This One’s For The Recent Resistors


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.

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

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.









Buried Faith

spool of thread

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.”


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.


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.






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.













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.

Spines Made of Steel

44 california

Today’s my birthday. I’m 44 years old. Closer to 50 than to 30 by this point. But overall, I’m cool about that fact. 

When Picasso and I were dating in New York, I turned 30 in 2000.We’d been together eight months. That New Year’s Eve, I drank so much and for so long that I practically pickled myself permanently.

My one strong memory from January 1, 2000 is our room that we rented in a house in Long Island City, in Queens, NY. While we had kitchen privileges, we didn’t really like to go downstairs to cook.

Picasso had an electric kettle plugged in on the opposite side of the room from where I was sprawled out on our mattress on the floor.

We had a fancy bag of some kind of pre-prepared organic soup. All you had to do was throw it into the electric kettle and heat the damn thing up.

My one strong memory from January 1, 2000 is of me waking up around four in the afternoon and crawling on my hands and knees across the room, from our mattress to the kettle, dragging the pre-prepared bag of organic soup behind me like a rag doll.

I crawled because I couldn’t stand up right just then.

After that year, I made a promise to myself that I didn’t want to continue meeting the new year and my birthday in an extremely pickled state.

So I don’t. Depending on the year, I’m anywhere from stone-cold sober to lightly buzzed, with my husband Picasso always and our cats Leche and Pixie Bella usually by my side.

This year was a little different. We needed funds for our upcoming move out of Mexico. Picasso took a temporary gig in another state that started on October 17th of last year and ends on January 10th of this year. Our cats are in Mexico, being taken care of by a good friend.

All that to say that my husband and I weren’t together for the holidays. And we aren’t together for my birthday today. After everything we’ve been through as a result of U.S. immigration laws, we’ve never been separated during this holiday/birthday period in all of our years as a couple.

However, this moment of holiday separation that I’ve never gone through before is one that so many of you have. Many of you are going through it right now. And many of you don’t have the huge privilege, as I do, to know that you’ll see your loved one soon.

That difference in our experiences is one that I carry in the center of my being.

So my good friends Mr. Vulcan and Heather Wilhelmina saw me through New Year’s Eve 2013 here in Oakland, California. I’m sitting here writing this as they’re preparing a lovely 2014 birthday breakfast. In my very happily sober and not hungover state, I’m also thankful for the magic of technology that keeps my heart connected to all of my loved ones on this doubly special day.

As my good friend, Ivan and Posey’s Mama wrote to me in a sweet birthday text this morning: You are surrounded by people who love you.

And she’s right on the money.

Today, as I reflect on my birthday as well as the year that passed and the year to come, one of the things that I’m thinking about is that those of us who’ve had justice restored to our loved one’s immigration cases, we have a particular responsibility to continue to fight for the rest of our communities affected by U.S. immigration laws that separate families.

Because those of us with justice restored can speak to the deep pain, fear, frustration, anger and loss. The financial toll. Our broken, betrayed hearts. The years, on the bad days, that felt like they were lost in an abyss.

But we can also speak to never giving up, love, humor, personal growth. Our spines made of steel. What we’ve gained. And what our post-permanent residency lives look like.

I didn’t know what I stood for in life on January 1, 2000.

Today? I know what I’ll stand for permanently ’til the day I die.

Salt In The Wounds


Yesterday I signed up my husband and myself for health insurance, through the Affordable Care Act. The infamous Obamacare. 

For the past three years since my return to the States, I’ve had health insurance for a total of about a year, broken up between two previous jobs. During one of those times was when I was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocytosis. 

My husband Picasso? He never had insurance in the States, because he was undocumented during all of his years in this country.

The process took a crazy long time yesterday, mainly due to me not being able to input my husband’s social security number correctly.

Yup, you read that right. I’ve got a Masters and a temp job right now that involves data entry, but I wasn’t able to input Picasso’s social security number correctly. I kept putting three numbers in the middle section, instead of two.

I’m learning to work with this new number of his.

Heather Wilhelmina finally pointed it out to me after sitting next to me for three minutes and watching what I was doing. While I typed in my social without any problems, I’d been putting in his number completely wrong all day long.

However, after that was all settled, the application was in. I’ll have to supply additional documentation, but after that, we should be good to go.

I looked at my computer screen with the Covered California flow chart showing that the application was submitted.

I thought about the time that Picasso coughed up blood when we were first living together in New York in 1999.

I thought about the time when I went to the hospital last March, the fear that I was stroking out hanging over my head, my lack of insurance making a difficult situation that much more frightening.

I thought about how I received my initial diagnosis of Essential Thrombocytosis because I was insured and I could go to the doctor without worrying how the hell I was going to pay for it.

Yesterday I was also thinking about how for every one Picasso that received their U.S. permanent residency this year, how many undocumented, detained and deported immigrants stand behind him, behind us, watching, waiting.

How many U.S. citizen family members will be able to fill out a healthcare insurance application for themselves, but not for a loved one?

I know that feeling only too well. 

After a year of stalled immigration reform, these looming deadlines of signing up for health insurance?

They’re just salt in the wounds for too many in our community.