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Guest Voz: The “American Dream” doesn’t cross the border south

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.

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  • Lesley
    April 23, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Giselle (and Marisa): Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I both live in Mexico City — we’re both American expats and we moved here because his job was transferred, and because we’d both wanted to live in Mexico. Everything you say in this post about the classism and racism here is dead-on.
    A few times we’ve wanted to visit the “hot” nightclub of the moment, and we were worried about getting in. Mexican friends said: “Oh no, you’ll get in because you speak English.” My husband is a white guy with blue eyes; I’m Mexican-American and light-skinned.
    We’re currently hunting for apartments, and yesterday I saw one I loved. The broker said: “There’s another couple who’s interested, but they’re probably not going to get it.” We asked why. He said: “They’re Korean.” We said: “…And?” My husband sputtered: “That’s racist!” The broker told us that Koreans don’t pay their rent on time. It was literally unbelievable to be witnessing housing discrimination in a supposedly metropolitan city.
    Anyway: I’m deeply sorry that you’ve gone through such turmoil since your husband’s deportation. I wonder how long it’s going to take for Mexico to even recognize that these problems exist…

  • Karen
    April 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    This is a perspective we never hear in the US media, so I’m glad that you posted it. I am goiong to request that my local universities book her show.
    NAFTA really screwed Mexicans big time. The only way I see it changing is by using art to make people see what’s going on.

  • Kelly
    April 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I am constantly blown away by your ability to weave intricate stories with respect to all parties (except for dumb bouncer). I hold you and Roberto in high esteem and soldier on with you through this topsy-turvy world of immigration, migration, and cultural adaptations. Much love.

  • Maria Zubarnava
    April 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    20 years? that’s too long!
    Giselle! noone gets deportation for something that is small crime, and your husband was deported twice, my best advice is that you and your husband obey the laws in Mexico because evidently he was doing something very big to be deported that way,
    and yeah, Mexico is chi** no one care about anything that have to do with others peoples human rights, tell your husband to stay where he belong, because U.S was founded in laws and if he think it is innecessary to obey he’ll learn the hard way. and you’ll suffer the consequences of his vehavior, think about this Griselle! save yourself and come back to us in the U.S where you realy belong.
    do it for you and your childens.

  • irma
    April 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Yes, racism is alive and well in Mexico, against Mexicans. My father’s maternal grandparents were first cousins- they wanted to preserve the
    lily white skin and green eyes that ran in the family. When their daughter (my
    grandmother) married a brown skinned Mexican, they disowned her. My father grew up in his village, seeing his grandparents on the street without their acknowledgement of him as their grandson.
    It is a national disgrace.

  • Giselle Stern Hernández
    April 25, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Lesley, Karen and Kelly-thanks for your comments.
    Maria Z: Thanks for the “advice,” but no thanks. There’s obviously a lot more to my husband’s immigration story.
    What I will say here is that his story is probably nothing at all like what you may be assuming right now.
    It always helps to find out more information before you start making blanket statements.
    And where I really belong is in Mexico with my husband. So that’s where I’ll be staying.

  • Teresa
    April 27, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Maria Z. it is obvious that you do not understand how the immigration process works or how flawed it is.
    I am also an American living in Mexico, due to the mess in the immigration visa process. So I can appreciate your dialogue Giselle, the racism, social status, makes me wonder if there really is a border between these two countries.

  • Glenn Dewar
    April 27, 2010 at 7:29 am

    There are lots of people that get deported for very silly, bureaucratic reasons, because non-citizens are not given a decent chance to defend themselves.
    If you read more of her story, you’ll see that she’s been effectively exiled from her country and her husband, while he made some mistakes, is certainly no criminal.

Comments are closed.