Sometimes a married couple might have so many differences, it can feel like they came from different countries. But what happens when a couple actually is from different countries, with different languages and cultures? One Abilene couple discovered how to make an international marriage possible, with hard work and a little bit of dancing.
Vicente Rojas is from Mexico, and is now a research engineer at the NEXT Lab at Abilene Christian University. His wife, Allie, is a Texan and registered nurse at Hendrick Health and nurse practitioner student at Texas Women’s University.
Vicente went to an American-style school in Torreon, Mexico. From there he knew he wanted to attend a university in the United States. Vicente would eventually connect with Daniel Garcia Santiago, an ACU recruiter, and decided to attend ACU to study engineering, starting his program in 2015 and graduating in 2017.
Allie was born in Colorado but graduated from Allen High School in Allen, Texas, before coming to ACU. The couple’s lives would soon collide when Vicente came to ACU during Allie’s senior year.
THE DANCE THAT STARTED IT ALL
Allie was involved in Swing Cats, an ACU club for swing dancing. During finals week, Dead Day, Swing Cats hosted a dance for the members. It happened to be her birthday.
For a Swing Cats member’s birthday, you have a steal dance where you stand in the center of the circle and the leads steal you to dance so you can dance with everyone. Allie’s steal dance in 2015 included a dance from Vicente.
Allie remembered thinking how tall he was and how she couldn’t say his name.
While Vicente tells a different story of how their relationship officially started.
“My story is we met at Swing Cats and reconnected after college,” Vicente said. “I remember we were just friends, and we would go on walks and stay up really late just chatting about life.”
The couple started hanging out during his senior year of college. Allie had already graduated and was working in Abilene. Allie worked night shifts all the time and Vicente would be the only one up.
“We were friends for about a year, and I heard through the vine that someone liked me,” Vicente said. “I remember telling my friend to not tell me who it is because it’s going to make it awkward.”
After Vicente received that information, Allie then said, “You know what Vicente, I really see you as a brother in Christ.”
Later that week, Vicente and Allie went to dinner and hung out at her house which was the perfect time for Vicente to make a move. Vicente grabbed Allie’s hand while hanging out on the couch, in turn starting a lifetime relationship.
“The joke was my hand was available,” Allie said.
Vicente then asked if she wanted to go on a date with him that fateful Friday and ended up asking Allie to be his girlfriend after a night of first-date activities.
“We ended up kissing that night and I said if we end up kissing you better have a title,” Vicente said.
However, Allie did not want to put a label on the relationship because she wanted to make sure the relationship was serious. After some time, Allie then agreed to a relationship.
PATH TO CITIZENSHIP
Vicente’s citizenship was one of the big bumps in the road of their relationship. Given his visa stipulations, he could only work for a certain number of years before needing sponsorship.
Vicente made it his goal to find a job that would invest in him to receive an H-1 work visa.
“There was a period of time where there was some tension and awkwardness,” Vicente said. “It was so important to me to remain in the U.S. on my own merits.”
Some people asked Allie if she was going to get married if Vicente didn’t get a work visa.
“It was always a question, but he was going to do it by himself,” Allie said.
Rushing into getting married just to stay in the states was something Vicente did not want to do. Once he received the job offer and sponsorship as a research engineer, Vicente had six years after receiving the job to decide what steps to take next in his life.
“It’s a testament of Vicente doing things right,” Santiago said. “Because while Vicente was struggling with this, they instantly could’ve married but he took his relationship with Allie seriously. He took that relationship seriously and different stages of responsibility.”
Vicente and Allie got married in 2021, a year and a half after he received his work visa. Now, they have applied for Vicente’s green card.
In order to receive a green card, you must file forms that correspond with your situation. After receiving the green card, it is eligible for 10 years.
“There’s no clear-cut diagram on how to do that,” Allie said. “Immigration status is always on your mind. there is so much paperwork and you have to get letters to prove your relationship. You just have to go on the government website and hope for the best.”
Like any married couple, Allie and Vicente have had to merge their lives and vastly different cultures.
They had help from Susan and Art Green, an Abilene couple who have spent the last few years hosting international student dinners.
“The more differences you have in a relationship, the more challenges,” Susan Green said. “You have to be willing to understand the cultural opportunities.”
“One thing I have found in being in a relationship with someone from another county is that you have to decipher if it is a cultural thing or his personality,” Allie said.
The couple has their own dialogue with each other that is unique to them. Vicente has his own ways of making himself known in a room and answering the phone, and even expressing himself in Spanish when asked to repeat himself.
“I speak Spanish every single day in Abilene,” Vicente said. “Whether it’s with people I run into in the Bean or with friends, there is a big Hispanic population here in Abilene. I am able to practice my English and not forget my Spanish.”
Some culture shocks that Vicente found here in Texas included seeing women driving pickup trucks and providing for their families through working.
“Seeing Allie expressing her desire to continue her career during our marriage and having children – I think that is something that took a while to understand and support her because it was just something that I wasn’t familiar with,” Vicente said. “To see Allie as a strong confident woman who wants to pursue her career and now getting her master’s to be a nurse practitioner tells me that she is serious about this.”
Allie saw firsthand what it’s like for a woman to provide for a family.
“I grew up in a different family, my mom was the main breadwinner and, in a sense, led me through middle school and high school,” Allie said.
When the couple visits Mexico, they go to cities where Vicente has family. Vicente’s family also threw a small bridal party for Allie in Mexico. Both of Vicente’s parents are older than Allie’s parents. His dad doesn’t speak much English so their parents found a common ground through storytelling and translating through Vicente’s sisters.
“The majority of the time, there is only one person speaking and another person is translating if they are speaking in Spanish,” Vicente said. “There is not a chance to have side conversations at the table, everyone is paying attention to that one speaker.”
For Allie and Vicente’s wedding, Allie mixed their two cultures together by having salsa dancing, and different textiles that were more traditional. The overall theme of the wedding was Mexican Hacienda with translators and signs in English and Spanish.
Another culture mix was mixing American ideals into Vicente’s life. However, he has fully accepted American culture, even down to Black Friday. During an Adidas 50 percent off sale, Vicente bought five pairs of shoes that he has used for the past two years.
“To me, now that I am here, Abilene and ACU feels like home,” Vicente said.
By Maci Weathers
Photos By Deanna Tuttle
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