Thursday, November 10th, 2016

shoals
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.

 

 

 

 

 

Elevator Pitch

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Photo: answercoalition.org

In my early 20s, I worked as a full-time nanny. I lived in Trump Tower, on 5th Avenue in New York City. This was a time before smartphones and selfies.

Trump Tower was one of two sites of anti-Trump protests yesterday in New York City. I saw the pictures and thought about how, during one period in my life, I walked in and out of those front doors off of 5th Avenue every day.

During that time of my life I didn’t think a whole hell of a lot about politics. Or social justice issues. Or US presidential campaigns.

I definitely wasn’t thinking one damn thing about US immigration. All of the types of privilege that I was rocking allowed for me to stay lost in my cluelessness.

There were two doormen who I saw on a regular basis, due to my schedule. One was a lovely older gentleman from Ireland. We talked soccer and the weather. He liked to make me laugh.

One afternoon, I got in the elevator with my Irish buddy. And then he held the elevator door for someone else.

Mr. Donald J. Trump hopped on. He eyed me and I eyed him back. I was in that phase of my life of miniskirts and combat boots and a surly attitude.

The doorman introduced me to Mr. Trump, who proceeded to ask me if I lived here, in his building. I told that him that I did, that I was a full-time nanny. He joked that he would look me up if he ever needed another one.

I turned to my Irish buddy and asked him how his team did in the latest match.

My buddy was surprised. This was the man who this building was named after. Maybe so, but I didn’t like his vibe. Mr. Trump was impressed that, “a girl knew about soccer.”

I amused him.

I got off before Mr. Trump. Only one of us lived on the penthouse floor of his building.

I was thinking about this time today, because, apart from the fact that I took a ride in an elevator with Mr. Trump, my memories from that time are also dominated by all of the immigrants who worked for him in his building. Due to the nature of my position, I saw the front and the back of the house. And this house was full of immigrants, from all over the world.

And I’m sure, this being the early 90s in New York City, that there were undocumented immigrants who lived and worked in Trump Tower. Including the family that I worked for.

I don’t think that my Irish buddy is working there any more. He was already up in his years when I lived there in the early 90s.

But today I’m thinking about who built that skyscraper for Mr. Trump and who keeps it running.

And who could make it all grind to a stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the gun, the white dove and the light.

    Photo: T.D.W.Photo: T.D.W.

We planned to pick up some Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was hungry. Long day at work. My friend Mr. Vulcan got on the BART train at 19th Street and I got on at 12th Street. Our ride lasted ten minutes. We got off at our usual stop.

We walked through the station, crossed the pedestrian tunnel and then the parking lot to my car.

I had my cell phone stolen out of my right hand a few months ago from the same station’s parking lot, at the same time in the afternoon, by a young black man in a hoodie. He didn’t have a weapon. I ran after him, chasing him through the parking lot, screaming at the top of my lungs. The young man mistakenly ran right to a BART cop, sitting in his police car in the back of the parking lot. The cop was white. I didn’t press charges. I got my phone back.

After my phone was jacked, I stopped playing around. Phone in my purse until I got to my car, keys in my hand. Eyes clear and focused. Mr. Vulcan, because of his own life experiences, never lets his guard down in public spaces.

It was 4:15 in the afternoon. The sun was shining down on us, on our tired bodies.

We got to my car. I took my phone out of my purse and tossed my purse in the back seat, as I always did.

Mr. Vulcan opened the back passenger seat, placed his backpack on the floor, opened the front passenger door and dropped down into his seat.

I got in on the driver’s side.

I buckled my seat belt, turned the key in the ignition and rolled the window all the way down, because the car was hot.

I do not remember what we were talking about.

Mr. Vulcan suddenly barked, “Giselle, roll up your window.”

Mr. Vulcan does not speak to me in the tone that he used right then. I was surprised. I turned to him to give him a playful retort for ordering me around in that kind of voice.

What Mr. Vulcan saw, what I did not see, was a young black man who suddenly appeared and started his approach to my car, to the left hand side, on the driver’s side. Mr. Vulcan saw him pull up the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and reach his hands into the pockets of his hoodie.

That was when a young black man in a black hoodie appeared in my open window, the driver’s side window, a black gun in his hand. He said softly, “Give me everything.”

He was so still. His eyes were clear and focused. He had on tan pants. He did not shift or shake.

Mr. Vulcan, Mr. Vulcan who I know to be the mighty negotiator in all areas of his life, says softly to me, “Giselle, give him everything.”

The gun is still pointed at us, through the driver’s side window, into the car where we are both seated and buckled in.

I do not scream. I do not cry. I do not look at Mr. Vulcan. I look at the gun.

I pick up my cell phone to give it to the young man. I drop it by mistake and it falls between the cup holder and my seat.

The young man orders me softly to pick it up and give it to him, which I do.

He is so still. His eyes were clear and focused. He had on tan pants. He did not shift or shake.

I do not remember if I open the door, or the young man opens the driver’s side door.

But now the car door is open and the gun is aimed next to my left leg, the width of two fingers between my leg and the black gun. It shines in the afternoon light. It is small.

The young man asks for Mr. Vulcan’s wallet. What I did not know then, but I do know now, is that because Mr. Vulcan has been robbed two times before at gunpoint, he carries an extra wallet separately from his real one, and he gives the extra one up during moments like this.

The young man now asks me for my wallet. The gun is still pointed to my leg, two finger widths away.

Mr. Vulcan is young brown man with a Latino first and last name. He moves through this world with a physically imposing body, a body of a U.S. football player. He wears hoodies as well. He once told me what he does if he is stopped by the cops while in his car, so that he does not get possibly injured or shot dead. No sudden movements. Keys on the dashboard. Hands always visible. Calm speaking voice, narrating every move.

When the young black man tells me in a quiet voice to get my wallet, I apply that same logic. I put my hands up in the surrender position. I tell him that my wallet is in my purse in the back seat. I tell him, in a calm voice, that I am going to turn around to the back seat, bring my purse forward into my lap. Then, I am going to reach into my purse and take out my wallet and hand it to him.

He says so quietly to me, “OK. Hurry up please.”

The gun is still pointed at my left leg, his hand steady.

My wallet does not hold any cash, just my driver’s license, my ATM card, one credit card and my Clipper transit card. A useless Lotto ticket. A small, passport-sized photo of my husband in a blue, button-down shirt.

The young man tells me to hand over my purse, which I do. The purse hold the usual things. Lip balm. A phone charger. A costume jewelry necklace that I took off earlier in the day at work because the chain broke.

My white Apple headphones spill out from the purse in the exchange and land right outside the car.

Because your mind works in funny ways during these moments, what takes up all the space in my head right just then is me wondering why he did not take the headphones.

The young man says, “Thank you.” and walks off. Walks off, in the direction towards the subsidized housing that lines the outside of the parking lot.

I am breathing hard, gasping for air like I just held my breath underwater. Mr. Vulcan has the presence of mind to guide me and I start to drive, still gasping. He directs us to a BART cop who had just left the parking lot in his truck. We saw him leave as we approached my car. We stopped him outside the front of the BART station.

A million questions, it felt like we had to tell our story a million times. No one was caught. No one will be caught. Two white cops and a Filipino cop. One of the cops agrees to take me around to see if perhaps my purse was thrown somewhere. As we drive around, he tells me that there used to be a BART cop 24/7 in that parking lot. But because of BART budget cuts, it just was not possible anymore.

I asked Mr. Vulcan how he knew not to negotiate at that moment, when he simply told me, “Giselle, give him everything.”

He said that the gun was real – it was a revolver. There were bullets in the chamber. And because this young man was so quiet and still, Mr. Vulcan knew that he had pulled a trigger before with that steady hand and would have no problem pulling it again.

What was physically lost was replaced. My driver’s license. My credit card. My work ID. But I lost other elements that day that will take longer to replace. Feeling safe in a parking lot. Feeling safe in my car, particularly when I turn the key in the ignition. Feeling safe when I walk by a young black man in a black hoodie with tan pants.

In the time that I have been away from this blog, I started to actively follow and support the Black Lives Matter movement. I want to be clear here – I am not black. I am mixed race, Latina and white. I have a tremendous amount of all kinds of passing privileges, particularly in terms of race, gender, sexuality, class and access. I have light skin, predominantly white European features and a white-sounding name.

So when I talk here about the Black Lives Matter movement, it is from this place.

As I told people what happened, many of them asked me quietly, under their breath, “Was he black?”

Not one person asked me about any other race when they asked me that question.

What I want to say here is that there is a context, there are structures – economic, social, political, psychological and governmental structures that create the context that brings that young black man to my driver’s side window with a small black gun.

This is not an excuse for that young black man.

There was structures – economic, social, political, psychological and governmental structures that created the context that places my then-undocumented husband on a Greyhound bus, a loaded revolver in his waistband, the bus stopped by Ohio Highway Patrol during a routine check on its way to New York from Chicago.

That was not an excuse for that young brown man.

For the past week and a half, I veered between intense fear, intense rage and intense sadness.

I veered between wanting to break things and then put them back together. Between wanting to tell people and to stay silent.

And it was tough to go to sleep. I closed my eyes and saw the afternoon sun. The gun, first by my head, then the width of two fingers away from my leg.

I have a strong support network of loved ones. I am also getting additional help from wise and experienced alternative healers who were in my life before all of this happened.

During the session with one of those healers earlier this week, I was asked to go back to the moment, to go back to the emotions that come up. My mind went to the afternoon sun and the gun, the width of two fingers away from my leg. Through her guidance, I took out a big piece of the intense fear, rage and sadness that was within me on a cellular level.

We then moved into another phase, where, due to the energy that was coming out of the healer, due to the energy that was moved within me, due to what was being called on from both of our higher selves, the gun transformed into a white dove and flew out the driver’s side window of my car.

Myself, Mr. Vulcan and the young man were suffused in a white, healing light.

I sent Mr. Vulcan my love.

And I sent that young black man my love, the love that comes from our highest selves.

Now, when I’m falling asleep, the gun turns every time into a white dove that flies out the car window. The car is suffused in a white, healing, light.

And while I still have work to do on myself,  I send that young black man my love. The love that comes from my highest self.

My healing is not done. Neither is the work in this world that must continue. But they both are in motion again, after a deeply anguished pause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WTF

 

Photo: T.D.W.

 

I started this blog on September 11, 2009.

I was 39 years old. I’m 46 years old today.

I started this blog, (which was the continuation of an earlier version) because I wanted to speak, to scream, to seek out others who were in my situation.

What kills me today, what will always kill me is receiving messages to this blog from people who are where I was in 2009. Forget about 2009, it destroys me that they are exactly where I was in April of 2001, when my husband Picasso was deported. Which was fifteen years ago.

I watch the news on the TV. I read the articles online. I listen to the updates and testimony from friends, from the communities that are directly affected by the present immigration situation in the U.S. I receive the messages to this blog.

And all I can think is, why the fuck is this fucking shit still happening?

Why is it that what I was writing about in 2009, why is it that I could just cut and paste a lot of the previous thoughts and posts and they’d still ring true today, seven years later?

And what if I was blogging 15 years ago, in 2001, when Picasso was deported for the second time in his life, after we were newly married? We know what the cut and paste answer would still be.

How about in the 90s, over 23 years ago, when my husband was deported for the first time in his life, long before we had met? I’m sure there would still be a match.

Because for every time that a politico talks about what they do for the undocumented immigrants and their families in this country, for every U.S.citizen-led non-profit that supposedly exists to fight for the rights of immigrants, for every place of worship that supposedly talks about God and immigrants, for every supposedly sanctuary city, for every local leader that supposedly understands the needs of their immigrant communities, for every academic institution that supposedly supports undocumented students, for every researcher and editor and professor and reporter, I’ll raise you this:

I’ll raise you a U.S. citizen, usually married with kids, whose spouse is detained and/or deported. I’ll raise you immigrant children in detention centers and immigrant adults who never stop paying in this lifetime for past misdeeds. I’ll raise you Central America and Syria and the city where I lived in Mexico for ten years. I’ll raise you drug wars and power wars and political wars and the role of the U.S. in all of it. I’ll raise you black and transgender undocumented immigrants because they’re often the most invisible of the barely visible. I’ll raise you the bitterness and the exhaustion and the sadness of many immigrant activists. I’ll raise you the immigrants who died waiting for justice.

And I’ll raise you the messages that come to this blog in the middle of the night, even though I haven’t posted anything in over a year.

Read each one. Especially if you are a U.S. citizen, like myself, read each one.

And face the cards on the table. I’ve had to as well. Because we are nowhere near done.