this morning i’m thinking about the kids singing christmas carols in politicans’ offices in the name of immigration reform. i’m thinking about the fasters. i’m thinking about the protesters who lay down their bodies, locking and linking their bodies to buses. to fences. to each other. this morning i’m thinking about the days that i can count on one hand that are left to the 2013 legislative session. i’m thinking about how cir’s chances in 2014 are the same as mexico winning the next world cup. i’m thinking about the dream9. the dream30. the interrupters and infiltrators. i’m thinking about the petitions, the phonecalls, the lawyers and the vigils. this morning i’m thinking about how president obama’s words rang hollow and flat and fake at nelson mandela’s memorial service, because the deportations in the u.s. continued while he spoke in south africa. this morning i look at the bart doors across from me. the warning of danger: do not lean against doors. the doors of power, the doors of privilege, the doors of access that are so closed to so many. i’m thinking this morning about what it’s going to take to blow these doors off their hinges for good, for the good of us all.
Long Island, New York, 1987. Saturday morning in my house, my house where our family had been through enough by that point to know that we were never going to be the family that poses together on a Christmas card by a decorated tree.
This is still the time of records. That Saturday morning, my Mexican mom slides a record out of a new sleeve and walks over to the record player. The woman, Linda Ronstadt, is singing what seems to be Mexican songs. In Spanish. My mother wasn’t as in touch with her Mexicanness back then. Neither was I. I jerk my head around to stare at my mother. What was this? What was my mother doing? What happened to her Donna Summer record that usually liked to play Saturday mornings as she cleaned the house?
My Mom’s eyes go far away. She sits at the kitchen table, her cold hands wrapped around her warm cup of coffee.
And right on cue, my supposedly tone-deaf mother who has no sense of rhythm, perfectly belts out the mariachi’s grito, or shout of,”Ay ay ay.” She gives me a rare smile from that far-away place. Then she says no more and continues drinking her coffee.
Chicago, Illinois, 2000. Christmas Mass at St Sylvester’s's church. The mass is in Spanish. Mariachis come out to play at the end of the service. I turn to my husband Picasso and notice he has tears in his eyes. I’ve never seen him with tears in his eyes before. He squeezes my hand to let me know that he’s O.K. He smiles at me lovingly from that far-away place. While Linda Ronstadt is not at the Christmas mass at St. Sylvester’s in Chicago, the music sounds similar to that Saturday morning record that my mom started to play on a weekly basis.
San Francisco, California, 2013. At my temp job, I listen to a moving interview with Linda Ronstadt on NPR and I remember that Saturday morning album, Canciones De Mi Padre.
I look it up on YouTube.
I hear this song.
The memory of those Saturday mornings, that St. Sylvester Christmas mass force me to stop my data entry temp work and simply listen.
The scent of my mom’s strong cup of coffee mix in with the almost overpowering scent of myrrh and pine from our first and last church Christmas in Chicago.
I discreetly wipe my tears away while “reviewing” a stack of papers.
And if someone passed by my cubicle right then?
I most certainly would’ve smiled at them from a far-away place.
This is a short spoken word/sound/visual project that I created for my appearance last night for the show Not This American Life, through The Institution Theater, out of Austin, Texas. First time that I was in front of a live audience via Skype!
When politicians and even many non-profit groups talk about immigration reform as long as an immigrant has, “no criminal history,” or a “clean record,” large numbers of immigrants and their families get left out of the conversation.
Mine would have been one of them.
I met my husband Picasso in April of 1999.
By Thanksgiving of 1999, we moved to what was our second room in New York, a house in Long Island City. The room was big, but the situation was rough.
We didn’t have any furniture, so Picasso piled two milk crates on top of each other and laid down a small cardboard square for a table. He covered it with designs using his calligraphy ink and pen. He put a layer of thick plastic on top and we now had a table. Execs at Ikea would have been jealous
Thanksgiving rolled around, and while Picasso doesn’t have any emotional ties to the holiday because he grew up in Mexico, he could see that I was a little tender to the emotional touch.
My immediate family and myself were in a moment as rough as the room that we were living in, so visiting them was off the menu.
Picasso came home the night before Thanksgiving with two big plastic bags, a sweet smile on his face.
Inside was a Mexican Thanksgiving. A small spicy turkey, known in the hills were my husband grew up as pipilo. Some side dishes that didn’t have names in English but smelled wonderful. I wasn’t as familiar with authentic Mexican food back then. Each styrofoam cup with the plastic cover was like nothing I had ever eaten at a Thanksgiving meal before.
Picasso kept reaching into the bag and I couldn’t stop gigling, not knowing what was going to come out next.
Picasso laid everything out with a big flourish on our little cardboard table. The thick layer of plastic fogged up from the weight and heat of the food. We ate by candlelight and I lovingly wiped down our table’s plastic cover after we were done.
To this day, it remains one of my favorite celebrations of this holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you sit at tables full of love, no matter how large or small.
I went to an event last night sponsored by FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg’s pet project of the moment.
Talk a walk through the event with me, shall we?
1. Right at the door, as soon as I walked in, I was asked to show identification. At an event that is supposedly pro-immigration reform. This event was touted as a Happy Hour, thus the I.D. check.
The space was donated, sure. But in all of Oakland, FWD.us couldn’t find anywhere else that could donate space and simply allow people to walk in?
Does having an event with free wine and beer, an action that triggers the mandatory I.D. check, does that best serve the communities most directly affected by the present immigration laws in the U.S.?
2. FWD.us is having a DREAMER Hackathon right now, in the Silicon Valley here in California. After the mandatory I.D. check, I signed in and was asked if I wanted to write a message of support for the DREAMers participating in the hackathon.
I’ve defended and praised DREAMers publicly on multiple occasions. If you follow my blog, you know this.
But really? The only option this evening at the was to write a message of support to the DREAMers participating in the Hackathon in the Silicon Valley of California?
Hey, I have an idea – how about asking the people who came to the event, community members of Oakland, how about asking the community members to write down what they feel are the biggest issues that Oakland’s facing when it comes to immigrants in this city?
In other words, Community Organizing 101.
Ah, but that would mean FWD.us would truly have to care what happens in Oakland, right?
Let’s continue, shall we? Because we’re still at the front door, putting our I.D. away.
3. Drinks in hand, a D.J. spinning tunes in the corner.
A FWD.us staff member came over. After introductions and chit chat, the staff person gave the equivalent of a Home Shopping Network commercial about FWD.us, but didn’t ask me how I felt or thought about immigration reform in this country.
Over the course of the FWD.us commerical, this staff member specifically pointed out a DREAMer at the event, identified the DREAMer by name and for all intents and purposes outed them as undocumented.
Now, if you are undocumented and unafraid, I will always support and fight for your right to share that fact about yourself.
But you get to decide when and where and how and with who.
I shouldn’t be told about your undocumented status from anyone else at the event, especially when you’re across the room and we haven’t met.
Is this how FWD.us rolls? Publicly pimping out the undocumenteds in the house for street cred? Really?
4. Another FWD.us staff person came over. After the pleasantries, this staff person at least had the presence of mind to ask us why I was in the room.
I gave a vague answer about wanting to learn more about FWD.us and immigration reform. Sipped on the last drops of my free red wine.
The second staff person then spoke very cheerfully about the fact that they felt confident that comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) was going to pass in April of next year.
Not in piecemeal, but full-one reform.
Yep, you read that correctly. April of 2014, Speaker John Boehner be damned.
Lord. I wanted to buy this kid a drink, even though the beer and wine was free.
When asked to elaborate about what would be the focus for FWD.us if the imaginary date of April of 2014 actually became about piecemeal reform and not CIR, this staff person answered that the focus for FWD.us was a) A pathway to citizenship. b) To clear the backlog. c) Secure the border.
No details were given about what the backlog specifically was and which communities were affected.
Christ, the staff person might as well have talked about getting in the back of the infamous, non-existent line that every undocumented immigrant is supposed to get on and wait.
When I asked about the citizenship path, if that was meant for everyone who was undocumented in the U.S., the staff person responded that in their personal opinion, yes, they hoped that would be the case.
Their personal opinion. Perhaps they had to jump off the FWD.us script for a minute to answer that one.
I guess in forming their personal opinion, they never listened to the undocumented community, where many people say that they don’t necessarily want to become citizens here in the U.S., but simply want to live safely out of the shadows.
And let’s not forget the third focus, the securing of the border. The staff person conspiratorially said that this element was a focus for FWD.us because the Republicans were going to need something in there to satisfy them so that the proppsed CIR could pass.
By April of 2014.
Because we all know that only the big bad Republicans play political games in Washington D.C. around immigration reform, right? Never the Democrats.
But let’s move on, like the little Comprehensive Immigration Reform Train That Could:
The staff person talked about making concessions, that compromise was key for the reform to pass. Apparently this securing the border piece was no biggie, part of how politics is done in this country.
By the way – this little, innocuous securing-of-the-border piece? It’s the first priority on this list of objectives on the FWD.us website.
I played with my little empty plastic wine cup. Pressed my lips together in a thin, tight line.
5. I took a deep breath and told this staff person that I had friends with undocumented husbands with DUIs, and a friend with an undocumented husband with a drug possession charge. I asked the staff person about how these undocumented immigrants with trickier backgrounds factor into the plans for a path to citizenship in the eyes of FWD.us
The staff person talked about those situations being, “complicated” and then compared the imagined roll out of Comprehensive Immigration Reform to the roll out of the Affordable Healthcare Act, i.e. Obamacare.
I mean, we’ve seen how smooth that’s rollout been right?
Even the staff person realized that they gave a bad example and laughed right then and there.
But long story short? Your life journey better be as clean as the empty plastic cup I was holding for FWD.us to fight for your right to any kind of papers in this country.
6. Ah, finally – presentation time! Who spoke about and for FWD.us?
Someone who is a representative from one of the communities directly affected by immigration policies in the U.S.?
Perhaps someone who is undocumented? Perhaps someone who was directly affected by the separation of families?
Um … perhaps someone who is directly suffering as a result of the aforementioned backlog?
Whoops – sorry. I was thinking all crazy there for a minute.
Instead, there was what I can only assume a U.S. citizen talking about FWD.us.
No story to share about how immigration was directly affecting their life, and/or the lives of their loved ones, and by extension, their community.
The presentation was only in English. Because all immigrants speak only English, right?
Another staff person jumped in. No sharing about any direct personal connection either. But this staff person asked us to take out our cell phones to receive updates about FWD.us, because, “Everyone has a smartphone.”
And easy access to valid I.D.s to get into a bar in the U.S., I guess.
Oh and that outed DREAMer? Never spoke publicly at the event.
So all that was the A-game of FWD.us in Oakland last night.
I walked out onto the rainy street and breathed in the dark, damp air.
I looked back through the fogged-up window where I could see FWD.us staff people chattering away happily.
That window right then?
It felt like a thick and impenetrable wall, built out of bullshit and privilege.
Heather Wilhelmina is taking a horticulture class at school.We have caterpillars in the house right now, as part of a class project.
Plastic boxes with blue ventilated tops.
They’ll become Monarch butterflies in the next few weeks. But we’re not there quite yet.
I like to watch them eat or just sit silently on a milkweed leaf. Their yellow, black and white striped bodies look surreal resting on their light green and stoic scenery.
Surreal. As if the caterpillars were plucked out of the sky after a long wait and then placed on a temporary leaf.
These caterpillars seem to never stop eating and growing, focused solely on themselves. Little black shits line the paper towels at the bottom of the case.
Caterpillars are basically munching machines. This is the stage when most of the eating and growing happens. The caterpillar’s insides grow, but not its outside—when it gets too big for its skin, the covering splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. A caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times, then becomes a pupa.
The last time the caterpillar sheds, a hard casing called a chrysalis forms around its body. Inside the chrysalis, big changes are happening. The pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae, and wings. After 10 to 15 days, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges. At first its wings are wet and crinkled, but after about an hour, they are straight, dry, and strong enough for the butterfly to flutter away.
I stood in front of the case this morning, watching the caterpillar hang effortlessly from inside the bright blue top with the built-in breathing space.
It’s readying itself to become a pupa, finding the highest point inside its plastic box, settling in for the chrysalis phase.
This phase? The caterpillar does it alone.
No matter how much I stand over the box.
No matter how much I tap the case with an impatient finger.
No matter how much I remind it that there’s another caterpillar in there with them.
No matter how much I want the milkweed leaves to whisper in my ear about what will come next.