For more than a decade Juana Medina spent countless hours, money and tears trying to remain in the United States. The Colombian-born cartoonist's journey to acquire a green card was an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least, and the subject of her recent comic, "I Juana Live In America."
Medina, who left Bogotá, Colombia, in 2002 to reunite with her parents in Washington, D.C., drew upon her personal immigration woes for the comic. Her illustrations show everything from how one immigration lawyer ran off with her money to the emotional despair of having a visa application rejected after living in the country for nine years.
"[People] don’t realize it’s such a strenuous, long process," the 35-year-old told The Huffington Post. "So in telling this story, I tried to simplify it as much as possible... I wanted to stay away from necessarily telling all those [paperwork] steps that we get to be so familiar with when dealing with the immigration process and focus on the feelings and how long it takes and how many pieces to the puzzle there are."
And for Medina, who is openly gay, what was at stake during the process went beyond job opportunities and financial stability. Being able to live in the United States permanently meant living in a country where she was less afraid to be herself and love whomever she wants to love.
"As much as I miss being in Colombia and as homesick as I get, I cannot find the freedoms that I have here in my day-to-day life there," she said. "It’s just the simple things. The being able to rent an apartment without anybody rolling their eyes at you, being able to walk hand in hand with my partner... it’s having the possibility of thinking of having and raising a family. It’s the possibility of getting married."
But her immigration process came with some heartbreaking sacrifices. During her more than 10 years in immigration limbo, Medina said she wasn't able to leave the country, not even to visit her ailing grandparents.
"Throughout that time I lost my grandparents, who were essential in my upbringing, and I wasn’t able to go be with them for their last days or even their funerals because of waiting for this visa," Medina said. "And to me, that’s inhumane.... I mean I lost them, I’ll never see them again and I wasn’t able to be with them, and all because I wanted to remain here legally and make my life in a place that would offer me freedoms and qualities I couldn’t be granted in my home country. So I find that incredibly frustrating, if not heartbreaking, because I know I’m not the only one who has been in that situation."
But the award-winning cartoonist and children's book illustrator stopped short of condemning the immigration system, saying, "I’m not going to replicate the resounding 'the immigration system is broken.'" However, she did stress that the process is a lot more complicated than many immigration hard-liners make it out to be.
"I think people more than anything don’t know how the process works until they go through it," she said. "So I can’t really blame them for saying 'Oh, just go and stand in line and ask for the paperwork' and it’s not that way. For example, I’m still a resident and very eager to become a citizen, but I still have to wait two more years to apply. So it’s not like I can stand in a line at an office and decide whether I can get a visa or become a resident or become a citizen. I still have to comply to the process, it’s very long and it takes a lot of time, and it’s such a huge [financial] investment."
And Medina's story and comic is proof of just how complicated and tedious the immigration process can be for some, even for a person who considers herself "one of the lucky ones."
Take a look at her full story in the comic below.
Comic edited by Jen Sorensen.