Thursday, February 23, 2017

We are all immigrants

I am going insane.

It started when the Orange Troll won the election and hit a breaking point yesterday when I read this story about an immigrant with a brain tumor detained by immigration.

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Both felt like an attack on who I am personally: the child of an immigrant who is now a mother and has tried to be a champion of LGBTQ youth.

I cried so much with my mother this morning. And I knew I had to write today. And so I came here to this space I created for myself almost ten years ago to process it, share and create something out of all this anger and fear I am feeling.  So here goes:

My mother came to this country legally in 1976, fleeing a country beginning to fall to what would turn out to be the longest and  bloodiest civil war in the Western Hemisphere. She was pregnant with me.

When she was deciding whether to leave – her country, her family, the father of her child, her language, her education, everything she had ever known – her paternal grandfather encouraged her. He said soon there would be nothing left for her, no real opportunity for her child or any child in Guatemala. Even though he knew he would never see her again or meet his great-grandchild, he said he'd never forgive himself if he didn't encourage her to go to the US and not look back.

It's what my mother did. She was 28.

Every day of my life since I could understand, I've felt grateful for that decision. I have visited Guatemala. They have been gut wrenching trips. It is a devastatingly beautiful country, irrevocably  devastated by political greed, violence, racism and foreign influences (sound familiar?)  It is a country where even educated, hard-working people like my family struggle to find stable careers and real security, forget about opportunity.

It has become what I once heard it called on NPR: "a failed state." The words felt like a dagger through my twentysomething chest. What happens to the people that remain in a failed state? Their hopes, their dreams?

In the 80s, my mother's visa expired.  When I was just a little older than my daughter is today, my mother witnessed the Regan-era immigration raids happening left and right around her in L.A.


By some miracle but more likely because of her Ladino appearance, she was never "caught." Never deported, ripped away from her child and sent back to the crumbling country she came from. She remembers seeing immigration officials come into stores and stop buses and descend on schools  and start asking brown faces for identification. She saw good people get shackled like criminals.  She doesn't know how but she slipped away every time.

She lived in fear for a couple of years, many Latinos did, many Latinos have. She took the first opportunity she got to become a permanent resident. She remained one for nearly 30 years.

In that time, she married and buried my stepfather, the great love of her life, a  self-made businessman who himself was the child of German immigrants fleeing the Nazis. Her only daughter graduated from high school then college then graduate school and became an independent some would even say successful professional. My mother worked hard, managed her money well, made more, paid off her home, bought a rental property, then another one.

Along the way she helped (conservatively) hundreds of other immigrants, get their footing in this country, paying her karmic luck forward. Since I was little, I can remember her counseling, loaning money, letting people sleep on a couch, helping find people jobs. That is who my mother is. She embodies the American dream.

But something happened after 9/11. I saw her fear return. She saw things during the Bush era that made her afraid that because she wasn't born in the US and wasn't a citizen, the life she had built could be ripped away from her. In October of 2008, she became an American citizen. The next month, she voted for the first time, for the first black president of the United States.

The following month, she had her second MRI after discovering she had a brain tumor. It showed the brain tumor was not growing. And tests continued to confirm that until two years later when it was growing. She had surgery to remove it, it was successful and my mother lived to see and love her granddaughter four years later.


I don't know Sara from El Salvador who now lives in Texas, has a brain tumor and was detained by immigration in the hospital. But I do know by a few twists of fate she could be my mother. I know every immigrant has a story. I know most immigrants are hard working, tax paying, morally rich people. I know this because of my personal experience and because this great country was built by them. I know this is an assault on who we are as a COUNTRY OF IMMIGRANTS.

I also know that what Trump is doing to the transgender community is a disgrace. I know that pandering to religious hatemongers when your approval ratings are the lowest in history at the expense of children in need of protection is disgraceful. I know my child could be transgender. I know when you become a mother, a real mother, EVERY CHILD becomes your child.

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I know if you roll in the mud you are a pig and I know when they get fat enough, pigs get slaughtered. I know his day is coming but the damage he is creating and being allowed to create by a Republican majority and cowardly Democrats is a disgrace.

And I would ask all of you who are not directly affected by the bullshit currently being perpetrated to STAND UP, SPEAK OUT, BE OUTRAGED for all of us who are affected.  What is happening is an affront to who we are as Americans. This isn't about some "other," this is about all of us.

And remember: Becoming a failed state is not outside the realm of possibility for the US.

More immigrant crisis reading

More LGBTQ crisis reading

And the fashion connection



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