This One’s For The Recent Resistors

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Look at me in my eyes as I walk down the street with my headphones on, hip- hop music blasting, wishing that I could turn the music that much higher and blow permanent holes in my head for the release, to let off some of this steam in my head. Don’t tell me how you’re angry/sad/emotional/shut down/afraid/ unafraid/paralyzed/moved to action. I don’t have any space in my body for you. Look at me in my eyes. My hard stare? There’s a reason for it. Being half-white, that side of myself seduced me for a long time. That followed with me playing up the Mexican side of myself for boys, jobs, favors of all kinds. Wheeling out the white girl with the white-girl sounding name when it was better for business. However, shit started coming down on the Spic side of myself and I couldn’t duck my way out of it. No choice except to live with it. Note where I can do privileged figure eights in this world and where I can barely stand on two feet. And the noting never stops. If you’re in this work for real, the noting never stops. The naming never stops. You sit politely and listen to me talk about the importance of the noting, the importance of the naming and simply write me off as intense. Must be the Mexican side of myself, right? Yes, I’m bitter. But here’s the secret, my righteous and newly woke wanna-be activists: I’m not angry about this present President. I’m angry about how angry you get about this President. These past few months, you literally just discovered the devastating system behind the political curtain, blowing all of your delusions of comfort and blinders out of the water for the first time in your life. I mean, Flint still doesn’t have clean water, but that’s got nothing to do with our present President, so I should stay on topic, right? You tell me to wait, to be patient, to not conflate the issues. An angry Latina isn’t seemly, even one that’s only half. You tell me that first you’ll set up a nonprofit, that first you’ll lead this conference, that first you’ll run for office and then I’ll get what I deserve. I just need to be patient, to be quiet. You start organizations that aren’t staffed or led by the communities you supposedly serve. You take actions that are clumsy and not culturally competent. I just need to remain on hold as The Resistance grows. Then things will be different. At that time, the meek will surely inherit the earth. You dominate meetings and pay for everything so I sit, my tongue still between my teeth, except for when I occasionally point out the obvious. It goes unnoticed, because you demand unity now more than ever. But as I walk down the street, the hip-hop blasting and me reflecting on the years that I missed, I look you dead in the eyes. I want to see how much you note and name. You don’t notice the weight of my stare. You’re too preoccupied by, “taking a stand against the regime.” You’re very focused on, “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

You’re too lost in your busyness to note what you name and name what you note.

So much easier for you to shame and to gloat.

The Dog With a Toy In Its Mouth

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Listen, former President Barack Obama didn’t earn the nickname deporter-in-chief out of nowhere. But the screws are turned more tightly right now. People who never thought about immigration before are now carrying the word around like a dog with a toy in its mouth.

On the one hand, sure – more people are talking about immigration.

On the other hand, many of these people are following the ferociously bad lead of numerous U.S.- born, usually white “allies” to treat immigrants as children. And while there are a tremendous amount of kids and unaccompanied minors who arrive to the U.S. every day, this isn’t the group that I’m talking about right now.

I’m talking about adult immigrants. Who may or may not speak English. Who may or may not have any kind of papers. Who perhaps have been living here 30 years, or just one. Could be that they arrived as children, but that was a while back. Formally educated or not. With complicated immigration histories or slightly more straightforward ones.

I get the instinct, the desire that bubbles up in the throats of U.S.- born, usually white “allies.” And you want to help immigrants right now.  Or, you’ve supposedly been helping immigrants for decades and use that fact as your own street cred for what’s happening in the country right now. Either way, listen up:

There’s a big difference between providing protection for immigrants and proselytizing to immigrants. It frustrates the hell out of me that I feel the need to write those words. However, I’ve been watching and reading too many in-person interactions/news segments/emails and articles where immigrants are being lectured to/spoken at by U.S. – born “allies” as if they were seated in those little plastic chairs in a kindergarten class and the allies were the classroom teachers.

Providing protection often involves less words and more actions. It means actively listening. Especially if you’re new to this work. And it means really listening on a higher level if you think that you’ve seen it all and have nothing new to learn from this work.

What U.S.- born “allies” should not be telling immigrants unasked right now? How to act. What to feel. Where to go. What to do. What not to do. Who to talk to. Who to fear. 

What U.S. – born allies really should not be doing right now? Vomiting their own feelings about U.S. immigration onto an immigrant. You do not have carte blanche to tear up while talking to an immigrant about how terrible you feel right now. You also do not have the right to be verbally dumping on the immigrant community how much you supposedly do for those communities.

Unless you’re being asked directly by an immigrant for your professional or personal opinion, keep your mouth shut. 

These immigration traps were laid out a long time ago. I’m talking about way before the last U.S. presidential election. And many of you were out here whistling Dixie in more ways than one.

So all those feelings of guilt, fear and shock, combined with the need to infantilize immigrants and their communities? You need to deal with those emotions on your own.

Because the last thing you need to do right now is gallop over to an immigrant with a soft plush toy in your mouth.

The Sin of the Sanctuary Movement

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All of this talk swirling. All of this talk swirling about sanctuary. Cities supposedly taking stands against the coming storm. Governing bodies and schools. Faith-based communities and non-profits. Certain circles pulling off dusty covers and revving engines back to life.

Let me just cut to the chase, because the clock is ticking down to January 20th, 2017:

Are you a white person of a certain age who participated in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980’s?

Then take a seat. Preferably in the back of the room. Better yet – how about you just place a cash donation in the basket and go home?

Because within all of the prayer vigils, press releases and political statements, there’s a dirty little secret that blooms in the center of all of this:

The majority of white people who supported the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980’s never identified or accepted their position as white people with multiple levels of privilege and access within this movement. 

Have you ever spoken with a white person who was active at that time? The first signs of trouble are the mist that takes over their eyes. They’ll tell you right off the bat that they carried a rifle in the mountains of Central America. Or they’ll chuckle and share their nickname with you from that time period. Usually, they can’t pronounce it correctly in Spanish, because they never bothered to work on their accent. You see, they were too busy saving lives. Standing for a cause.

They were…wait for it…giving voice to the voiceless.

They speak nostalgically about the backs of pickup trucks they traveled in, the English classes they taught, the kids they cured with rudimentary first aid skills and the power of prayer. They speak with amazement about the fiestas and the food and the dancing and the weather in the downtime between the battles.

It’s come to the point that I won’t tell a white liberal person of a certain age that I lived in Mexico from 2001 to 2011. Especially not these days. Why? Because Mexico is the same as El Salvador, right? At least in these white people’s minds it is.

Saying that you’re ethnically connected to any country in Latin America is their cue to start up their tired and righteous monologue, where they romantically reminisce about the last time in their lives that they believed they were doing work that mattered. And they want you to agree. Because they’ve nominated you as their present-day token Latin American representative. But don’t share any of your present-day immigration story and how it connects to their moment of Work That Mattered. Nooooo. These white people aren’t here for that. Usually, they won’t even ask you a single question. You exist at that moment simply to be silent and still, nodding your head as they move through the years. 1981. 1982. 1983…

Sometimes, after a few drinks, they may confess through lowered voices and gripped glasses that the sex was hotter because it was wartime.

Often, the religious ones talk about how they never felt closer to God.

And then they returned to the United States. Or Europe. Some never even went to Central America, but will lecture you on the little that they know about that part of the world, through an 80’s perspective. Because, you know, the coalition work that they did in Berkeley, California makes them practically Central American. They arrive to evening events in their leather sandals and colorful woven bags, their traditional shirts, blouses and dresses made by indigenous women from all across Latin America.

Oh yeah – they’re down with the brown.

They sing De Colores with a tear in their eye. Have no idea who Ana Tijoux is. And they’re powerfully clueless to their white savior complex. 

January 20th, 2017 will be here after a few more bottles of wine. That’s the reality.

Here’s another – some of you white people who participated in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980’s are secretly excited about what looms ahead. It gives you a chance to press your hands against your face and breathe in a wisp of the scent from that time of your life. Where you loved your nickname, even if you couldn’t pronounce it correctly. Where brown people stood silently next to you in church presentations. On the stairs of federal buildings. At candlelight vigils in parks. Brown people, silent and still. Human bookends to all of the space that you were taking up. Space that you continue to fill today with a profound lack of reflection.

So a recommendation from a present-day token Latin American representative: The communities who are most directly affected must take the lead in this next chapter of the Sanctuary Movement. This new phase of work must be more intersectional, comprehensive, holistic and intentional. It must acknowledge everyone in the room whose lives are one way or another at risk in the coming years.

But you know what this movement doesn’t need to do for the white liberal people of a certain age? This new chapter of the Sanctuary Movement doesn’t need to acknowledge you on a daily basis. If you demand it – if you insist to be acknowledged, then you’re just adding to the sin in the center of all of this.

And sin has a funny way of finding you out.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

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Photo: R.C.O.

Today is Thursday, November 10th, 2016. My husband was at his job this morning, minding his own business.

He usually wears paint-splattered jeans and t-shirts with stains. He works with his hands over the course of his day and things gets messy. His job involves moving repeatedly between his job’s three buildings.

My husband’s skin is the color of dark cherry wood. His cheekbones sail out over his jawbone. Lately he’s been wearing a old beige and white baseball cap over his full head of wavy black hair.

He walks to get around, so he was outside, walking from one building to the other. Between projects. Between thoughts. Between plans. A caulking gun in one hand, a tube of silicone adhesive in the other.

Today, Thursday, November 10th, 2016, for the very first time after two and half years at this job, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security patrol car heads directly towards my husband and slows down to a menacing speed. Right up in his physical space. Clearly trying to threaten and intimidate. The two DHS officers in the patrol car saw my husband. His skin color and pronounced cheekbones. His paint-splattered clothes, his worn-out baseball cap.

And they made a decision about him.

The U.S. permanent residency visa that my husband received in 2013 wont protect him right just then.

Thing is, from the multiple lives that my husband’s led, this isn’t the first time in his 43 years that men in a car have come up at him like that. In uniform or otherwise. He does not challenge the DHS officers. He does not walk away quickly, pretending not to see them. He does not run.

My husband slows down his walk. His spine made of steel arcs towards the sun. He looks directly at them with neutral eyes.

Their patrol car almost comes to a full stop now. That horrible moment before the moment where shit can go down five different ways within the frame of ten seconds.

All three men are silent. Right then, my husband takes a good look at them and sees that both DHS officers are Latino. One of them types something into a laptop.

Eduardo Galeano’s open veins pool all around them.

The sound of an airplane taking off nearby permeates the space.

The DHS officer driving the patrol car suddenly guns his engine and they speed away.

My husband, due to his job and his way of being, doesn’t text me regularly during the day. But this morning? I look down at my cell phone and see that I have five texts in a row from him. And no call. I read the messages where he tells me what happened, my left hand pressed across my face to push the scream back into my mouth.

And he ends his unusual text wave with this in Spanish: Next time, I’m going to have FaceBook Live ready. Because this will continue to happen.

I’ve spent this day sobbing on and off. Remembering his sweet smile when we walked through the San Francisco International Airport in September of 2013, his new U.S. permanent residency visa in his hands. A new chapter. A new leaf.

The results of this election didn’t take me by surprise. Hell no. Too many signs for way too long.

But the fact that my husband was threatened and harassed by U.S. Department of Homeland Security officers right outside of his job two days after this election? Yeah, that took me the hell by surprise.

And if I start to cry every morning that I drop off my husband at work because I’m scared that he won’t come back home at the end of the day, he’s going to start taking the bus. My husband’s a loving man, but also a practical one.

So I need to fix my literal and figurative face. Because I’m going to drive my husband to work tomorrow like I do every day, with my silver hoops on at 6:15 am, and my black puffy winter coat over jeans and a t-shirt because it’s cold at that hour.

I’ll be ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#FIX96

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This past week marked the 20th anniversary of two acts signed into law in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).

These immigration laws are brutal and criminalize immigrants.

When my husband Picasso was deported in 2001, this was a second deportation. At the time, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization official told Picasso that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S. for 20 years.

Fast-forward to 2012. I’m reading what our immigration lawyer is preparing for our I-212 waiver application. This waiver, if approved by the powers that be, would allow for us to then put in a U.S. permanent residency application.

I didn’t understand why our immigration lawyer kept referring to a lifetime ban in her letter for the U.S. officials to review.

Our lawyer explained to me that due to the IIRAIRA, Picasso was actually banned for life from entering the U.S. She explained to me that he had a lifetime ban because it was his second deportation, one of the provisions of IIRAIRA.

Eleven years after Picasso was deported, under the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer, that was when I was told for the first time that Picasso had a lifetime ban.

This was after one initial trip to Ciudad Juárez at the U.S. Consulate for a failed permanent residency appointment and two prior immigration lawyers who were intimate with our case.

Picasso’s second deportation happened five years after IIRAIRA and AEDPA went into effect.

So you’d think at some point before the eleven year mark someone would have mentioned the lifetime ban.

And Picasso and I are just one family that’s been directly affected by these 1996 immigration laws.

So this past week, I was extremely moved to read about the push to #FIX96. The Immigrant Justice Network’s press release states that,

“… Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), in partnership with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and over 30 members of Congress, introduced a resolution that calls to repeal specific provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) signed into law in 1996 during the Clinton administration. The provisions in question lay the groundwork for criminalizing immigrants, directly resulting in a 20-year legacy of separating families and uprooting communities through mandated detention and deportation.”

Tonight, I’m asking all of you to please take the time to learn about IIRAIRA and AEDPA. Check out the Immigrant Justice Network’s comprehensive website that’s full of history, resources, stories from the community and how to take action.

Because I don’t want our communities to go through another 20 years of this madness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underworld and Other Worlds

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My husband Picasso and I met in a time before cellphones.

After dancing and talking at the Limelight on a Saturday night in New York City, Picasso invited me to a concert. It was the following Wednesday night and we both had work the next day.

But we were both of an age where that was not yet an issue.

I replaced my wedding ring with a silver ring in the shape of a snake before going out that night. Hours after the concert invite, Picasso ran his fingers over the the ring during a break from dancing. He asked me about its story.

This was during a time in my life when I lied a lot to myself and others to make it through the day.

I’ll never fully understand why I told Picasso the truth at that moment. But I looked him in the eye and said that I was married to another man. I added that I knew in my heart that I was done with the marriage and I’d be telling him that fact the next day.

Picasso figured that since he already invited me to the concert before he knew this key fact, he’d stick with the plan and then probably never see me again. The concert was his priority.

The day after Limelight,  I sat my first husband down in the late Sunday morning light at our kitchen table in Brooklyn, looked him in the eye and told him what I’d known for months in my heart – I was done with our marriage.

I’d cried and fought and questioned so much in the months prior. My head and heart were now clear and connected. As a symbol of the change, I got a new outfit for my Wednesday night concert date.

At the club, Picasso and I arranged to meet before the concert at a Barnes and Noble on the same block as Limelight, West 20th. Between the drinks and the Spanish and the pounding music that night, I got the time wrong.

I waited in the Barnes and Noble, nervously smoothing over my aqua blue shirt and brushing imaginary dust off of my black pants. I fiddled with my gauzy Fiorucci scarf that made sense as a fashion choice in the late 90’s.

After half an hour, I decided that I’d been stood up. I walked out of the Barnes and Noble, turned right and walked down West 20th. After a little bit, I realized that I was approaching the Limelight. Angry and sad, I didn’t want to walk past the club at that moment. I turned around and headed back towards the Barnes and Noble.

And there was Picasso in the entrance, calmly waiting, right on time.

When we were on line outside the Hammerstein Ballroom, Picasso sheepishly asked me my name again. He told me he’s terrible with names. I laughed, thinking that he must be kidding. He wasn’t. He’ll always hold a face in his mind, but never a name.

The concert? Underworld.

I’d never heard of the band before, knew nothing about their music. I hadn’t seen the movie Trainspotting. Still haven’t. (If you don’t know me personally, trust me when I say that my friends are often dumbstruck by the amount of classic movies across all genres that I haven’t seen.)

The music. Lord, the music. It was astounding. And the lights and the lyrics and the lasers. We shook our bodies, smooth-skinned 20-somethings, moving along with the flashing, pulsating light.

A chapter was closing in my life. Another world, another life flew in like rushing water.

Born Slippy came on. And when I heard those chords, those hopeful and contemplative chords breaking up that insistent beat, I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen with Picasso and I, but I knew that it was going to be big.

My friend The Cartoonist gave me the heads up a few months ago that Underworld was coming to the Fox Theater in Oakland, where Picasso and I live. I’ll be forever grateful to her.

Last night, almost 17 years to the day, we saw Underworld in concert again.

17 years after that first date.

I looked around and the theater was filled mainly with people in their 40s and 50s. And all of us went back to a time before kids and mortgages, before work commutes and 401k contributions. We remembered and smiled and sighed and shouted and shook our bodies like we were young again.

A time before cellphones.

Born Slippy came on. And when I heard those chords, those hopeful and contemplative chords breaking up that insistent beat, I choked up and hugged Picasso through my tears.

17 years flew in like rushing water. I held out my hand to my younger self, and we walked with Picasso into that flashing, pulsating light.

Buried Faith

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On Holy Saturday, April 14, 2001, I was baptized as a Catholic at St. Sylvester’s Church in Chicago, Illinois. I was 31. My husband Picasso was deported back to Mexico later on that same month.

When I moved to Mexico in August of 2001 to live with my husband,  I was exposed to a type of Catholicism that I had never experienced in the U.S.

It was a form of Catholicism where my mother-in-law confessed to the priest of her church that Picasso and I were living in her house, but we were not married by the church.

The priest told her that she was a serious sinner, the spiritual equivalent of aiding and abetting.

When my mother-in-law came home and told us what the priest said, Picasso and I went to find him after the Sunday evening mass. His name was Father John. My husband and I had been to mass a few times at that church with my mother-in-law.

The three of us walked outside. While Picasso was just as heated as I was, he grew up in Mexico, with a grandmother who ruled through the bible. He knew how this was going to go down and stood by me quietly.

I was still new to the team, one Resurrection Sunday as a baptized Catholic under my belt. I spit my anger at Father John, in Spanish and English.

“If you knew our story,” I hissed at him, “if you knew our story, you would see the miracle that exists here.”

The miracle of forgiveness between my husband and I. The miracle of living in the same country again. The miracle that my mother-in-law opened her home to us because her love and care overruled her fear that she was doing something wrong in the eyes of God.

I looked Father John in the eyes and said, “My mother-in-law is no sinner. She’s actually the embodiment of a good Catholic, literally giving us shelter when we had nowhere else to to go.”

Father John looked at me in the eyes and folded his arms. “You two are not married in the church. What your mother-in-law did is the same level of sin as murder.”

Murder.

Father John moved on to do his version of God’s work in the state of Guerrero. In April of 2014, he disappeared. During the initial search for the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students in November of 2014, gruesome clandestine graves seemed to turn up so many bodies, bodies that were not the Ayotzinapa students.

Father John’s body was found, a bullet to the head.

Murdered.

According to Borderland Beats, “It is believed that the priest was executed after he refused to baptize the daughter of a local narco leader.” 

On this Resurrection Sunday, I’m thinking about Father John. How his belief was deep and strong and unwavering.

And how mine hangs by a thread.