Elevator Pitch

answer coaltion
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

salt

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.