In this week’s episode of BA Cast, you can listen to an awesome skit using Indiana Jones to play on the bureaucracy in Argentina (and Latin America in general). You’ll also hear a comparison of education from both the mothers of Dan and Fernando, who ironically are both named Martha and are both teachers. This month the show is focusing on education, and it’s a nice comparison of the systems we are familiar with. Then, we’ll hear about the Laws of Asado. Also, you’ll hear a short interview with me about the struggles of getting my DNI. Luckily it has a happy ending.
After almost three years since I began the process to get my dual citizenship in Argentina, 25 trips down to the Registro Civil to beg and fight with the bureaucrats, and countless other hours spent agonizing over this ordeal, my Argentinian DNI has arrived to me in Washington DC via my old apartment in Buenos Aires and my parent’s home in Sharon, MA. It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s actually here, and now looking at the awful picture that was taken on the fly the day that I was initially approved for it, I wonder how much has changed since then. I often thought about what it would be like when the ID finally was in my hands, and now that it’s here, apart from a broad smile on my face, I’m not jumping in the air or rushing out to celebrate. It’s over, and now it’s time to move on.
I probably took a couple years off of my life with the stress of trying to get that citizenship approved (available to me through my mother, who was born there), but in the upshot learned a wealth of knowledge about the political and governmental system of Argentina. In fact, I probably know more than some Argentinians too. I couldn’t have possibly gotten this document without the help of my parents, friends and colleagues down in Buenos Aires, who on numerous occasions accompanied me to the Registro Civil or called up and spoke on my behalf. Matías, Leo, Vero, Pablo, Ana and everyone else who’s asked me about it or shown concern, I thank you.
If you followed along with the blog throughout the years, you’ll know that I was approved, then rejected because of a stamp in the “wrong” place, and then re-approved, though I left the country before the document made it to my mailbox. In fact, I’d already moved apartments twice before leaving the country and needed to rely on my old neighbor, Ana, to stay abreast of the situation. As always, it’s these little things that made the whole experience worthwhile.
So now that I’ve gotten my papers and can look back after living two years as “undocumented” and having paid for reciprocity fees all over the continent, what’s next? There’s always the passport. First, I think I’ll catch my breath for a few minutes before jumping up to that hurdle.
Just two days left in Argentina now. Wow. On Friday night we celebrated with my going away party in San Telmo, and though I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone I wanted to see, we had a good time with those who came out and it was a fun evening. Though my friend Amy was delayed two days because of the ash cloud, she arrived yesterday morning and so far we’ve had a lot of fun. It was tough to get a start at first because we were both really tired from the previous nights, but we made our way to the Ecuadorian restaurant in Once, where she was able to relive some of the food she enjoyed back in Quito.
Yesterday was July 9th, the Independence Day for Argentina, and a traditional meal to eat is locro. I’ve had locro before, and though it’s more common to find in the northwestern provinces, my friend Pablo made a batch at his apartment where Amy is staying. It was a quiet and laid back night, which was perfect for me since I was too tired to really do much anyway. I was hoping to take Amy to a bar I used to like going to called El Living, but a dry law went into effect at midnight because of the Buenos Aires mayoral elections taking place today. I would have had to vote, but since my DNI never arrived on time, I’m spared from having to choose the lesser to two evils.
Today is a day of running around like crazy, with a lunch planned with a friend, coffee time with my old neighbor, and then an asado at night. And then tomorrow is finalizing the packing, trying to exchange pesos for dollars, and heading home. That is of course if the ash cloud doesn’t show up.
This week is a short one with Thursday and Friday as national holidays. On Thursday Argentina will celebrate a remembrance day for the military dictatorship of the 80s and Friday is a bridge to promote tourism. I’m taking the advantage of the early fall long weekend to go to Chile. While I thought that I’d originally just be going back to Santiago or even to the Colchagua Valley, my friend Nicole surprised me by saying that she had found an incredibly cheap flight to La Serena, a small city in the Coquimbo region about 450 kilometers north of Santiago.
The U$30 flight was too good to be true, and since a beach house awaits, on Friday we’ll be driving up to La Serena and on Sunday morning I’ll fly back to Santiago and then back to Buenos Aires. This will be a new place for me to visit in Chile, so I don’t mind, especially since it’s still summer-like weather there. Though the water is always cold in Chile, we’ll be able to go to the beach and just relax, which is what I need. Desperately. I still have another month to go until my long vacation, so this long weekend needs to hold me over until then.
The only problem that’s surfacing is transit in Argentina. We got lucky with the proposed transit strike canceled for today, but just as we dodged one bullet, another flew at us. All of a sudden today the control towers at the airports in Buenos Aires lost contact, and every flight From Ezeiza International Airport, Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport and San Fernando Airport has been suspended. Estimates initially said they could be up and running again by 9 pm, or suspended for another 48 hours. All I can hope is that this mess gets cleared up before Thursday.
Until then, this week finds me busy as usual, occupying part of my time with my DNI again. Today I went back to the Registro de las Personas to pick up my birth certificate, and tomorrow I’ll have to take it back to the Registro Civil so they can mail it all back to the Registro de las Personas. The woman in the office today was kind but didn’t give me much confidence as she said they’ll probably wind up rejecting it again without a signature on the bottom. I’m going to need a lot of luck this week.
On Tuesday I went down to the Registro de las Personas to file a complaint about my DNI. It was supposedly denied because my mom’s maiden name wasn’t on the birth certificate, which is obviously a load of crap, so I went down, showed the lady behind the counter the surname, and she had me fill out a complaint, make photocopies, and told me to call back today, Friday. I nervously waited all morning for someone at the office to help me call. It’s not that I can’t handle a phone call, but when dealing with bureaucrats, it’s best to have someone who has full command of the language just in case.
My friend Leo took the phone out of my hand once I called the Registro and he explained the situation. After a couple of minutes she agreed that she saw the mistake and told us to call back in a half hour so they could figure out what to do. Once we called back at 1 pm, they told us to go down to the Registro Civil and get the rest of my paperwork back. Because the Registro Civil had originally only given me my birth certificate (and a couple of other things) the Registro de las Personas couldn’t just give me the DNI. They actually had a point. Once I had those papers back, I would have to take them to the Registro de las Personas so they could process the DNI (or reject it again, in theory).
Accompanied by Leo and Vero, we walked over to the same old Registro Civil on Calle Uruguay, which luckily is within walking distance of the office. If I worked on the other side of the city I would have been much more screwed long ago. Not even bothering with a line since I’m such a frequent visitor, I went straight up to the window where the guy I talked to last time was. He already remembered me, but this time I had back up, a powerful weapon for a foreigner. This was my 15th time at the Registro Civil. One more visit and I get kicked in the balls for free.
Now we had to explain to them what I needed, but not before we overheard the conversations of other people in line who had been waiting over a year and a half for their DNI, etc. At one point an employee picked up a form to process and the guy who was handling my file said, “Oh that woman’s crazy. Stack her back in the archives!” And the guy did it. That’s someone’s life, someone’s only identity that is just being tossed around, simply because the person behind the counter doesn’t like someone. And she’ll probably continue to wait for her papers for another two years as a result.
Explaining my case was again a process, and in the end they wouldn’t give me my remaining paperwork back. Despite the fact that I had copies of the missing papers and birth certificate, my “in process” papers, photos, a stamped slip from the Registro de las Personas, and they of course know my face and story by now, they said they needed a written note from the other agency giving permission for me to take back the paperwork. They just wouldn’t give it to me. Once I had that signed permission slip, I had to take the paperwork back to the Registro Civil SO THEY COULD MAIL IT TO THE REGISTRO DE LAS PERSONAS. Um, hello? COO-COO!
Rather than just giving me the paperwork, they created two extra steps for no reason. Now I need to go on Monday to the Registro de las Personas to get back my birth certificate, bring it to the Registro Civil, and wait for them to mail it all back to the Registro de las Personas. I swear to you, there is absolutely no thought process into why things are done in these government agencies. Things get slightly complicated in that a monumental strike is being threatened for Monday because a union president is being indited for money laundering in Switzerland. For whatever reason (in reality there is no reason) every mode of transportation has agreed to strike on his behalf here in Buenos Aires. This is going to absolutely cripple the city and make the commute to work hell if not impossible.
I’m flying to Chile on Thursday, so I just hope that these strikes are over with before then. Anyway, I still have miles to go before this Godforsaken DNI business is finished.
Bureaucracy. If you think you know or understand it but haven’t lived outside of the U.S., you really don’t get it. Though I haven’t had to write about my DNI situation for a while, today it came raging back in classic form: S.N.A.F.U. To catch you up to speed if you haven’t been reading since the beginning, I’m entitled to dual citizenship in Argentina because my mom was born here. The process to get my citizenship approved and get my DNI national ID has been an extreme headache, with today being the 14th time I’ve had to go to the Registro Civil to get the forms cleared and approved. The long process has involved translations, amendments, new birth certificates and of course, time and money.
The last time I had heard anything was in June, almost nine months ago when I was finally approved, able to pay $35 pesos for the DNI, and told to wait 6 months to a year to receive it. I called a few times during this period to check in, but they always said they had no updates. Yet some Colombian friends who received their DNIs, albeit foreign DNIs, in almost no time, pissed me off enough to head down to the Registro Civil today at lunch and ask some questions.
Walking in I spoke to the woman I recognized as the chief, and she said she remembered my face and case as well, directing me to a window. The man behind the counter looked up my information and said something about a notice arriving back in September, which I’d never been informed of, obviously. He went to look and for a minute I was ecstatic, thinking that my ID was there waiting for me. Instead, he had bad news in the form of another road block to my success.
On my amended birth certificate, my mom’s original maiden name was changed by two letters when she moved to the United States, and this correction was shown to match up her birth certificate with mine. This was all accepted and approved nearly a year ago by the State of New York, the Consulate of Argentina in New York, and the Registro Civil in Argentina. A public translator stamped an approval, and everything was given the OK. Yet apparently once it was passed on to the Registro de las Personas, where the DNI was being processed, some pencil pusher decided that he wanted the clarification of the maiden name and taken surname at marriage to appear at the bottom of the document. So even though the original Argentine maiden name, American maiden name, and current last name were all present on the birth certificate, I was denied because they wanted it to appear at the bottom with some official’s signature and stamp. Total bureaucratic bullshit.
The guy in the office told me that I needed to go to the consulate and have someone official right the last name on the bottom and sign it, and though I asked him if there was no way he could just sign off on it, he said no. He did admit that he understood and could clearly see the correct name, but said he needed to get the signature. Once I had that he could fast track the DNI because it had already gone to through the process. It still amazes me that little things like this can happen on a macro level. Everyone is aware of how flawed the system is yet no one does anything to correct it, and everyone has their own tale.
In a year with mayoral and presidential elections, DNIs are getting churned out in record time, and here they are denying one because of a “technical” error, even though in my estimation no error was committed. At no point in time did anyone say that the name had to appear on the bottom, and I assume it comes down to the guy who overlooked it just not feeling like being cooperative that day. Or possibly he saw that I was from the United States and didn’t want to give me the DNI, so no matter what it was, something was going to be an excuse not to give it to me. It’s this bureaucratic nonsense that wears you out. You can ride your motorcycle on the sidewalk next to a cop and no one says anything, or throw trash on the ground even though a barrel is right next to you. Yet the minute you write something on an official form that isn’t a perfect 10 in the eyes of the person reading it, everything you’ve done is for naught. It’s entirely anti-progress, and simply put, it’s ass-backwards.
My friends at work tried to cheer me up but really didn’t have a ton of advice, and in the meantime I made an appointment at the U.S. Embassy for a notary on March 31st. However, their Web site clearly states that they don’t usually handle birth certificates, so it might just be a $50 waste of time. For now, it’s a huge setback and with time short here, I’m wondering if I’ll ever get the DNI.
Today, June 16th, 2010, I can finally say that I am an official Argentine citizen. It only took over a year and a half, 12 visits to the Registro Civil in Buenos Aires, countless dollars and pesos, and untold amounts of stress and accrued patience. It almost feels unreal to finally be sort of over with it. Today I went back to the Registro Civil at 1 pm, accompanied by my friend Pablo for back up support. We had to sit there for a while even though the building wasn’t too busy, and before we even got called I went past my hour lunch break. As we waited I pointed out to Pablo which of the employees were terrible and mean and a woman in front of us chimed in in agreement.
When called up I presented my documents proudly one by one, and for once the employees actually got the process started. They reached back for a few papers, scanned through my translated birth certificate, and starting typing things into a computer. I double checked to make sure everything was typed out correctly, though at first they spelled my name Janathan. As they filled things out they asked where I was from and I said New York. They called me a Yanqui, and even though I had that word and find it offensive, I just smiled to avoid complicating things. One woman said I better root for Argentina in the World Cup or she wouldn’t put through my papers (jokingly) so I showed her my blue and white scarf and she laughed. At least they were friendlier this time. Next came a few signatures here and a few there. I had my two photos ready but suddenly they said the size wasn’t right, so I had to run next door and dish out $16 pesos for six new ones. When I compared the new with the old, which were taken when I got here in August, I could see how much paler I am and how I’ve lost more weight. Stress of the process, perhaps?
For what Pablo explained was to keep my fingerprints on file, my tips were covered in ink and I placed them like snowflakes on the paper. Most importantly, they got their $35 for the fee, and I was given a little slip saying my DNI was in the process of being issued, essentially vouching for my citizenship. They told me it would be delivered to my apartment in six months to a year. I laughed and asked if they were serious. The little paper doesn’t even allow me to leave the country, though I assume if I had to I could use my American passport and show the paper to avoid a fine. Goodbye illegal alien status, hello dual citizen.
The biggest joke comes in the fact that I’m supposed to wait that long for it to show up, and the fact that it will be delivered to the wrong address by the time it gets there. Since I’m moving soon I told the doorman and he said he would hang on to it for me and call me when it arrives. It’s almost a let down that I have to wait so long for the actual DNI to arrive, but it’s over for now. This awful experience has nearly ended. And once I get the DNI months from now I can start in again with a passport.
So to review, how I got this citizenship, in a quick and to the point manner. My mom was born here, giving me birthright to citizenship. I realized this while living in Ecuador and on my behalf, my parents started the process with the Argentine Consulate in New York. They had my birth certificate translated, got a Hague Apostille (a form validating international paperwork), and made an amendment on my birth certificate when it was realized that my mom’s maiden name was changed upon moving to the U.S. Otherwise it would have prevented confirmation of her being my mom.
With my inscription papers from the New York consular office I went to Buenos Aires in August. The first two times I went to the Registro Civil, I went to the wrong place and no one bothered to tell me otherwise until I explained that I already had citizenship. Then I was told I was in the line for foreigners trying to get it in the first place. Suddenly they were very nice. Next I had to get a copy of my mom’s birth certificate, but her copy was old and hard to read, delaying the process. Twice more I went to get a new copy which only stays valid for six months. Each time I went a new piece of information was given, but never all of it.
A few times I had some help and other times I went alone until finally one of my bosses came with me and yelled at the staff when they wouldn’t help. Finally the boss explained exactly what I needed clearly. I had to get a new copy of my birth certificate with official seal and Apostille translated into Spanish here in Buenos Aires. (It didn’t matter that it was already done in the U.S.) I needed a new copy of my mom’s birth certificate because by this point six months had passed. I got a new version of my inscription from the consulate to be safe, as well as a certificate of housing from the police department. And today I needed to get last minute new photos.
I can’t forget all of the money put into this and the many people who helped, mainly my parents, a helpful and caring Consul General in New York, and my coworkers who showed care and support through the whole process. And now, finally, I am an Argentinian. So tomorrow I’m going to wake up early to go with my coworkers to watch the Argentina vs. South Korea soccer game at the Four Seasons, where we were invited. I’ll have my blue and white scarf for support. Afterward, I imagine we’ll slowly amble to the office, maybe get a coffee, watch a protest, complain about things, you know typical Argentinian stuff.
I’m like a cockroach at the Registro Civil. No matter how many times they toss me into the street, I keep coming back, seemingly more determined than before to get my DNI national ID card. If the workers there actually cared about anything, I’d have to imagine that they hate me by now. But maybe that would be a good thing, so they would be so sick of seeing me that they would just give me what I want to get rid of me. Tomorrow I’m going back to my old hangout, the Registro Civil, on Calle Uruguay. The appointment is at 1 pm and my friend Pablo said he would come with me as a back up in case they start to play tricks again.
But this time, unlike the others, I know for a FACT that I have everything I could possibly ever need to prove my Argentinian citizenship. Apart from the things listed from the supervisor at the Registro from my turn in May, I have signed and sealed documents from the Consulate General in New York, saying on my behalf that I’m a citizen and my birth has been registered in the consulate in New York. I have translated birth certificates, copies of copies, photographs, and of course the necessary $35 peso charge. The police department has vouched that I live here, and a Hague Apostille proves that my documents have international validity. In other words, if I get rejected tomorrow, I’ll never get the DNI.
Talking with my coworkers the last few days about what I’ve had to go through for this card and the bureaucratic process in this country, they all offered hopes for luck and the standard, “that’s Argentina for you” kind of response. It’s perhaps a time of unusual nationalistic pride here. Just recently we celebrated the bicentennial of the May Revolution and now the World Cup is uniting everyone in a quest to be the best in the world. Yet we still need to go through these moments where we ask ourselves why the government is so slow on things like national ID cards, or why government employees can be so rude. It goes back to a basic ideal that I grew up with, which is that the government works for the people and not vice versa. Sometimes that seems like the opposite here.
Last Friday before leaving the office we all talked about predictions for the World Cup games over the weekend. I took some heat for the United States when I said we would win 2-0 over England (really just flapping my gums for the sake of doing so). Then before walking out the door I said good luck for them and Argentina. One of my coworkers responded, “for you too.” It felt really nice that they would now consider me one of them. And if that’s not the case tomorrow afternoon, I’ll just have to go back for the 13th time in two weeks.