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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Easter Miracle

Photo: livingpittsburgh.com
Photo credit: livingpittsburgh.com

Hey Everyone,

So it’s been a minute since I’ve been on here. And then I read this post from Emily, The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juarez and this post from Prerna.

Have you ever made a roller skate train? You hold on to the waist of the person in front of you, bend your knees and rumble around the skating ring, the line weaving and waving from side to side. You’re both leading and being led at the same time.

So with this post, I’m holding onto Emily and Prerna and joining this roller skate train.

I’ve recently realized that I do want to continue to speak my views/thoughts/perspectives on this blog about immigration, particularly immigration in the U.S. I needed to get real quiet with myself and reflect upon what I was going to continue to do from within this space.

There’s a laser-sharp focus to my posts here that I’ve come to really love. But that sharp focus doesn’t leave a lot of space for me to talk about the rest of me and my life.

And I want to write, to keep talking to whoever’s out there. Both about immigration and not at all about immigration. So I need a new space – a new notebook if you will – to accompany and complement this blog. One where maybe I never speak about having been a deported man’s wife, but maybe I do speak about other aspects about being this specific man’s wife.

So in the next few days, stay tuned for the new blog announcement. And keep checking in here. I’m thinking at the very least, I’ll be posting once a week, maybe more. But no grand pronouncements this time ’round.

I’ve missed you and writing like nobody’s business. I’ll catch you in roller ring of our minds.

Love,

Giselle

Free Wine Can’t Cover The Scent of Bullshit

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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?

Sigh.

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?

No?

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.