The Dog With a Toy In Its Mouth


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.

This One’s For The Reporters

Detox from RuPaul’s Drag Race

So you contacted me because you’re doing an article on immigration? Keep reading. This post has been a long time coming.

Here’s a list that you should keep handy. I’m dead serious.

1. I was born and raised in the United States, in New York City. I have dual citizenship, with both the US and Mexico. Yes, that’s a real thing. And if you figured out by this point that I’m half-Mexican, then give yourself a cookie.

2. I have Mexican citizenship through one of my parents, not because I married my Mexican husband.

3. My legal name in the US is Giselle Stern. My legal name in Mexico is Giselle Stern Hernández. In the US, I go by Giselle Stern Hernández with my art and immigration work because…that is my choice.

4. My husband’s last name is not Hernández. Here’s a fun fact: In Latin America, people use both their father’s paternal last name and their mother’s paternal last name for their own legal name. Cool, right?

5. Look at how Hernández has an accent over the a. The accent over the a isn’t some diva request. It is because that is the correct spelling of my name.

6. My husband was deported for the second time in April of 2001. His first deportation was in 1993. Our life, as well as the lives of thousands of other families was directly affected by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, or IIRIRA. Be familiar with it before you talk to me.

7. I lived in Mexico with my husband for ten years. From August of 2001 – January of 2011. During this time, I was able to enter the US and return to Mexico. I was never deported from the US.

And I don’t think that you need to be a high-end immigration lawyer to figure out that since I was born in the United States, I don’t need a visa to enter the US.

8. I went back to live in the United States in January of 2011. My husband and I made this decision together. We are still together today, even though we have lived in separate countries for two years.

And guess what? We are not the only people in an immigration situation who live separately yet together. It is called separation of families.

9. If you want to interview me, I’m going to talk about race, class, sexuality, privilege and gender. I’m going to talk about intersectionality, institutionalized racism and internalized oppression. Don’t know what those things are? Look  them up.

Don’t want to look them up? Then don’t interview me.

10. Comprehensive Immigration Reform that does not include same-sex couples is not comprehensive to me. Punto final. I refuse to negotiate on this point. I will not fight for a reform that is heterosexist. Yes, that’s a real thing. If you ask me to talk about the present-day proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I’m always going to talk about same-sex couples.

And so, dear reporters, let’s review shall we?

Journalism 101 Part One: Check and double-check your facts.

Journalism 101 Part Two: Listen to what I’m saying during the interview. Not what you think I’m saying. Not what you want me to say. But what’s actually coming out my mouth.

Have a question afterwards, as you’re writing under a fierce deadline? It’s called following-up with me to confirm facts. 

Because when you ask me to talk about myself and my husband, I am talking about our lives, our real lives. 

As in things that I tell you are also stated in affidavits, in sworn statements that are being reviewed by US Citizenship and Immigration Services as we speak.

And when you don’t do your job, there suddenly are incorrect facts bouncing around for all the world to see, that are in direct conflict with the truth that my husband and I have worked our asses off to represent as factually correct as possible.

OK, so are we all clear? Do your damn job and I’ll do mine.

Late August, 2010

Hey kids.

As August of 2010 comes to a close, I woke up this morning thinking about the fact that it was at some point during mid-August of 2001 that I arrived to Mexico.

The exact date of when I was reunited with R again is lost. But I know that it was August of 2001.

At the time, I was working as an executive assistant in the sales department of a relatively large company in Chicago. I was also working as a server for a caterer on weekends.

I was at the office late one night, doing something that I dreaded as an executive assistant: Putting together sales packets for an upcoming presentation for a member of the sales team.

I snapped that night. What was I doing, literally on my knees, hunched over the packets, checking them over and over again to make sure that the pages were correct?

What was I hiding from? Why wasn’t I in Mexico with R?

I had visited R in Mexico in June of 2001, over the course of a long weekend. We had a lot of extremely painful and gut-wrenching things to say to each other face-to-face.

We did that. And R invited me to come live with him in Mexico. I said yes, but I kept putting it off, citing credit card bills and wanting to save money before I left.

In my situation, I now know that it was because I was afraid to come to Mexico and face facts about myself as an individual, as well as my marriage.

Years later, R told me that when he said goodbye to me after that long weekend in June of 2001, he was sure that he was never going to see me again. Even though I said yes to his invitation to come and live with him in Mexico.

He watched me go through the gate at the Benito Juárez airport in Mexico City. When I turned to look at him, he was already walking away.

There was a tremendous amount of damage and anger between us. I don’t blame him for feeling that way. At that point, giving R my word had all of the weight of a soap bubble in a thunderstorm.

And yet, my initial hesitation about moving to Mexico never tangled with a fear of physically living in the country. My physical safety was never part of the decision-making process in 2001.

While there was always violence in Mexico, starting from way before I arrived, it is definitively different now.

And the lefty-leaning liberals in the U.S. can talk all they want about U.S. media machines churning out biased pieces that are “ruining” Mexico’s “good name.”

There’s a piece of that in this whole mess, sure.

But the fact that I no longer go outside our house by myself after dark to walk down the street to the grocery store speaks to a whole other truth as well.

Right now the common thought is that as long as you don’t play a part in the Mexico-U.S. drug drama, you will not be touched.

But my feeling today is that the safety catch on that idea is already removed.

May I be completely and totally wrong. I truly hope so.

Time will tell us, won’t it? Time will tell.