Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

dorthy and dog

Once my husband Picasso received his U.S. permanent residency approval, I thought, “this is it.” 

In my ignorance and privilege as a U.S. citizen, I figured that it was time to cue the happy ending music.

What I’ve learned this past few weeks since returning from our home-closing trip to Mexico is that there’s so much more for me to learn.

Me, who thought incorrectly and arrogantly that I already knew a lot about issues around immigration.

Me, who confidently thought she already knew a lot about herself and her husband and our relationship.

And while it hurts like a motherfucker, I want to name here how my sadness and rage against U.S. immigration morphed and worked its way into my relationship with my husband over the years.

I want to name how sometimes I wasn’t as tough on my husband around specific issues that we tussled with, because I secretly felt bad that certain doors in this world were closed to him because of his immigration situation.

I want to name here how sometimes I treated my husband like a hothouse flower, to be tended to very carefully, because I felt that he suffered a lot already over the course of his life, immigration and otherwise. 

I want to name here that sometimes I was the cause of his suffering and reacted by tending to him even more, my guilty feelings building another addition to my hothouse.

I want to name here that I’m disappointed about having to be the main breadwinner for at least the next year here in the States, while my husband gets his GED, gets a job, builds his credit, get’s a driver’s license, works on his English, gets his footing in the States. I was excited to put that main breadwinner pack down, after 14 years. I saw how I mentally flung that pack into the creek that flows by Heather Wilhelmina and Mr. Vulcan’s house a few weeks ago.

I watched myself sheepishly fish the pack out of the creek last night.

What shocked me this morning was looking out the window and realizing that when my husband entered the U.S., I naively thought that we were going to be equals now.

That in this new chapter, he was just like me – a visible and active member of this society.

Yeah, you can laugh now. It’s O.K.

Because clearly, in my privilege disguised as naivete, I didn’t think about where we are not the same, in terms of formal education, mastery of English, class, race and access in this neck of the woods.

The simple fact of how my name Giselle Stern doesn’t scream out “Mexican” on a resume, but Picasso’s full name does. And the conclusions people draw, conclusions based on our names alone.

I’m tired and tattered. Periods of growth and change will do that to you. 

I want to be clear here – it means the world to me that my husband and I get to live together with our cats in a supportive household. The reunification of families destroyed by U.S. immigration policies will always be a priority for me. 

But I do feel that there’s a dirty little secret that’s not talked about a lot – the next chapter for immigrants who have complicated pasts and are suddenly brought to the front of the line. It’s like the U.S.-born family members are supposed to shut up and be grateful. Not talk about the challenges, because there are so many people who want to be in our shoes.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately what I was taught about the U.S. as a young child, i.e., the U.S. being the best and most powerful nation of them all.

Do you all remember that line from The Wizard of Oz?

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

I’ve been feeling a lot like Dorothy lately, when she says this:

“If you are really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.” 

Amen, Dorothy. Amen.


11 thoughts on “Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

  1. Thank you for your writing. Not many know (or understand) our private struggles, but I love reading your work. Reminds me that I am not alone, and to always remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to keep fighting for it.


  2. I stumbled on your blog after reaching a desperate point and needing some form of support. I am in a 3 year relationship with an undocumented immigrant and the stress and conflict that come from this relationship is sometimes debilitating. But your writing just speaks to me and it is something I needed so badly. I am so overwhelmed with not knowing where our future will lead and being so scared. I am one year from getting my Masters and yet am so frustrated with him for not getting his GED and you are so right- I forget about my own privilege, my own class and access that he will never have- even if his own education matched mine. It is hard for me to keep this in check, but I am so incredibly grateful I found your website and it has inspired me to write my own experiences and not hold all the frustration and anger and resentment inside, like I have often done. Thank you.


    1. Jessica, thank you for your kind words. It means a lot to me, especially when I feel afraid to post something particularly personal. In this journey with my husband, one of the hardest things I’ve had to face with myself is to look at my own areas of privilege. Big Hug, Giselle


  3. Okay, I laughed on cue and then felt guilty. No matter what country we call home, we will always be more powerful, more accepted, and more welcomed than our dark skinned spouses. I think we have to move beyond this in our relationships though and know that they don’t, at least mine doesn’t, let that burr continue to rub him raw or lose sleep at night. We must use our voice and education to bring about a change but we can’t let it come between the two of us or “the powers that be” continue to win and I know that you and I are too strong to let that happen.
    PS. I miss you!


    1. My sweet Krystal, I miss you too! And Picasso is definitely a lot cooler in the head about all of this than I am. I trust that both you and I won’t let the coming between happen. But what I also know about myself is if I don’t name things out loud for myself, then I’m in trouble! I love you and send you lots of hugs across the wires ❤ Giselle


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