The Dog With a Toy In Its Mouth

dog-with-bone

Listen, former President Barack Obama didn’t earn the nickname deporter-in-chief out of nowhere. But the screws are turned more tightly right now. People who never thought about immigration before are now carrying the word around like a dog with a toy in its mouth.

On the one hand, sure – more people are talking about immigration.

On the other hand, many of these people are following the ferociously bad lead of numerous U.S.- born, usually white “allies” to treat immigrants as children. And while there are a tremendous amount of kids and unaccompanied minors who arrive to the U.S. every day, this isn’t the group that I’m talking about right now.

I’m talking about adult immigrants. Who may or may not speak English. Who may or may not have any kind of papers. Who perhaps have been living here 30 years, or just one. Could be that they arrived as children, but that was a while back. Formally educated or not. With complicated immigration histories or slightly more straightforward ones.

I get the instinct, the desire that bubbles up in the throats of U.S.- born, usually white “allies.” And you want to help immigrants right now.  Or, you’ve supposedly been helping immigrants for decades and use that fact as your own street cred for what’s happening in the country right now. Either way, listen up:

There’s a big difference between providing protection for immigrants and proselytizing to immigrants. It frustrates the hell out of me that I feel the need to write those words. However, I’ve been watching and reading too many in-person interactions/news segments/emails and articles where immigrants are being lectured to/spoken at by U.S. – born “allies” as if they were seated in those little plastic chairs in a kindergarten class and the allies were the classroom teachers.

Providing protection often involves less words and more actions. It means actively listening. Especially if you’re new to this work. And it means really listening on a higher level if you think that you’ve seen it all and have nothing new to learn from this work.

What U.S.- born “allies” should not be telling immigrants unasked right now? How to act. What to feel. Where to go. What to do. What not to do. Who to talk to. Who to fear. 

What U.S. – born allies really should not be doing right now? Vomiting their own feelings about U.S. immigration onto an immigrant. You do not have carte blanche to tear up while talking to an immigrant about how terrible you feel right now. You also do not have the right to be verbally dumping on the immigrant community how much you supposedly do for those communities.

Unless you’re being asked directly by an immigrant for your professional or personal opinion, keep your mouth shut. 

These immigration traps were laid out a long time ago. I’m talking about way before the last U.S. presidential election. And many of you were out here whistling Dixie in more ways than one.

So all those feelings of guilt, fear and shock, combined with the need to infantilize immigrants and their communities? You need to deal with those emotions on your own.

Because the last thing you need to do right now is gallop over to an immigrant with a soft plush toy in your mouth.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!

SJC to Same-Sex Binational Couples: Go Fuck Yourselves

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Dear Same-Sex Binational Couples Affected by U.S. Immigration Policies,

First off, let me be clear about where I’m coming from. I’m a heterosexual woman in a heterosexual marriage with a heterosexual man.

I feel that it is important for me to name the above, because I believe that any solid ally work requires allies to constantly be working to understand their areas of privilege and to name them.

I also believe that allies often must remain silent and listen in order to be better workers for social justice.

I do not believe that this is one of those moments.

For the record, I will never accept, nor will I ever support the decision that was handed down yesterday at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday. Apparently, Senator Leahy felt forced to withhold his amendment asking for same-sex binational couples to be to apply for U.S. permanent residency status through their partners. 

I will never agree with this decision because I am also one half of a binational couple.

I will never defend this decision because I also moved to another country to live with the person that I love due to U.S. immigration policies.

I will never affirm this decision because I also moved back to the United States by myself, without my love, as a result of U.S. immigration policies.

I will never condone this decision, because the separation of families in my world means separation of ALL families, and both you and I have experienced first-hand what that means.

I completely and totally reject this decision due to the fact that my husband will have a permanent residency appointment in the very near future because of our heterosexual privilege.

In my world, there’s no excuse, no manner to explain away what happened yesterday. I will not simply tweet out a consolatory message, or rue the fact that sacrifices had to be made.

And those so-called immigrant activists? Those same ones who dare to tell you binational same-sex couples that, “Once the reform becomes law, we’ll come back for the you,” or say to you with earnest eyes, “Don’t worry – The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be struck down next month.”

Those same activists who supposedly believe that, “No human being is illegal?”

I’ll gladly help you slap each and every one of those so-called immigration activists clear across the face.

In Love and Solidarity Always,

Giselle

PS And all of you supposedly pro-immigrant organizations, groups and individuals that are sending out congratulatory messages, all of you in the online and offline community who were chanting proudly after the vote at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, I offer this to you:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”

-Martin Niemöller