Mamdi came up with the idea last Christmas, at his sister’s house after they had turkey for breakfast. They were sitting around in his cousin’s 5 bedrooms 2 ½ baths Minnetonka house. The teevee on medium-high, their voices on high. Somewhere between breathless and eyes full of laughing tears from listening to his cousin recount his first year in America—stealing naps on a shelf at a Jewish-owned warehouse he worked at in New York—it hit Mamdi: Laughing about our pain is how we make sense of America! How else do you face winter when spring was not even in your vocabulary?
If he told his cousin, he would have either laughed at him—which wouldn’t be the first time Mamdi’s been laughed at for trying to make sense of his life in America—or doubt he would actually follow through with it. Because though Mamdi is full of ideas, especially in the spur of the moment inspirations, he is still a double engineering and history major, a youth counselor with illusions of working his way to the US Senate. I’m going to be the first naturalized citizen US President, he likes to say. But if you asked him how come he is not even a registered Democrat or God forbids Republican, he would tell you it doesn’t matter, all you need is a vision and a compelling story—when I’m ready I will have my 2004 Democratic convention keynote speaker moment. Dreamer is an optimistic word for crazy. Don’t tell him I said that.
On his drive home later that day, Mamdi couldn’t think himself out of it, as he often does. So when he got home, he decided to put it out into the universe: On Facebook his post read, “I’m starting a group for recovering Green Card seekers. Meet once a month to share stories.” On Twitter his tweet was shorter. On Instagram he posted a picture of a Resident Alien card with the caption, “What’s your road here…to being considered human?” Then he went to sleep.
The next morning, he stumbled to the bathroom first, the refrigerator where he grabbed a bottle of orange juice before ending up on the couch in front of CNN. When Don Lemon said we will be right back, he remembered his cellphone. On his way to fetching his cell phone, he remembered his posts.
On Facebook he got 7 likes, a “lol” with one like and a “<3”. On Twitter he got 5 favorites and a private message. His follow up posts included a date, time and place.
They met at the Coffee House, across from the immigration offices in Bloomington. Mamdi thought it was going to be only him and his boys, Jesus and Moise. He was cool with that. But just in case, he’d reserved a private meeting room—a sunny room with glass walls directly facing the “Bureau of Citizenship, and Immigration Services” signage across the street.
“You know you crazy, right?” “Well, I thought we might need some inspiration.” “My whole fucking life is an inspiration. Just now on my way here, I saw police lights in my rearview mirror and I nearly had a heart attack.”
An unknown face walks in and introduces himself as Abe.
“Hey!” Mamdi remembers the name from Twitter, “Welcome! This is Jesus. This is Moise.”
“Ten years! Ten years half of my friends didn’t even know my real name.”
“Please, you don’t even know how old you are. Who are you but what America says you are.”
“How long have you been here, Abe?”
“Five years. I just graduated college last year.”
“In that case welcome to the jungle. After college and that F1 visa protection, shit gets real quick!” “Got a job yet?”
“A degree and a job. That’s worth celebrating.”
The door opens and Eva walks in with a friend. Introductions.
“Good to have some female perspective in here.” “Ok, I don’t want to formalize or structure this in any way, but since this is our first meeting, some ground rules: this is a safe space. We will laugh at each other and ourselves when it’s ridiculous—as it often is, offer help when it’s needed, relate when appropriate. I ask you all to respect what you hear here and take it outside only when it serves the benefit of the owner.”
“Sounds very formal and structured to me”
“Like saying America is the land of milk and honey.”
“Like saying you are safe once you married an American citizen.”
“Like how about a question?” “Like that?” “Like what?” “Like the question you just asked.”
“What was or is your path to your green card? I’d go first. I majored in a subject I didn’t favor, worked at a job I didn’t like for 12 years because it took that long to turn my H2 visa into a green card. Then I went back to school.”
“And now you are twice as smart for it.”
“I became a member of an opposition party and killed all my family on paper.”
“Ah the convenient dictator and his boogeyman henchmen!
As a joke my brother put me as his wife on his visa lottery application. He won and we got married.”
“I got married too. To a man I didn’t love or even like. And now he has become violent, and doesn’t want to sign the 485 form.”
“You don’t need that. Call the cops, and send the fucker to jail. You can still apply and get your green card without him.
“It took me five years to join my family. Five years living in near hell while those people took their sweet time processing my application.”
“I got married too. Recently. To my best friend.”
“Yeah, he is a great guy. But neither of us is gay.”
“Oh shit, seriously?”
“As the song goes, I’d do anything for a green card…but I won’t do that.”