My Bolivian Passport Returns to Miami 25 Years Later
Boliviana Born. Americana Raised.
I’m on the floor. Not literally on the floor but I’m at the core of the insides of my soul. My twenty-six year old hands hold my tiny handprint and I’m seeing my Bolivian passport for the first time. I lay it besides my American passport and it’s a meeting of two worlds, a world that I am far from physically and yet whose blood runs wildly through my veins and oozes from my being. And another world of privilege and another life. I’m not here to say that my life now “is better” that what it could have been, but only that it is different.
When they say in kindergarten you are special, children believe it until there comes a time when they don’t. That time has never come for me, and I know it never will. I’ve always felt a constant spark of ever-lasting energy. My past is my vitality and it has given me an eternal optimist’s outlook on life.
I know who my parents are and I take pride in the fact that I have three sets of them.
I have my parents who love me so much that they allow me to experience what it is like to feel at home anywhere. They have raised me on their principles of love and justice, and a moral integrity that I dare never abandon. My parents, who when I stray, lift me up higher than I could ever ask for. My dad is as loyal as steel, with king-of-the-jungle tenacity. My mom will be among the first to reach Heaven.
I have another set of parents who have given me the entire world as a playground with all its possibilities. Who, whether together or separately, decided to trust in the future. Who, whether together or separately, or maybe entrusted someone else, laid me to rest in a window of my orphanage in La Paz. Those parents have never left me; my father’s eyes are my own and I have features of my mother.
And above all else, I have parents whose reign extends from the pulse of all living things, felt in the gentlest spring breeze as strong as a undying blaze of fire. Our God is the Lord of all who has given me the miracle of life. God gave me my first breath somewhere that I cannot name. But daily it is my Father in Heaven who gives me the gift of life.
SAMATHA KELLY and CARMEN FERREL, two names stared up at me as I glanced at my local court’s certified copy of my name change, circa 1990. It’s an error I can spot with my eyes closed. The “N” missing from my name, and on this official document it looses it’s holding power. I went to the county clerk office in Maryland for the correction. A few days later I waited patiently in the Bolivian Consulate Office in Miami when a familiar restaurant appeared on the television screen. It’s La Paz’s Gustu Restaurant. Gustu partnered with the International Design Clinic, a non-profit humanitarian design organization, that I volunteered with in Bolivia – twice. The head chef, Kamilla Seidler, tells the audience of how she develops some of the plates at the restaurant, the brainchild of the world-renowned food genius, Claus Meyer. As I watched the program, I remembered the meal I had there: the coolness of my cucumber, beet and mint drink, the texture of the steak and sauteed vegetables flavored with traditional Bolivian spices, and how the scoops of ice cream sat delightfully on my slate platter.
Ten minutes minutes later a woman asked me the reason for my visit. I tell her I’m interested in renewing my passport. After a brief look at my documents, she says she cannot renew my passport because my identification now does not match my Bolivian passport nor my Bolivian Identity Card and that the only way to make that name change is on Bolivian soil. She explained to me that I should have no problem getting into Bolivia but that exiting would be an issue. The process for me to obtain a Cédula de Identidad would require me to return to my local courthouse and request a motion to release my adoption files. All the paperwork would need to be translated to Spanish and certified. Then I would need to take them to the Secretary of the State and have them authenticated. Next, I would need them authenticated by the Department of the State. Only then could I return to the Bolivian Consulate and have them authenticated, yet again. The last step would be to go to the Bolivian court, in La Paz, with a lawyer to appeal my case. Then, if granted, I could have my Bolivian ID issued for Samantha Kelly.
My head was in a whirlwind as I walked out of the Consulate that day. Now I’m questioning whether to get another tourist visa or to take the steps towards having my Bolivian Identity Card updated. One thing I know for sure is that Carmen is still with me and she doesn’t belong to some piece of paper. In the same way, Sam is who I am and I am more than just a name-bearing document.
Yes, on that day, for one fleeting moment, another Bolivian held my passport for the first time since I left the soil of my motherland a quarter of a century ago.
I am Sam Kelly, I am Carmen Ferrell and I am Bolivian American.
Soy Sam Kelly, soy Carmen Ferrell y soy América Boliviana.