Thursday, November 10th, 2016

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.









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.


Photo: Mr. Vulcan

Heather Wilhelmina is taking a horticulture class at school.We have caterpillars in the house right now, as part of a class project.

Plastic boxes with blue ventilated tops.

Breathing space.

They’ll become Monarch butterflies in the next few weeks. But we’re not there quite yet.

I like to watch them eat or just sit silently on a milkweed leaf. Their yellow, black and white striped bodies look surreal resting on their light green and stoic scenery.

Surreal. As if the caterpillars were plucked out of the sky after a long wait and then placed on a temporary leaf.

These caterpillars seem to never stop eating and growing, focused solely on themselves. Little black shits line the paper towels at the bottom of the case.

Caterpillars are basically munching machines. This is the stage when most of the eating and growing happens. The caterpillar’s insides grow, but not its outside—when it gets too big for its skin, the covering  splits and is shed. A new exoskeleton lies underneath. A caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times, then becomes a pupa.

The last time the caterpillar sheds, a hard casing called a chrysalis forms around its body. Inside the chrysalis, big changes are happening. The pupa is growing six legs, a proboscis, antennae, and wings. After 10 to 15 days, the chrysalis breaks open and a butterfly emerges. At first its wings are wet and crinkled, but after about an hour, they are straight, dry, and strong enough for the butterfly to flutter away. 

I stood in front of the case this morning, watching the caterpillar hang effortlessly from inside the bright blue top with the built-in breathing space.

It’s readying itself to become a pupa, finding the highest point inside its plastic box, settling in for the chrysalis phase.

This phase? The caterpillar does it alone.

No matter how much I stand over the box.

No matter how much I tap the case with an impatient finger.

No matter how much I remind it that there’s another caterpillar in there with them.

No matter how much I want the milkweed leaves to whisper in my ear about what will come next. 

My Right Fist Raised Defiantly To The Sky


My husband’s  U.S. permanent residency, or green card arrived in the mail late Monday night.

The envelope was a white United States Postal Service priority mailing envelope, with a PO Box from Mesquite, Texas in the return address window.

If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought that it was a credit card promotion.

Picasso’s on a temporary gig right now in another state. I will send him the card asap. We are happy, most definitely.

But this delay also gives me the opportunity to have a minute alone with it and feel all that I need to feel.

I run my fingers over the seals and raised areas, tip it so that it catches the light and reveals other marks. The top back part of the card is mirrored and very high- tech looking.

I almost expect to push a button and watch the whole damn thing light up and start to play, “The Star Spangled Banner” like a hokey birthday card.

Picasso’s picture is prominently displayed, in black and white, giving it the feel of one of those old-school ID photos. This old-school feel stands out against all the high-techness surrounding it.

There are things that I want to say to this card.

Starting with, “What the hell took you so long?”

In the background, there’s a close up image of the Statue of Liberty’s face, with the beginning of her right arm that holds her torch.

A part of me this morning wants that background image to be replaced with a close up image of my face, my head down, my right fist raised defiantly to the sky.

Horns Tinged With Blue

A chinelo dancer from the state of Morelos.
A chinelo dancer from the state of Morelos.

This past Saturday, I hit the pause button on the movie I was watching. My mind was playing tricks on me.

I thought that I heard a brass band playing down the block in my neighborhood here in East Oakland. The kind of brass band that I’d hear regularly and only in Mexico.

That wail, that wail of the horns taking it right to the border of being off-key. The drums playing that bouncy and insistent beat that I only ever heard in the state where my husband grew up.

I popped off the sofa, changed out of my pajamas, and decided to go take a walk to investigate.

Right down the block, I could see a house overflowing with people. Silence for a minute and then the horns sailed out of the house with the drums joyfully skipping right behind then.

It sounded like this, the chinelo music that is particular to the state of Morelos, the state where I lived with my husband Picasso for over ten years.

I stood on that corner in the middle of East Oakland, my hair in sloppy ponytail, hot tears in my eyes.

However, in my neighborhood, if you stand just like that on a corner for too long, people are going to start peering out of the sides of the curtains of their front windows. I walked slowly back to the house, the music dancing playfully behind me.

I missed Mexico right then, with that ache and nostalgia of a first love.

The roots of one side of my family are from over there in Mexico, and the roots of the other side of my family are from here in the U.S.

That double strand of roots formed a big knot in my heart on a street corner in East Oakland.

Justice was restored to Picasso’s immigration case and there’s a deep joy with that comes with this transition. But there’s also the understanding, an awareness that washed over me for the first time standing on that street corner – my life as I knew it in Mexico is coming to a close, particularly once we do the permanent move in January.

Of course we will visit Mexico. We hope to own a house there someday as well.

But that first time, that very first time over twelve years ago when I heard those horns tinged with blue and those drums playing hop scotch?

That chapter of my life is closing. It’s time for me to face that fact and to let the tears fall.

Since September 17th


On Tuesday, September 17th, I waited at the San Francisco International Airport, outside International Arrivals Gate G, for my husband to arrive from his flight from Mexico.

I took it as a good sign. Gate G, for Giselle.

There was a T.V. screen monitor where you could see who was coming down the hall before they appeared at the gate’s exit. I tried to watch and not watch at the same time.

I must have looked away from the screen at one point, because suddenly Picasso appeared at the exit of Gate G.

We hugged, I cried and then we walked to the BART to take the train back to Oakland.

We checked into a hotel that I reserved for a night, to give us a moment before we entered regular life.

And I proceeded to throw up for the next 12 hours. Literally. I could not stop. Running to the bathroom when there was nothing to throw up anymore.

I kept saying it was the food we ate. Although Picasso was fine.

When my husband finally met Mr. Vulcan and Heather Wilhelmina the next day, Mr. Vulcan gently pointed out that it was almost definitely my emotions and not the food. We laughed at the fact that I refused to face the obvious up until that point.

Since September 17th, my body and soul have settled down into this next phase of our life.

Since September 17th, I’ve watched what lights my husband up about being back in the States, what makes him laugh about being back in the States, what makes him mad about being back in the States.

Since September 17th, I woke up one morning to see my husband next to me, completely wrapped up in my fleece Hello Kitty blanket, snoring softly.

Since September 17th, there are times when I walk into rooms and I see my husband there. For a minute, my brain seriously fritzes and I think, “Am I in Oakland or Mexico?” After a minute, I realize that I’m in Oakland. That we’re in Oakland.

Since September 17th, my husband and I have been quietly living life offline, transitioning into what’s our new normal.

When Picasso was deported in April of 2001, I started to save any and all papers about his deportation in a lemon yellow folder. The initial notes from when he was first deported are on them. It traveled with me from Chicago, Illinois to Skokie, Illinois, to Mexico, to San Francisco and then Oakland, California.

Since September 17th, that lemon yellow folder, that lemon yellow folder that I’ve carried for the past twelve and half years, in my hands, in my mind’s eye, in my breath, that lemon yellow folder has now been moved to a cardboard box that sits on a shelf in a closet.

And now it’s your turn. That’s one of my deepest desires.

For today and the days to come to be your turn to move your version of the lemon yellow folder to a cardboard box that sits on a shelf in a closet.