Marrying for Citizenship

ILLUSTRATION BY CHAD MITCHELL

 

Sarah is a tall drink of firewater. She is currently 28 years old and handles business from her home in Mexico. The following is derived from a recorded interview and the names have been changed.

I was in the peak of my post-college partying days and living in Los Angeles.

My best friend, Danielle, has a brother who is a rapper. He befriended these German guys that were DJ’s and involved with the LA hip-hop community: Ronski, Stephen and Justin.

Danielle and I began partying with these German guys pretty often; they were really cool and fun to hang with. We all became friends and Danielle started hooking-up with Stephen.

I thought Ronski liked me but wasn’t sure, or rather, he never made a move. He was one of those guys who you could tell was crushing on you, but never did anything about it, which is not my type of guy.

Anyway, Ronski and I became good friends. I was 24, growing tired of partying and thinking, what am I going to do with my life? I need to have an idea.

Ronski and I started talking about going into business together. He wanted to immigrate to the US. He was in love with Los Angeles, Chicano culture, Mexican people and the hip-hop scene in LA. The guy kinda’ thought he was a Cholo, even though he was German.

He wanted to export classic lowrider cars to Germany. We had a buyer set up but the German government is insane. They have tons of trade laws and require lots of paper work to import goods. It’s socialist I guess. We couldn’t get past a couple of regulations, so we scrapped that plan.

Next, Ronski wanted to make t-shirts with LA hip-hop style graphics. He did design work and knew Photoshop. We planned to manufacture them in LA where it was cheap and sell them in Germany. We were working out the details but he needed to immigrate to the US.

He went back to Germany for six months and saved money.  Then he returned to LA and was staying with me. One night we had this awkward moment.

I had decided, I guess I’ll have sex with this guy and see if I like him, you know?

We started making out but he couldn’t get his dick hard. He was really nervous or something. I was like, oh my god, this guy fucking sucks dude.

I felt bad. It was really awkward. I tried to be nice and said, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

But in my head I thought, I’m never going to try and have sex with you again, if you can’t get it up the first time, I don’t want to go out with you.

I thought, alright, I’m not going to date him, we’ll just be friends.
But I think he still liked me after that.

Then he asked me to marry him so he could get his immigration papers.

Honestly, I don’t even remember the conversation.

I thought about it for a week. I did some research and it seemed pretty simple. A lot of people in LA marry for citizenship.

You go to the courthouse, pay some money and they marry you right there. The hard part is all the paper work. You have to submit an application for citizenship to the government and an application for a work permit.

I agreed to do it. I wanted to help him out.

The morning of our wedding, I had to pick Ronski up from his friend’s house in East LA where he was staying. I was extremely fucking hungover.

I woke up at 7am because we had to be there by 8am. I was still drunk and thought, oh shit, I gotta go get married! I can’t miss this, dude!

The previous night was my friend’s Grad School graduation party. Her crazy baller mom came from Hawaii and threw this crazy baller party with a limo. I got wasted.

I tried to appear presentable for my wedding day, but instead just looked fucked up and drunk. I put on skinny jeans and this insanely loud, black and white, checkered, satin shirt. Then I drove to East LA swerving all over the road.

Leaving his house I almost hit a car and killed us. He couldn’t drive because he was German. I said, “Sorry, I’m drunk, but it’s okay, let’s go get married.”

When we arrived they told us a witness was required, which we hadn’t realized.

So we were like, shit, we need to get one of these dudes in the waiting room to be our witness.

It was 8am in this horrible government building with awful fluorescent lights and sketchy people waiting for their appointments. Couples who get married downtown at the courthouse are usually really poor or just fucked up like myself.

I went into the waiting room and said, “Hey, waiting room! I need a witness for my marriage. Will somebody do it?”

A Mexican guy with a mullet stepped forward. His name was Adolf. So I’m marrying a German and the Mexican who volunteers to be our witness, is named Adolf. I’ll never forget that.

We went back into the room to get married. It was a stale cubicle of death with no windows.  The floor and walls were covered with generic gray office carpeting and there was a misplaced, white archway covered in plastic flowers.

I stood in front of the government priest pretending that I loved Ronski. I was so hungover my face was trembling. I had to concentrate on staying composed so he wouldn’t know we were bogus. I remember thinking, holy shit, I am marrying someone.

The priest did the whole “Do you take this woman? Do you take this man?” thing. It was a really short ceremony.

We had bought these shitty rings in the downtown LA jewelry district for like $10. They were brass with plastic diamonds. We put them on and then I went in for the kiss. It was awkward. The priest stood there staring at us and Adolf snapped a photo.

It was the worst picture ever taken. In the space between our necks, in a perfect circle, was the priest’s face. The kiss looked reluctant.

Adolf took some more pictures because the government might come to our home and do an interview a few months later.

Everyone said we needed to have a photo album and stuff around our house that showed the history of our relationship, pictures from when we were dating and the wedding. So we had been bringing a camera everywhere we went and taking romantic photos.

A hundred dollars later they gave us our license and we were officially married. It was just a piece of paper, no big deal. We went home and continued on with our lives.

A few days later, we went to a sketchy immigration lawyer’s office by McArthur Park. He checked our documents and told us what forms Ronski needed to fill out to get a work permit. He was just living off his savings and needed a job.

We wanted to run a business from home, but I was living in a shitty little apartment. Ronski suggested we rent a nice house. Then we could receive perspective clients in a professional place. So we rented this sweet house in Glassel Park, a really nice but expensive place.

I said, “Look dude, I’m poor. I can’t afford this, I can only pay $600 a month.”

Ronski said, “That’s ok, I’ll pay the rest.”

“Do you have enough money to rent this place?”

“Yeah, yeah I have savings.”

He had nice stuff so it seemed like he had the cash to do this immigration thing. It’s expensive. You have to pay the government about $2,000 to process your paper work and hire an immigration lawyer. Plus you need savings to live off of until your work permit comes through, unless you work illegally, which is what most immigrants do. The difference is they’re usually Mexican or El Salvadorian and work super hard and do whatever it takes to survive. This is USA, you gotta’ hit the streets man, you have to wash dishes at a shitty Chinese restaurant.

I’d never been to Europe but I started to realize that Ronski’s personality had an elitist European thing going on.

I don’t know how easy he thought living in America would be, but it was like, dude you’re just another immigrant. I don’t know what you’re expecting from this country but people aren’t going to lay out the red carpet and throw job offers at you.

I had assumed he understood this. But then I started thinking, this guy doesn’t really know about America. He’s in love with Chicano hip-hop culture, but does he realize how hard it is to survive?

This had never occurred to me. Moving to a new country is a rough learning experience. Luckily, I was there to help him, but I didn’t anticipate that he wouldn’t listen to me.

It turned into a situation where he just sat in our nice house and looked for jobs online. At first, of course, he wanted to go for the better jobs but after so much time goes by, maybe you’re going to have to scrape some dishes.

A month passed, and then another. I asked, “How’s the job hunt going?”

He had an interview but he didn’t like the job.

I thought, well he has money so he can afford to be picky.

I should have asked, “Hey, exactly how much money do you have?”

Things became a little awkward between us. We weren’t in a romantic relationship but we started to bicker like an old couple. I’d come home and say, “You’re just sitting around all day while I’ve been working?”

At the same time he had housewife syndrome, he’d get cabin fever from doing nothing all day. He was trying to save money so he didn’t go out or party.

I had warned him, when he was still in Germany. The recession was starting and I said, “Dude, the economy is not good here. It’s really bad, I’m not sure you want to come right now.”

He had said, “No. It’s now or never.”

Then I started dating a guy, who became my boyfriend.

I knew Ronski had liked me before the marriage, but I thought it was clear after our weird sexual incident was followed by no further intimate interaction, that I wasn’t interested.

A couple of times after our hookup, he tried to hold my hand while walking down the street. I would quickly pull away. This was before we were married. I thought he took the hint because a month went by and there was no kissing and no talk about it. I thought, he understands and it’s clear, so we don’t need to talk about it.

There I went assuming things again.

After I started dating this other guy it became really weird between us. I realized, Oh, Ronski still likes me and he’s really burned that I’m dating someone else.

He started acting catty towards me. I acted the same towards him thinking, Ah, you’re just this presumptuous arrogant asshole who thought you could come to America and it’d be easy for you because you’re German.

I’d say mean shit like, “What you think you’re better than all these Mexicans who are trying to work here? You better hit the streets and get a job dude. This isn’t socialist Germany, no one’s going to take care of you. You’re alone.”

I started to get really intense with him and became prejudiced towards Germans and European people in general.

Then one day, I came home and he said, “Sarah, I have no more money. I’m leaving the country in two weeks and I’m never coming back. I can’t pay the rent for next month.”

This was 3 months after we’d married.

I was 24, a waitress and the recession had hit hard. People in Hollywood still had money, but my customers worked at Citibank. My tips dropped big time and they started cutting my hours. I was broke.

I freaked out. I had signed a lease for this expensive house. The landlady was no slumlord; she wasn’t going to let me get away with breaking the lease.

I said, “You have no money for rent?”

He said, “No.”

I said, “What the fuck dude? Why don’t you sell your computer?”

He had a really nice laptop. I went all ghetto on him. I was like, “Fuck this shit, you’re selling your computer and giving me the money! I married you to try and help you immigrate!”

He said, “Thanks for everything but I’m leaving in two weeks.”

I said, “Well, we have to get a divorce! And the divorce costs money and I think you have to be here. I don’t know if I can do it after you’re gone!”

I was right, we didn’t have time to get divorced and it would have cost $300 dollars to submit the paperwork.

I started yelling and threatening him, “If you don’t get me the money, I’m gonna’ fuck you up.”

He said, “I’m not selling my computer. I need it to live and to work.”

I was pissed. He knew that he’d fucked me over and didn’t have much to say.

I said, “See, you totally failed and don’t have what it takes to make it in the USA! Go back to Germany and live off your government you lazy piece of shit. I, on the other hand, will survive because I am an American hustler! And I know how to make it in this world!”

During his last two weeks things calmed down and we got back on speaking terms. He left and we were still married.

I had two weeks to come up with an extra $1,000 dollars for rent.

So that’s my marriage story.

 

HOW DID YOU PAY THAT MONTH’S RENT?

Danielle, my best friend, was a big time drug dealer. She sold ecstasy, weed and pills. I called and said, “Danielle, I have two weeks to make a $1000, can you front me a bunch of drugs to sell?”

She said, “Okay!”

I decided to deal weed and ecstasy. There was a huge rave called “Monster Massive” in LA the following weekend. I was scared. Selling ecstasy in LA is a felony; it’s not like dealing weed. If the police busted me I would have gone straight to jail.

I went to Monster Massive, hid a condom filled with 40 pills of ecstasy in my vagina and walked around selling them.

After the rave, I started slanging to my coworkers. I drove all over LA like a maniac, dealing drugs.

Rent day came and I had just enough money. After the check went through there was $3 left in my account.

DID YOU DIVORCE HIM IMMEDIATELY?

I procrastinated on filing for divorce. It cost like $350. I didn’t have the money and kept putting it off. Also, I couldn’t confront the situation. I wanted to pretend like I wasn’t married to a random German dude in Europe. Sometimes I’d think about it and freak out, what if I meet a guy? Will I tell him I’m married to some German?

DID IT COMPLICATE ANY RELATIONSHIPS?

Later, I had a serious boyfriend named Manuel. When the recession became really bad, he lost his job. He was an illegal immigrant and couldn’t find work. I was like, “Dude, just go back to Mexico. Don’t stay here for me.” Then we started talking about getting married so that he could stay and gain citizenship too!

I couldn’t tell him, “Sorry, I’m already married to this German.”

He kept asking, “Why don’t we get married?”

I’d say, “Uh, well, I dunno…”

WHEN DID YOU FINALLY GET DIVORCED?

After about a year, I decided to get it done. I wanted to totally delete that chapter from my life.

It was way more complicated than getting married. I went to the courthouse and submitted a stack of forms. It turned out there was a six-month waiting period before approval, in case you worked things out with your spouse.

I had procrastinated so long, that by the time I filed for divorce and learned about the six-month waiting period, I’d already bought a ticket to move to Mexico in four months. When I moved I was still married.

Eventually, the divorce judgment was mailed to my old house. My roommate was still living there and expecting the envelope.

He called me and opened it. I said, “What does it say!? Is it all done?”

He was like “I don’t understand it!”

He read it to me and I didn’t understand it either. It was a bunch of crazy court jargon. I called one of the court’s offices in L.A. but nobody would answer my questions. Finally, I got a guy on the line and he said, “Actually, it didn’t go through because you’re missing a signature.”

I had forged all of Ronski’s signatures. I was worried that they had found out.

I mailed another form from Mexico and called back again. I got this really nice guy on the phone. I said, “Look dude, I don’t know what’s happening, I live in another country and I need to know if I’m divorced!”

He said, “It’s fine, it’s in the computer system. You’re divorced!”

I still don’t know if it ever went through or he just told me it did. I don’t think I even have the correct paperwork, which makes me worried that if one day I want to get married again, I might need it.

WHY DID YOU MARRY HIM?

He was my friend and I wanted to help him immigrate. Also, I wanted to start a business with him.  We had some pretty good ideas at the time.  You get prematurely excited about things in your early 20’s and tend to rush into them. Looking back, neither of those reasons seems even slightly logical.  Why did he need to live in the US if I was going to be his business partner?

I was a semi-alcoholic trying to become a legit person.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU’D MADE A BAD CHOICE?

A few months in when he was always at home, never looking for jobs on foot and not getting interviews. I realized he was spoiled and didn’t really understand what immigrating to a new country during a recession might entail. I thought, this dumbass is going to blow all his money and have to move back and I am going to get stuck with this expensive house he rented.

DOES YOUR FAMILY KNOW?

Nobody in my family knows about this. They would be so fucking mad. I’ve only told a couple of my friends.

 

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