Artists and writers share work on immigration and exile.
Five days after his inauguration, on January 25th, Trump signed an executive order outlining his policy to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border along with a directive to begin unrestrained deportations of undocumented immigrants. Two days after that, on January 27th, Trump issued an executive order banning refugees and immigration from Syria, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Yemen–seven predominantly Muslim countries. Outraged by these overtly racist, xenophobic policies and inspired by feelings of solidarity, we issued a call for creative responses from our community. The diverse works collected here conjure very personal feelings of uncertainty, frustration, empathy, rage, and resistance in each honest and critical reflection of the United States immigrant experience. We hope that these pieces offer a little light in our dark time.
red white and blue (slightly off), 2017
Verse eses may get deported for doing this on TV since it is not the sex that matters but what we do with it. Some wish we can be less like a Reality show shithead. Skirmishes are DIY. No one can tell the soldiers to stop, while on TV someone can shoot a friend in the leg by accident. HI Virus plays professional sports on Mondays to me making eses on the IE. He sandbags Sierra where TVs double as windows, doors as fences. Kitchens make the devils dance. Hustler 47 wants us to enter his trapezoid where internet police don’t care about mewsyk. Being perfect for a short dream or two is all it takes for TV to debase us into better people. Handpicked friends meant for new channels inside yourself. Love toons. I have never woken up bleeding.
Trinidad, my great grandmother, was an orphan raised by her uncle Benito Lopez who left her alone every day while he worked. When she was 8-years-old, Trinidad began babysitting for rich families in Santa Rosalia Carmargo. At 12 she became engaged to the love of her life, Maxiamino Ynoijos, who was the chauffer for the priest. She went for marriage counseling but you know the things priests do with kids— Trinidad refused. Maxiamino got mad at the priest, and was soon fired. Then along came Pancho Villa.
In those days you joined Pancho’s army or you were shot, so Maxiamino rode with him for years. The two men posed for a photograph, their belts of bullets slung across their chest, yet Pancho never gave him leave. The first child died of a fever. Their second came down with Small Pox, and Trinidad was pregnant again. An old lady taught her how to make candies so she could support herself. Still, every day was a struggle.
Trinidad was playing with the other girls in the front yard one spring or summer day when Maxiamino grabbed her, put her on a horse, and then rode to the Juarez river. Trinidad then climbed into a canoe with their two children and as many of their possessions as it could hold. Maxiamino pushed it across by swimming.
Helped by a tía in New Mexico and the Lady Milendez, Trinidad and Maxiamino moved to Roswell, later farming for Roosevelt for $2,000 a year. Trinidad picked cotton, pulled weeds from the cotton, the limpia, cooked for a dozen farm men, ran a hatchery, made her man build her a house, had 9 children, 3 of whom died young. They were always poor but grew watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, chile. Trinidad’s stone hacalito, her love shack, so badly built it had no partitions— is gone. So is she, passed a few years before I was born.
She never returned to Santa Rosalia Carmargo, Trinidad, the girl who fled from Pancho Villa. On the ride, the warmest spot must have been where she held her man. What she had to forbear I can’t know, but she would have told me when I was old enough that love is dangerous.
One year, we lived in a room than a house
Celebrated Christmas with a branch than a tree
My mother, on her knees, cleaning toilets,
saved her tips to buy gifts
my father and his nostalgic eyes
old bicycles with rusty chains and crooked handlebars
they hushed their screams
so babies could sleep
one year, we packed everything we owned
carried four suitcases across two oceans
said goodbye to our language and land
left our dead and their unattended gravesites
one year, we received welfare checks and food stamps
drove around in hand-me-down cars
and swallowed all the years of longing
My resistance knows its bounds. Against my better judgment, I have an inner resistance to resistance. But why?
I’m afraid of the clash; of being turned into the “other.”
Resistance can take many forms, and its moral charge depends on the context. Yet, the first thing that hits me now is that resistance is a valuable, essential friction, which allows us to define ourselves against what we are not; or more accurately, what we aspire to against what we oppose (since we are forever-evolving rather than fixed identities). In this regard, I’m dismayed to admit that I don’t easily rise to the challenge of defining myself in opposition to anything or anyone. It requires a confrontation: if not with others, with oneself. I’m a keeper of the peace and a pleaser, I seek to relate, but these benign-seeming tendencies are a dangerous nutrient in toxic soil. When I shy away from enacting resistance, I harm myself and possibly those around me. I allow a private untruth to take root, or worse, permit a public problem to propagate. In the moment, it may feel like I’m protecting myself from the strain of immediate repercussion, but the damage I’m causing is far greater in the long run.
To leave abstraction (a thing I hide behind) behind: right now is a time that has me painfully split. I’m uncertain of what exactly is happening, here in the U.S.A and in the world, and what I should do, both in the personal and the public realm. The political shituation — for lack of a better term — has me up in arms and throwing my arms up; unfortunately, more of the latter. I don’t understand — in the most general way. I don’t understand the beating core of it and I don’t understand its machinations. What I mean is: I don’t understand the psyche (psycho) at the center and I don’t understand much of the political system.
At this point, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not a natural activist (what with my cowardly orientation to confrontation), but I also seem to lack the knack to digest what could be termed “current world affairs.” Maybe, paradoxically, I’ve inherited a kind of allergy to exactly those things that my father’s life was shaped by, that defined the person he became: a political refugee of the communist regime in Bulgaria, who voiced his opinion, making himself a vulnerable target, and turned it into a public career, broadcasting for Radio Free Europe.
It might not be necessary to search my past lives for explanations of my fear and inhibition to speak my mind: perhaps the reasons are right there in front of me, only one generation removed. And yet, if my father, who put himself at risk, was able to face real threat, can’t I move beyond my small, sheltered self and deal with the potential of some minor discomfort? Can’t I at least abandon my complacency and learn to engage with the news?
I don’t think I’m being too hard on myself. Somehow being pregnant has earned me a carte blanche: people understand that I need to tune some of it out. But I’m afraid of resisting my resistance, especially now.
The other half of me is German. I could stop there, but I’ll be explicit, to exercise that truth-telling muscle. With the burden of a dark national history, you grow up aware of your responsibility to take a stand. My mother was born into World War II, too young to comprehend the monstrous events unfolding around her, but aware of the violence, danger, and injustice caused by an evil man in charge. From her parents she gathered that is was necessary to be opposed, while guarding her own safety; to hold values that weren’t always practicable; to stand by the weak without turning herself into a victim. In short: a confounding mix of imperatives, fluctuating between repression and resistance, passivity and activism.
Some of these formative and complicated attitudes my parents internalized may have carried over to me, but the fact is: I’m not a vocal objector trapped in a Soviet state, jeopardizing his family’s wellbeing, or a three-year old girl trying to survive, separated from her mother and father, in deranged and bomb-raided Nazi Germany. Yet, thanks to these two, I’m a free and privileged, internationally educated, financially coping, healthy, loved young woman — albeit an immigrant in a changing America — and I have an increasing obligation to maintain these same opportunities for a future generation of ethical, hard-working, hopeful people of all origins and backgrounds, trying to find their way in this unstable world.
Humanity is fallible and flawed, but I don’t think we are wicked by nature. There may be some individual exceptions, but most of us will choose cooperation and kindness over antagonism and hostility. Of course, human beings are psychologically diverse, and we have to figure out our own internal settings to enable our cooperative and kind functioning out in the world. I’m still trying to determine what the right settings are for me, but I want to hold myself accountable to others and to examine this question honestly. It’s too convenient to take refuge in the excuse of being an introvert, of disliking politics, of nurturing my sanity and growing another life. We are not alone; we depend on each other and on our environment. Self-care is essential, but now more than ever, it’s not just about “us.” We are closer than we know.
In this moment of radical division, I see both our sickness and our potential redemption. Maybe we are one big organism struggling along, pulling our warring selves apart in contradiction, subject to external forces beyond our control. And maybe this is a time of inevitable self-destruction. But maybe, maybe, we are waking up just in time to see our pain, and to rise to the task of self-recognition — which is also the recognition of the “other” — in order to repair ourselves. It takes a serious crisis to see your own shadow and know there is no escape: it was there all along. We have to take responsibility for everything: what we aspire to and what we oppose. Resistance as radical honesty is the only cure. We have the power to end the illusion of the separation of self and other, to come to grips with the fact of a single people and our shared world now, before it’s really too late. Complacency, passivity, evasion, obfuscation, ignorance, cowardice, and denial have damaged us enough; we have played the mistakes of the past on loop. Dare to resist! I call on myself, and you – my “other” half – yes, you and me, indivisible, to resist!
Resist your resistance to resist.
“Saints and Strangers”
These works deal with “Plymouth Rock” as an icon of immigration and acceptance, based on the 1945 book Saints and Strangers by George F. Willison, which chronicles the families that were the first “Pilgrims.” In it is discussed how not all Pilgrims were Puritans as often believed. On the Mayflower Puritans referred to themselves as “Saints” and those that were aboard to find a better life and opportunity but not one of faith per se as “Strangers.” Our country, especially in the current situation, is basing immigration and selection on similar criteria and attitudes. This election’s language is again basing the rhetoric on a “Saints and Strangers” strategy. Us vs. Them.
Plymouth Rock was a religious relic, preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial before there was the Statue of Liberty.
I took this and in “Curb Appeal” made the incoming waters an aqua blue or the turquoise of waters found in the Southern Hemisphere instead of a dark green/bottle green of the Atlantic waters (as in a Winslow Homer) coming from Europe as in the 19th century.
In “Saints and Strangers,” the background is a gradient from a light blue sky (religion and faith) to sand (earth and opportunity).
In each, what was once a “stepping stone” or crossed threshold into this land has now become a barrier to those goals.
In 1835 Alexis De Tocqueville, a French author traveling throughout the United States, wrote,
“This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union. Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man? Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic.“
A great piece of the Rock is set on a pedestal in the cloister of historic Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims on Brooklyn Heights. The Church, formed by a merger of Plymouth Church and Church of the Pilgrims, was once pastured by Henry Ward Beecher.
And there is the Malcolm X speech “We did not land on Plymouth Rock”…
running off into the spring night
mother, I walked to the bluest
lake / seeking it / mother / I wanted
the untrembling blue / that meant
I was good / wanting is sometimes
/ a small hole that opens in the
wall of the heart / that is how
my grandmother died / in Mumbai
/ which the Indians call Bombay
/ if you grow up with the colonizer’s
/ words on the tongue they become
home / sometimes / wanting
is an open blossom / at the
wall of the heart / the
anonymous kind I plucked
from the schoolyard / where we pretended
the woods were home
what kind of beauty
in what other reaches
I live in the South / in Georgia where
it is the season of unspeakable
blossoms / myrtle, redbud / dogwood
/ magnolia and the unnamed ones
/ where you grow suspicious
/ of poetry some years / do you ever
hate beauty / I don’t / think I do
but Georgia is haunted / Georgia
is haunted for the dark-skinned
more / in Georgia pale people
build condos / dogwood /
myrtle / and a street with flowers
“Beg your pardon. Did you say that we’re not allowed through? My companion PYO-3 may have something to say on the subject. You will feel a tingling sensation as we speak…”
For The Vigilant Love Rally
One day I started on the Shahada
La illaha––and I stopped.
Which is to say I can’t represent all Muslims,
I’m on a journey and it’s complicated
But in the US, there is no space for Muslims who are still figuring things out.
So if we are talking about banning Muslims
If we are talking about registries and detention
I go where you go
Because when I am hopeful, part of me still whispers, “Inshallah”
when I am anxious, I still repeat, “bismillah,”
and since I remember the comfort of sajdah, of feeling connected to life–
Like I said, It’s complicated.
But that’s the thing about Muslims––we are complicated.
We are more than the sum of your fears
We are more than headscarves that need to be “liberated”
And “enemy combatants” walking home from school,
We are not pre-terrorists, Muslim Pokemon who haven’t revealed our Final Evolutions yet
And if some of us are angry, we have a right to be angry. To dissent.
Of the 7 countries listed in this executive order
Syria Libya Somalia Iran Iraq Sudan And Yemen
The US is currently bombing 5.
And while we are not bombing Iran, do not forget the US overthrew their democracy
So we can argue about why people in our homelands have every right to be angry too
And while it’s true there are many immigrants and Muslims who have done amazing things for this country and the world,
we don’t have to trot them out to prove we deserve to live
We do not have to be perfect to have rights and fight for them
We do not have to be agreeable and show people what
Good Assimilated Americans we are
We do not have to wear flags and speak English, or denounce every person with a bomb
who calls themselves Muslim
We have the right to resist and we must resist
an Iranian friend said to me, “You’re next, you know”––I know.
“You’re next,” we tell people
But some of us are not Next, some of us are Now
Some of us have multiple targets on our backs
Queer and Muslim
Black and Undocumented
Disabled and Trans
The beauty of humanity is that we are a dizzying array of individuals
Which is to say, we are not single-issue people
It’s impossible to separate the registry and the ban
from Black Lives Matter movement, from the fight for healthcare, from indigenous resistance in Standing Rock, from resistance to gag orders and The Wall
They are trying to scare us
into thinking only about ourselves
But we see that the same boot is trying to kick us out and keep us down
This is what is meant when we say
Our liberation is bound up with yours
Coworker Airport Another Shooting
smiles are just bared teeth all animals know that
hold breath until well meaning
meaning one of the good ones very open minded ones lives in a diverse city smile teeth says,
How Can Anyone Assume Anyone Else is Privileged
bared teeth say You Don’t Know My Story
smile says I Don’t See Color how sad
how sad I only see white white white so bright I squint I walk through eyes squint so
I don’t see color at all eyes so tight I bump into things
Go bump in the night things
a passport sees color sees you
sees blue lets you fly further than green
blue is not shelter is not a wall between you and go back where you came from
go back always never go to
go back in time to before you came here
even if you started here
even if you started here
there is a back you must have come from can you go to back?
if they are killing the good ones what will happen to the rest of us
i am always have always been a bad one
the bad ones kick and bite the bad ones love to fight the bad ones fuck and spit the bad ones love to hit
they are killing the good ones the good ones are called Educated Immigrant the good ones are called Mother of Three the good ones are called Churchgoing the good ones are called Mistaken for Muslim the good ones are not called Muslim
“So where could we go now?”