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.

Monday, July 22, 2013

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Tonight, I want to spotlight an event that will be happening very, very soon.

Instead of doing the talking, I’ll let the people involved speak for themselves. Click on the pic above.

Take a moment to read, watch and reflect. People are putting their literal bodies and lives on the line. They deserve your full attention, as well as your support.

And then hold these brave, fierce people in your thoughts and prayers, particularly this coming Monday, July 22. Hold them tight.

The politicians and the non-profit industrial complexes can continue to sleep on immigration reform and dream of profits and winning the fame game.

But it is only those who are truly awake who can create real change.

20+12+2

Photo: R.C.O.
Photo: R.C.O.

While I may be a fast talker, I’m a slow processor. And I needed some time to process before I could write. Thus, my radio silence after such amazing news.

For those of you who may not know, my husband Picasso received his U.S. permanent residency approval this past Wednesday, June 26th.

This won’t be the last blog entry post-approval. But this is the first.

That moment, that moment where my husband stood once again on one side of bullet-proof glass but instead heard these words,

“Welcome to the United States, your visa has been approved,”

12 years and two months fell away for us as a couple.

However, for my husband, his first deportation was in 1993.

So 20 years fell away in that instant for him. More, if you count the years that he was undocumented in the U.S. before his deportation.

I’ve become unbound this past week. There’s a realigning that I feel pulsing through me. I feel like I’m forever wearing a flower in my hair, dreamy and fragrant.

The day after I returned to Oakland, I made coffee in the kitchen with the french press. I cried quiet tears, thinking that one morning in the very near future, Picasso would be preparing coffee with Mr. Vulcan and Heather Wilhelmina’s french press right here in their kitchen, right here in their home in East Oakland. Right here by my side.

This is truly a team victory, a community win. It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help a deported immigrant return to the U.S. with papers. Big hugs and a grateful thank you to those of you on Team Picasso.

Since I came back to the U.S. in 2011, I always played a secret game with myself. Anytime I noticed a clock or watch that matched the hour/minute, i.e., 10:10, 11:11, I made a wish.

The wish never changed. I simply wished that my husband would one day be able to enter the United States.

The first few times that the hour/minute combination came up after Picasso’s visa approval, I’d still automatically wish for the same thing.

I finally woke up to what I was doing the day after Picasso’s approval. I realized that I needed a new wish. What a wonderful to problem to have.

I now have a new wish, and it is for my Green-Eyed Sweetie. May it come true very, very soon.

Sneak Peek

I wanted to give you all sneak peek of my new tour video for my one-woman show, “The Deportee’s Wife.”

The official re-launch of thedeporteeswife.com will be happening this Friday, so stay tuned!

Stone In A Slingshot

Drawing: marcjohns.com

I’ve come to realize and accept that I mark the date of my husband’s deportation more deeply than our anniversary. He was detained April 26, and deported the following day.

Picasso and I were married in a civil ceremony. Perhaps I’d feel differently if we’d done a full-out wedding. Our civil ceremony was sweet and meaningful, and happened a little less than two weeks before my husband was deported.

But it’s the deportation date that I carry in my bones.

When April sneaks in the door, I know what’s going to happen at the end of the month. I want to notice and not notice at the same time. I try to turn my literal and figurative eye away from the facts:

Year 12 of my husband’s deportation. Year 2 of my husband and I living in separate countries. Week 2 of USCIS not being able to find my husband’s I-212 waiver application. 

Within all of the uncertainty, all of the waiting right now, I actually don’t feel depressed. But I do feel like the stone in a slingshot, stretched all the way back.

Waiting to be released.

Deportation, Friendships and What Not To Do

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I participate in a private online support group for people with a loved one affected by U.S. immigration policy.

Today in the group, a member brought up a good point – how friends in our lives are unintentionally hurtful.

This got me thinking about how many us affected by immigration policies often have friends who either don’t know what to say/do, or hurt us when they think that they’re being supportive.

In that spirit, I wanted to share some of my suggestions for what to do/what to say when a friend in your life has a deported partner or spouse. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’m choosing to focus on U.S. citizens affected by deportation, because that’s what I can speak to. Please feel free to post other suggestions in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. If the deportation is recent, show up physically in any way that you can. Offer to take care of our kids. We need to do things like phonecalls to find out information about our loved one’s detention or deportation. Make sure that we’re eating and hydrated. If you’re a coworker and can take our shifts, offer to do that and/or coordinate coverage with other coworkers. Don’t clog up our phone line calling us incessantly. We need the line open. We often need financial support. Give to us if you can. Don’t wait for us to say something – we may be too shy or ashamed to ask.

2. When a deportation is recent, this is not the moment for you to express any doubts or negative views that you may have about our partner/spouse. Keep those thoughts to yourself.

3. We do not need to hear your feelings right then about how messed up the U.S. immigration system is. The cold and empty spot next to us in our beds says it all.

4. Learn the name of the country where our partner/spouse is from. Look it up on a map. If you can, find the city or town where they were born. Don’t dismiss it as a, “scary, dirty, third-world country.”

5. The decision as to whether or not to move with our partner/spouse to their country of origin is an extremely personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. If we process verbally, let us talk it through. Just listen. If we process internally, don’t keep asking us what we’re going to do. Only give your opinion on the issue if you’re directly asked for it.

6. Don’t assume that our partner/spouse will definitely return to the United States without papers. This is also an extremely personal decision.

7. If we do decide to move, help us with the packing. Offer to take as much as of our stuff as you can for safekeeping. This can be extremely comforting to us during this very difficult moment of deciding what stays and what goes.

8. If we stay in the U.S., remember that our lives changed forever. Just because we may be going through the motions of our life as it once was, we are definitely not O.K. This does not get easier as the months go by. Check in with us about our mental, physical and spiritual health. Jokes like us being, “single and ready to mingle” aren’t appropriate.

9. If we move to the home country of our partner/spouse, don’t makes comments about being “envious” of things like the fact that we’ve lost weight, live in a tropical climate, don’t have access to steady electricity or a working phone line (“So good that you can unplug and get away from it all.”)

The weight loss is often because we’re experiencing poverty like we never lived through in the U.S. Our tropical climate location is because we chose to live with our loved one due to an immigration system in the U.S. that separates families, not because we wanted to take an extended vacation. Situations like not having access to steady electricity or a working phone line can break us on the wrong day.

Now, if we’ve lived with situations like the above long enough, and are ready to joke about it all, sit with our dark humor (especially when the lights go out.) Laugh along with us.

10. Whether we leave the U.S. or not, for the love of all that is holy, do not send us articles or videos about dangerous events in the home country of our partner/spouse. Do not write things like, “Thinking of you – I hope that you’re safe!” or “This is why I don’t want you to move there.”

And here’s a bonus tip – If our partner or spouse is deported, many of us go though a transformation about how we view the U.S. Many of us feel rage, betrayal, shock, embarrassment, sadness. This results in many of us deeply questioning the country that we were born and raised in. When we post things online or say things in person that question the policies of the U.S., do not rush to defend this country. That’s not our point.

And as someone with a husband who was deported from the U.S. twelve years ago this month, it doesn’t get easier over time. The struggles shift and change shape, but they never go away.

But hopefully, neither do our friendships.

My Future Vote for President of the United States

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A Tall Drink of Water’s son, who I’ll call Sunny, is five years old. Sunny’s mother was born and raised in the US, his father was born and raised in Mexico. He’s the mirror opposite of me-my father is from the States and my mother is from Mexico. Both Sunny and I have dual citizenship. 

Around the time of President’s Day, Sunny’s teacher asked her students to fill in the following sentence: “If I were President of the United States, I would…”

And Sunny finished the sentence in this way: “help the immigrants.”

A Tall Drink of Water and her husband were touched by his answer. The responses and drawings were hung on clothespins in his class. Tall Drink gently asked Sunny why he drew the immigrants behind bars with dark skin.

As Tall Drink said in an email to me, “We had a funny five-year-old conversation that involved Zorro saving the immigrants from jail and the fat man and daddy’s cousins and then Sunny said, “I wished I had drawn another picture of them not being in jail.”

The following morning, Tall Drink told me that over waffles and bacon, Sunny said, “Um, Mom, you know Giselle’s, um Giselle’s husband? Why can’t he come to the States?”

It was a powerful wake-up call for Tall Drink to explain deportation to a five-year old. And she took a deep breath in, thinking about how it must be for children Sunny’s age, with Mexican fathers just like his, who get deported on a daily basis. 

I had a long day of travel yesterday. When I arrived to Tall Drink’s house, the first thing that Sunny said to me was that he knew karate. 

Sunny is working on his indoor voice. He’s an exuberant and open kid, with a lot to say. 

But when his parents went into the kitchen, Sunny curled up on the chair next to me, dropped his head, and said softly, “Giselle, I’m sorry that you’re husband can’t come into this country.” 

I didn’t want to lose it in front of Sunny.

So I hugged him, gave him a kiss and said, “Thank you sweetie. One day you might be able to see him here in the States. Or you’ll see him with me in Mexico when you visit, because we’ll be living there.”

He smiled shyly, and then ran into the kitchen with his parents.

Sunny’s got my vote if he ever runs for President of the United States, guaranteed.