By Antonio Rocha
Antonio recounts all the difficulties he faced to get a Visa to come to the United States from Brazil. Going the “legal” route is filled with red tape, bureaucratic inconsistencies and plenty of suspicion. That seemingly insurmountable document became his ticket to his current life as a professional storyteller in America.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-American-Visa-A-Saga-in-3-Acts
- Many stories resolve themselves in threes (morning – afternoon- evening). Some resolve in four (The four seasons, for example), yet others in twos (day and night). What hardships in your own life have unfolded in a three step set up? Any in four? How about two?
- Our perception can move life incidents into negative or positive outcomes. How has a bad experience been a positive step in your life’s journey or vice-versa?
- Have you experienced any form of racism that has brought you closer to who you are in a positive way? What sorts of prejudice do you have? How could you free yourself from them?
- Embassy of Brazil: http://washington.itamaraty.gov.br/en-us/
- US Immigration page: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis
- Antonio’s Tedx Talk, Transitions in Eloquence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pzwtxk23Es
- Crossing Cultures
- Education and Life Lessons
- Latino American/Latinos
- Living and Traveling Abroad
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name in Antonio Rocha, and here is the story about dreams coming true. Just imagine you want something so badly and you have it on your hand and somebody takes it away from you and you just like . . . You know, um, like the sea that longs to see the desert, or the desert that longs to have rain, or the turtle who wants to know how to fly? Something that you really don’t think you can achieve, and all of a sudden, hey, maybe I have a possibility here, you know?
I was on a bus going to an American consulate with a free ticket to the United States, a letter of invitation to come to this country in 1988, that’s twenty-two years ago, to learn mime—a dream I had. I had the grant, I had the ticket, I had the letter of invitation, I had the note from the director of the organization. Go to the American consulate, and they will give you a visa. Bring your valid passport. Four hours by bus overnight to the next town, not the next town, followed by bus several towns through. I get there, and the man looks at the letter of invitation, he looks at my proposal, my grant. I show him the government ticket. It was a ticket: I could fly coach, I could fly first class. I was sure to get the visa, and he said, “Well, we need a form. You are missing a form. We need an I-20.” And I said, “I-20? What is an ‘I-20’? “It’s a form when people go to study. You need an I-20 in order for us to give you a student visa.” I said, “but I’m going to a private studio. This man is a master mime; it’s not a college.” “Well, you need an I20.”
So, I leave. I take the four-hour bus back to where I live and I call the company, the organization in Washington, DC and ask for an I-20, and the man said, “I can’t give you an I-20. You are not going to college, it’s a private studio we can’t just give you an I-20 like that! I’m going to send him a telex and explain what this organization is all about; maybe he is not understanding what this organization is all about.” I’m like, okay, great. So the telex is there, just go and call them and make sure everything is okay. So I get that cue I call the American consulate: “Yes, we got the telex.” So I said, “Can I come down, take the bus, come down for the visa?” “We got the telex.” I get on the bus overnight: four hours to get there at 4’o clock in the morning, got to wait, drink coffee, get on a cab, wait in the waiting room, queue up. “Okay, Antonio?” ”Yeah, so you got the telex?” “Yes. We didn’t ask for a telex, we asked for an I-20.” I said, “But, I thought . . .” “We asked for an I20.”
And there I saw my dreams take off, away from me, not towards me. I had a free ticket, I had a letter of invitation, and they wouldn’t give me the visa. They are asking me for something I could not produce. I was shaking. I left, I didn’t make a scene, I go to a pay phone, I call collect from the streets in Brazil to Washington, DC. “They still insist on an I-20. I don’t know what to do and I am already late for the trip. I was supposed to be already in Maine and I am very sorry but I . . . .” I was crying; I was completely out of it. He kept asking, “What? Do you know English?” because I was speaking in English, I knew how to speak in English. He was like,
“Where did you learn English? You have never been to United States before? You never left Brazil before?” “No, I have never.” He kept going around these questions. I took the four-hour bus back. I go home, and one of my sisters looks at me and says, “You know why he is doing that to you, don’t you? Color.” I don’t know. I don’t want to say he was prejudiced, but he wouldn’t give me the visa.
So a doctor is coming down, through the same organization, he is coming down, and they call me up and they say “We are sending an I-20.” I’m like, how are they doing this? But any way, but the doctor gets there. There was a torrential rain, water gets into his briefcase, he gives me the I-20, it’s smudged with water. One of my sisters decides to go to the consulate with me because she was afraid I would just collapse if they denied me the visa. An American professor was there at the same time and said “I will go with you.” And he takes the 4-hour overnight bus with me, a theater professor from the University of Maine, Minor is his name and he takes the bus with me. I am walking and I am shaking. I have lost weight by now because this thing is not happening overnight. Okay? I am looking at the form and I don’t see a signature on it. I’m like,
“They didn’t sign this, this is not going to work,” and Minor said, “Don’t worry about that, let’s walk in there.”
I walk in there, wait, everything all over again. I am praying and I am doing everything I can to funnel the energy to the right direction. They take my stuff in, they come back and what the man says exactly is, “This is not valid, there is no signature.” I am like, “They didn’t sign the I-20. Minor, they didn’t sign the I-20!” Minor was taking a nap- 4 hour overnight on a bus, so he is like snoozing. “Minor, there is no signature.” Minor stands up and takes a pen out of his pocket and signs the thing in front of the consulate secretary. The consulate secretary goes, “You have the power to do this?” and he rushes in and Minor says, “Yes, I do, I am here representing the organization.” They rush inside, “Well, the Consulate would like to have a word with you, Sir” they tell Minor. I stay outside with my sister. Minor is gone for a minute, two minutes, three minutes. I am shaking and I can even feel it now telling you the story. I am like, what is going to happen? He has signed a thing he has no power signing.
Ten minutes…the door opens, Minor comes out! I look at him like, “Huh? Did you get it!?!” He grabs my elbow, he is like, “Let’s leave right now.” My sister gets up, we start walking across the lawn towards the gate, and he hands me the passport and says, “Welcome to the United States.” I open it, and there is my visa, there is my visa!
“How did you do this?” He said, “Well, I told him what the organization was all about, I told him that such and such a politician would be very thankful for his help in assuring that people can go across borders in this organization without any issues and I told him that I would make sure that you would come back in three months.” Ha, ha, ha! It’s been 22 years! The I-20 he insisted on having, it was from a university that I actually enrolled myself in with a four-year scholarship. That was just the beginning. I have been in here in United States for 22 years telling stories. Thank you.