnings” that come out of the State Department.

Wardens are non-governmental volunteers of the American Citizen Services (ACS) Units of Mission Mexico. ACS offers routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens abroad. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, its nine Consulates General, and its nine consular agencies provide passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, and notarial services. American Citizen Services sections also handle visas, IRS, Social Security, and VA benefits; they assist U.S. victims of crime, visit U.S. prisoners, and help with missing U.S. persons and international parental child abductions. They provide assistance to families of deceased U.S. citizens and identify local resources for destitute and ill individuals as well as victims of domestic violence. Our local ACS email is hermoacs@state.gov, should you wish to contact them. Mazatlán’s USA consular agency can be reached at 01-81-8047-3145 or via email to conagencymazatlan@state.gov. After-hours number is  Embassy 01-55-5080-2000. The office is located across the street from the Hotel Playa Mazatlán in the Golden Zone, and it’s open 9am-1pm Monday through Saturday, except US and Mexican holidays.

I will share with you three pieces of today’s newsletter that I believe you may find helpful. Be sure to pass it on to those who might need it.

  1. Soy México Initiative: Information for USA-born students or those seeking legal documentation upon return to or moving to Mexico
  2. Expo Consular/Consular Road Show: Upcoming consular visit to Mazatlán and US American community meeting
  3. Dispelling myths about obtaining a US American visa (video en español/in Spanish)

1. Soy México Initiative for Binational Kids

From the USA consular newsletter: “According to the 2010 census by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography, there are approximately 600,000 children born in the United States that have returned to Mexico. A large number of these children face major challenges in accessing basic services in Mexico, especially education and public health services. The U.S. Mission in Mexico has partnered with the Mexican government at federal, state, and local levels, as well as with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to assist these children.”

Did you know that Mexican school registration requirements have changed? Children born in the United States are no longer required to present an apostilled birth certificate to enroll in school. Moreover, a CURP is no longer required for school registration. Ask USA Consular Staff if you need more information about school access.

“Children born in the United States to Mexican parents have dual citizenship. They have rights in both countries and the U.S. Embassy wants to ensure they can fully exercise those rights. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico processes more than 20,000 passport applications each year. Two thirds of these passports are for children under 16 years old, the vast majority of whom are binational.”

“In September, U.S. Ambassador Jacobson and Mexican Secretary Osorio Chong announced the Soy México initiative, allowing U.S. born children living in Mexico to verify their U.S. birth electronically (48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia participate) and then register with the Civil Registry in Mexico and receive their Mexican birth certificate. The program nearly eliminates the need for the costly apostille, mak-ing the dual citizenship process much more efficient and cost-effective.”

“Over the past year, U.S. Mission Mexico has conducted extensive outreach to migrant communities in Mexico to encourage families to document their U.S. born children with U.S. passports. American Citizens Services staff from all our consulates traveled directly to these communities and conducted town halls and passport acceptance fairs in order to reach our most vulnerable populations.”

“In addition to direct outreach with the public, we also partnered with state-level government offices to offer “Train the Trainer” events. Through these events, consular officials provide guidance about passport applications and other consular services to state and municipal migrant assistance agencies. The agencies then use the training to help families complete passport applications and gather proper documentation for passport “fairs” that follow several weeks later.”

“Throughout this coming year, American Citizen Services will be traveling throughout our consular district to promote this important program and to document U.S. citizen children. Please let us know if you are familiar with a community that would benefit from these services. When we go on these outreach trips, we look forward to meeting the wardens that live and work in those areas. Please take a look at the outreach schedule below to see when we will be visiting a locale near you. We will likely be reaching out to you when we are in your city.”

Below is a video in Spanish about how to obtain a passport for children born in the USA.

2. Expo Consular/Consular Road Show

The consular office in Hermosillo is planning a coffee and meeting with citizens here in Mazatlán in March. As soon as the date and details are finalized, we will let you know. Below is from the newsletter.

“It’s our Consular road show! We provide wide ranging outreach and information to Consular clients in conjunction with local partners, to create a one-stop shop for accurate consular information. Our Expo Consular team includes officers and local staff from the non-immigrant and immigrant visas, Ameri-can Citizens Services, Social Security, and Customs and Border Protection offices along with Mexican government officials from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Civil Registry, EducationUSA, Mexican Im-migration, Sonora Secretary of Education and Culture, and the national employment service.”

3. Dispelling myths about obtaining a US American visa

Finally, I think it’s important that non-US citizens know that the visa process is fairly straightforward and they don’t need to hire “coyotes” or outside help to apply for a visa. The staff in the consular agency are bilingual. Below is a video the government has put together to dispel some myths.

Reflections on Schooling in Mexico—Straight From the Source

One of the most common inquiries we get from readers has to do with how our son adjusted to the transition to Mexico. We’ve written about it before:

However, this time you can hear the story from the child’s perspective. Our son just returned home for winter break from his first semester at college in the States. He brought with him some sample homework assignments to share with us. One of them answers the question so often asked of us quite well. It is pasted below. He moved here with us after sixth grade, so he entered middle school/secundaria in Mazatlán and went on to complete high school/prepa as well.

Just before moving to Mazatlan.

Just before moving to Mazatlan.

White, middle-class, and worriless: these are three adjectives that adequately describe my childhood. I grew up in a suburb outside of Kansas City, Missouri where I attended grade school. My neighborhood was quite homogenous; our only real source of diversity came from a third-generation Mexican family and another Jewish family that lived a few streets down. However, as a young child I never took notice of this.It wasn’t until the events that closely followed my sixth grade graduation that I realized how uniform my place of living had been.

The day was young as I left school on my bike. The shade of oak trees provided me with a sense of relief after spending a hot, sunny afternoon in gym class. Despite the coolness under trees, I worked up a sweat by the time I arrived home. My helmet latch made a snapping noise as I hung it on the handlebars and made my way through the garage. I walked in and commenced my homework.

Shortly after, the parental squad came in and communicated that they had something to tell me. “Danny, we’re moving to Mexico this summer.” What? Mexico? Had my parents gone insane? I liked my life here, it was comfortable and easy! All I wanted to do was attend the local high school and act like the kids on MTV. I didn’t speak Spanish; everything on CNN was about how much drug violence there was in Mexico. My parents had lost it. My protests that day and throughout the following weeks fell on deaf ears. They were about to ruin my life, and I could do nothing about it.

I remember my sixth grade graduation fondly. I used to be just some other kid, but now I was, “the guy moving to Mexico.” My friends worshiped me, similar to the way that most sixth graders are amazed by high school students. As I got up on stage to receive some pointless award that my mother had pushed me to strive for, I remember the deafening applause and cheers that fell upon me. Even though I didn’t consider most of them as close friends, the moment felt good. It made me forget my melodramatic reaction to moving.

Flash forward to first day of school in Mexico. Everyone was brown. People stared at me. My uniform pants were too baggy and my shirt too tight. It was so hot here. Nervous shakes, sweaty palms, no eye-contact. I found a desk in what would be my homeroom for the next year and managed to avoid talking to anyone. An older man walked into the room and jabbered for a few minutes. Something that sounded like a slurred Latin spilled out of his mouth. This liquid dialect poured into everyone’s ears and was understood by their brains. It wasn’t by mine. I tried writing down the sounds I heard in a notebook so that later Google might be able to help me translate something (a mostly futile attempt).

My first few days at that school were filled with terrifying moments. Whenever someone asked me a question, my voice would crack. Every time a teacher had me introduce myself in a god-awful icebreaker, I would feel vertigo as I stood up from my desk. I didn’t eat lunch for the first few weeks because I was scared. The idea of asking for what I wanted off of a menu I didn’t understand with a line of hungry, unforgiving teenagers waiting behind me was too traumatic. I tried hard to avoid any awkward situation or any circumstance within which I could be made to look a fool. As a consequence, I learned the cues of Mexican culture and the Spanish language much more slowly than I would have had I not been so self-conscious.

An incidental character in my transition to Mexican culture was another American student whose name was Misty. She was going through the same culture shock as me, so you’d think we’d become great friends, yet we didn’t get along. I heard once that things you especially don’t like about other people were the things you don’t like about yourself. Who knows if that is true, but it was definitely the case with Misty and me. Misty was just as lost and confused as I was, just as emotional, but she handled it very differently. She expressed her emotion, frequently running crying to the bathroom when she didn’t understand something. She only spoke English when people asked her questions.

What I admired about her was that she seemed unafraid to try new things. She did everything that I wanted to do but couldn’t because of my ridiculous self-consciousness. I instantly hated her for it. Over the years, Misty and I became friends. We now joke about how much we despised each other. She hated me because I seemed to be doing better than her. I hated her because she felt a freedom I didn’t permit myself. Our relationship was based on envy and it was poisoned because of it.

I’ve learned a lot since then, though. I don’t try to fit in and be cool anymore. Because of this, I am usually happier and make better friends. In the U.S. I had always tried to fit in and had succeeded at doing so. In Mexico, being like everyone else, as a foreigner, was impossible for me. I think that has been my greatest lesson from living in Mexico. Of course, Spanish will look great on my resume, and I’m sure growing up in cultural diversity and as a minority will permit me a different perspective on some subjects. However, overcoming adversity in Mexico was the greatest lesson for me. I learned how to stop giving too much importance to what others thought of me. Sticking out doesn’t make you an outcast. That is what Mexico taught me. That is what being a minority taught me.

Six years later!

Six years later!

We hope this helps. Our son is wiser, stronger, and more resilient for having lived here. Good luck in your adventure!

Life is a Parade! (¡Especially on the Malecón!)

birdsmalecon

Since we’ve moved here, I find myself frequently telling people, “Oh, it’s another parade,” as I rush out to the terrace to enjoy the festivities.

In the spring, during the festival season in the city’s schools, we can get three or four parades pass by in a day. You might think that after five years of living here, the enthusiasm diminishes, but who can NOT smile when you see colorful balloons, hear oompah bands, and usually get to see young people with smiling faces, crowns and sashes? Everyone shouts and hoots, beeps their horns, waves a flag or banner, and there is always a police escort with lights flashing and siren blaring.

No, the malecón is not the place you live for peace and quiet. It’s a pulsating artery of the city, and we enjoy that completely. Several times a week we also have terrific fireworks to watch, and there is always a rush in the house to discover whether the fireworks are out front over the bay, or out back over the stadium at the city. Ah, life’s challenges.

I took a bit of video of today’s parade. I think it’ll bring a smile to your face…. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do! Simple but sweet. Video is below.

For those of you who wanted to view the video but couldn’t, because I’d used a clip from a song, I’ve now deleted that clip and the revised video is above. You should be able to see it no problem now.

Taking the SAT in Mazatlán, Plus College Planning

cbLogo-globalMany of you follow this blog because of the school information we have posted over the years. Posts on how to choose a school, how to know how schools rank, or how to navigate the day-to-day challenges of schools here in Mazatlán have tended to be our most popular.

Our son is a junior this year, and thus he’s thinking about and planning for university. Here in Mexico college planning seems to start a lot later than it does in the USA where we’re originally from. Next year, as a senior, Danny will accompany one of his teachers to five or so universities in Guadalajara. Some friends in his “generation,” as they call it here, have toured a few universities already this year, but that seems pretty rare. Mostly such tours occur senior year (if ever).

Danny may go to university here, or anywhere else on the planet—he’s considering lots of options—and he’s looking at universities in the US as well. Most US-bound foreign and domestic students need to take the SAT, a standardized college entrance exam, as part of the entrance application process. Most of those students based in the USA are also fortunate enough to be able to participate in study sessions to prepare for the test. Here we have a double whammy: Mexican schools of course do not teach for the SAT, and live prep courses are few and far between, especially here on the coast.

We were disappointingly told by several high school directors here in town that Danny would need to travel to Tucson or Phoenix, Guadalajara or Mexico City, to take the SAT. We found this incredibly hard to believe, when there are so many international students here in Mazatlán, as well as so many talented local students with international ambitions.

prepaI am very happy to report that, after much searching and legwork, we found that Instituto Anglo Moderno right here in Mazatlán is a certified SAT testing center! Claudia Ortuso there helped us out. She speaks wonderful English and was very kind. She tells us that normally there are two SAT test dates per year at Anglo: one in the fall and another in the spring (it was today, Saturday May 4th).

Normally they also hold a prep course in the spring, though this year they did not. I suppose that is because no Anglo students were taking the test. They were four exam takers today: two from ICO, one who came from Los Mochis, and a fourth who flew with her mother from Los Cabos. There is most obviously a demand for testing sites here in Northwestern Mexico!

So, how to register, if you have a child who wants to keep his or her options open for university in the USA? First, go to the College Board site. There you can check test sites and schedules, and register for tests. Instituto Anglo Moderno is test center #69213. While on the College Board site, you can also create an account and set up an Organizer that your student will use to study and practice for the test, sign up for daily emails to help them gain familiarity with test question types, and monthly emails reminding parents how we can best support and guide our kids through college planning. To me it was a godsend, and it was all (minus the test itself) free.

I would highly recommend that your son or daughter spend a few months actively preparing for the SAT. Engaging the online curriculum, and getting a practice SAT booklet from Claudia, will help. Danny also signed up for a few mock tests online via Kaplan. He didn’t pay for any of their courses, but he did find the mock tests with the scoring very helpful to guide his studying. There seem to be loads of online study courses accessible to those of us here.

The other thing I really recommend is getting a couple of good college prep books while you are in a major city with English language bookstores; Kindle versions just don’t work like dog-earring pages of a paper book. Danny’s currently enjoying one called The Best Colleges by the Princeton Review, and there was another one called the College Board Book of Majors which helped him immensely. The majors and options up north are just so much more extensive than most of the kids here are exposed to.

We aren’t there yet. The college selection and application process is only just beginning for us. We thank Anglo Moderno for helping us with this first hurdle!!!