By Giselle Stern Hernandez
LatinaLista– Giselle Stern Hernandez is a Mexican-North American writer and performer. She was born and raised in New York. Cuernavaca, Mexico has been her home since 2001 when her husband Roberto was deported from the United States.
In response to their experience, Hernandez created a monologue entitled The Deportee’s Wife. In this solo show, Hernandez’s marriage is laid out on the front lines of the North American immigration debate.
Giselle Stern Hernandez (Photo credit: R.C.O.)
Hernandez’s husband Roberto was deported from Chicago, Illinois back to Mexico in April of 2001. She moved to Mexico to live with him in August of that same year. While she was born and raised in the States, and they were legally married, it didn’t make any difference at all. Her husband was deported, with the order to stay out of the U.S. for twenty years.
Hernandez examines in her monologue hard truths about how race, class, white U.S. privilege and gender intersect within the structures of a badly broken immigration system. Yet, since living in Mexico, she has witnessed firsthand one of the drivers that propels some Mexicans to risk their lives in coming illegally to the United States.
According to Hernandez, Mexican society has a lot of work to do in creating their own version of the American Dream if the flow north is to ever stop.
As I write this blog post, it is presently 12.23 Mexican pesos to the U.S. dollar.
The exchange rate is sweet if you’re earning dollars, as I sometimes do. However, the average Mexican earns only pesos, making it extremely difficult to pull ahead.
My husband Roberto was deported twice from the U.S. I’ve lived here with him in Mexico since 2001.
Yet the hard fact is that here in Mexico, Roberto has experienced more discrimination and less access to the financial opportunities traditionally related to hard work then he ever did as an undocumented person in the United States.
Now, Roberto was deported back to Mexico for the second time in 2001, months before 9-11. We only have to look as far as Arizona to see how dangerously the stakes have been raised in the U.S.
And the Mexican economy is extremely tough.
There are a lot of complicated historical and political reasons for why it is the way it is, many directly involving the U.S.
But there are stories to add to the Mexican economy’s cold facts and figures. Personal stories about race and class.
When my husband Roberto and I lived in the States, he earned significantly more than I did. Roberto also paid more in taxes, and he never could qualify for a refund.
He was undocumented, grew up in a pueblo and didn’t have any formal education; I was a college grad, a New Yorker, and a U.S. citizen.
Roberto worked as a floral designer in both New York and Chicago.
Here in Mexico, in the state of Morelos, Roberto is working on his high school diploma. He’s also studying to be a sommelier, an expert wine taster.
But even with all of his hard effort here in a country where he is a legal citizen, I’m not sure that there’ll ever be a time that he’ll earn significantly more money than I do here in Mexico.
The privileges of my formal U.S. education, my upper-middle class U.S. upbringing, and my light skin color has given me access to extremely well-paid teaching jobs and administrative positions in Mexico.
The deep and painful irony that Roberto earned more than I did as an undocumented person in the States is never lost on us. It truly never is.
Roberto and I once went to a co-worker’s goodbye party. We’d been in Mexico for about six months.
There was a bouncer outside the restaurant. He told us that there was a private party, and that we couldn’t go in.
I saw my co-workers inside, through the big front windows. There weren’t any private parties going on.
One of my good friends came out. She is white; we spoke quickly in English about what was going on. Roberto stood quietly next to me.
The bouncer proceeded to tell me that, “You can go in, but he (pointing to Roberto) can’t.”
Roberto is a handsome man with dark skin and pronounced cheekbones.
And the bouncer was telling me to leave my husband outside.
My friend got the rest of our co-workers and their partners to leave the restaurant immediately.
Different versions of the same story have played out over our nine years here. At dance clubs. At some of Roberto’s job interviews. At kitchen tables with people who supposedly share our blood and genes.
Now, I’d like to tell you that these instances are unusual in Mexico, or that Roberto and I seem to be the only ones going through these hurtful moments.
I’d like to tell you that Roberto can achieve the same level of financial success and stability that he had in the States.
But in my experience, in the circles that I move in, we’re nowhere near the exception.
We are the rule.
As someone who is half-Mexican and grew up in the States, I’ve witnessed how race and class crash and collide in a distinct manner here in this country.
This country, where my abuelitos are buried, along with many of Roberto’s possibilities for achieving the “Mexican Dream.”
This country that’s gearing up to celebrate 200 years of independence in September.
Another deep and painful irony that’s not lost on my husband and I.