Haresh Shah

Corazon de Melon, de Melon, de Melon….

passportbook_sketches_v2

Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles had more of a feeling of a traveling agency then that of a diplomatic mission. Of the posters on display there with enticing graphics of the country’s top tourist destinations, the one that I remember the most, said in the large type face: Mexico. So Close And Yet So Different.  On my second visit, I said to myself, they might as well add: And So Outrageously Difficult To Get Into. So close in fact, that you can get in your car, have a nice lunch in Tijuana and come back on the same day. Or if you lived in the border town of San Ysidro, south of San Diego, you can simply walk across the border, pick up some cheap Mexican grocery and medication, come back and go as often as you want.  And from the places farther away, like Chicago, you can hop the plane and on impulse take off for Puerto Vallarta for a weekend.

Not so simple if you were a holder of passport from one of the “third world” countries. Up until 1980, I traveled with my Indian passport. This meant,  I needed a visa to go anywhere beyond the defined borders and the time frame.  Several years earlier, when I took my first ever trip from Chicago to Buffalo, New York, George, the young account executive at the printing plant fixed me up with a friend of his girlfriend and we three went out on the town on a double date. During the course of the evening, I got to see yet another wonder of the world – the Niagara Falls. So breath-taking. ‘Its even better from the other side,’ they told me. But I wasn’t allowed to cross the border into Canada without a visa, so we remained where we were. While living in Chicago, I used to often joke about how some day I might even need a visa to go see Wisconsin Dells! You wouldn’t think getting one for Mexico would be all that difficult. Especially considering that I was a legal resident of the United States and the possessor of the mighty green card.  No importa. It was my Indian passport that had the consuls in Los Angeles and Chicago humiliate me before carrying out their bureaucratic function of issuing me a visa.

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