Back In The USA

Alana Meek and husband Luis Serrano Martin and their son Samuel were living in Spain during the country’s state of emergency that shut down the country for several months. Their plans of moving to El Campo were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Once restrictions were lifted and air travel permitted, the couple made their way here in July. Since then, Martin has found a job and Meek stays at home with their toddler while also working on a teaching degree.

In March 2020, Alana Meek, husband Luis Serrano Martin and son Samuel were living in Spain and in the process of moving to El Campo to live and work in March 2020 when the country went into lock-down mode because of the coronavirus. At that time, she reached out to the El Campo Leader-News in hopes of sharing her story to make people back home know the seriousness of the virus.

At that time, air travel was prohibited to the states for foreigners. She could travel with their son, but her husband would not be allowed to enter the U.S.

They had sold their home and were visiting with his parents before making the transition when the shut-down occurred. Not able to leave the apartment during that time, her in-laws had essential jobs, therefore were able to leave for work and do necessary shopping for food. She and her husband tended to meals and other housekeeping duties, while trying to keep their young son entertained. The emotional toll was almost too much for Alana to bear.

“This is not meant to scare you, but to make you aware,” she said in March. “It will happen in the U.S. if measures are not taken now. So what can you do? Take heed to what is happening in other countries and learn from them. The USA has an advantage that the crisis is not to the level of Italy or Spain, but you do not have much time.”

Meek suggested avoiding large crowds and staying at home if possible.

The lock-down ended in Spain in mid-May and travel was allowed by the end of June, so the three took the first available flight from Spain to the U.S.

“We arrived to the states on July 7, exactly when positive cases were peaking in Texas and in the Dallas metro area,” Meek said. “We flew directly from Madrid to Dallas, as to minimize the time spent in airports. At that time, travel had just resumed between the U.S. and Spain, but flights were still limited. However, only people who met certain criteria could fly. In other words, due to the U.S. Presidential Proclamation instated on March 13, travel was restricted from 26 European countries, and only U.S. citizens, certain categories of family members of U.S. citizens, and lawful permanent residents could enter designated airports. We were lucky that DFW was on the list.”

Her husband, who was not a U.S. citizen, had no trouble entering the country, because he already had his paperwork in order.

“It was a strict and thorough check of both of our documents,” she said. “We also had to show our original marriage certificate, for instance, at check-in and my documents were scrutinized as well. There were very few people flying at that time, and the flight was not even half full.”

According to Meek, the government of Spain declared a state of emergency and was put on lock-down mode from mid-March to mid-May. After that, restrictions were lessened “in a four-phase plan drafted by the Spanish government and carried out by the 17 autonomous regions in Spain.”

Each phase restrictions were lessened little by little.

“For instance, in Phase 1, anyone could go outside, but only during certain hours as designated by their age group,” Meek said. “For instance, senior citizens could be outside from 10 to 11 a.m. and 7 to 8 p.m.; thus, if a senior citizen was outside from 12 to 1 p.m., it would call attention and they would most likely be stopped by police and told to go home. It was the same for other age groups, and the majority of people respected the restrictions, not out of fear of being stopped by police or fined, but because we had just lived one of the harshest lock-downs in Europe and wanted some semblance of normalcy again.”

Restrictions were also placed on the distance one could travel from their home. The first phase allowed for one-mile of travel one way.

“I was lucky the beach was within one mile from our house, so I would walk every day with Sam in the stroller during the designated hour for children from the port to the beach and then back home,” Meek said. “By the time Phase 4 rolled around, people could travel between regions; hence, people could travel all over Spain without any restrictions. The restaurants also began to open up, but with limitations on capacity to full capacity at the end of Phase 4.”

As restaurants and other non-essential businesses began to open, Meek said it felt as though some normalcy was returning.

“My in-laws lived in the heart of town, and thus, I could see and hear from the balcony as the restrictions began to be lifted. For instance, I remember the first time I heard clanking glasses and silverware. The restaurants had begun to open up their outdoor terraces,” she said. “It sounded so foreign to me, because in those 60 days of lock-down, there were no sounds of life in the streets and I actually forgot how these sounds sounded as part of daily life.”

Once restrictions lifted, Meek and her family saw the opportunity to finally leave and acted quickly.

“In the last days before we left Spain, the restrictions were lifted and life was resuming again. However, the U.S. Embassy told us to leave Spain as soon as possible because they could not guarantee how long flights would continue operating, if the Spanish government would impose another lock-down, if the U.S. would enact more restrictions,” she said. “Spain also began to open its borders to tourists from Europe from July 1, and the area where we lived was a highly sought-after tourist destination. At that time, there was no requirement for a COVID-19 test upon entry to Spain.”

Since their departure was sudden, they did not get to say goodbye to several family members and friends.

“It was too risky,” Meek said. “If we would have caught COVID-19, it would have derailed all of our travel plans and we would not have been able to fly. The only family members my husband said goodbye to in person were his parents and his brother and family. Prior to COVID-19, we had planned to travel around Spain to tell his relatives and other friends goodbye; however, all of these were not options now. I left without saying goodbye to many close friends and work colleagues and places I loved in Madrid.”

Now that Meek and her family are settled in, she says she is happy to be back home.

“I am more than grateful to be back in El Campo because I never thought we would get back here,” she said. “We began the spouse visa process in October 2018 and encountered many roadblocks along the way with new immigration laws due to COVID-19, to the shutting down of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid. It took us almost two years to get home, in a process that we were told normally takes one year.”

Meek has family in El Campo, and is thankful for the opportunity to catch up on old times and share holiday traditions with her husband and son.

“In my 12 years of living in Spain, I missed out on birthdays, graduations, weddings, births, funerals and holidays,” she said. “This Halloween, me, my parents, husband and son decorated cookies, my husband and son for the first time. I told my parents ‘this is what I have always wanted.’ Something so simple as to be able to decorate a pumpkin and traditions I had missed out on by living abroad and (I) now can share (these traditions) with my husband and son along with my parents.”

Meek has returned to school to work towards her Early Childhood-6 bilingual teacher certification and her husband is a welder by profession, who has found work.

“He is working at a local company,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for him. He is enjoying his job and learning the work culture of the U.S.”

Meek is also thankful for being back home because the economy.

“I am also grateful for better economic opportunities and outlook in the U.S.,” she said. “The economy of Spain is wrecked with the lock-down and continued restrictions placed on it due to the virus, and Spain never fully recuperated from the worldwide crisis of 2007. Unemployment was always high in comparison to U.S. standards during the 12 years I lived there. My husband and I have friends and work colleagues, young and old, who have lost jobs or are furloughed. We feel truly fortunate to live in the U.S. where, although times are tough due to COVID-19, it is much worse in other countries and will be for a very long time.”

Now that the vaccine is out, Meek believes it’s important for her to get it.

“We will take it when it becomes available to our age group and category, most likely in the spring sometime,” Meek said. “We will take it because we hope to be protected against COVID-19 and have life return to some state of normalcy again. Also, out of respect to the many people who have been infected and died from this virus worldwide, I feel it is our social responsibility to protect ourselves.

In my husband’s family in Spain, there have been seven family members catch COVID-19, ages three to 55, all experiencing various degrees and symptoms of the virus. Thankfully, they all recovered, as we know of other people outside of the family who did not. Thus, due to these personal experiences, we will vaccinate.”

Meek says her in-laws are doing well despite new restrictions and the rise of positive coronavirus infections.

“They manage to make the best of life,” she said. “This is something I have always admired about the Spaniards; somehow, they manage to find humor in the midst of the most challenging situations.”

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