The subjects are jailed minor boys and girls awaiting deportation, hearing or trial. The facility where they are kept is among the best, both physically and operationally. It is an older but well maintained juvenile detention facility, with a large gymnasium, an astro-turf sports field and an extensive library. There are many opportunities provided by volunteer groups, and various departments at a nearby College…For example, the art department promotes inmate art works; the results are visible inside and outside: sculptures, mosaics, and murals, created by juvenile inmates: The facility is uncrowded; local inmates are housed separately from the illegal alien children — all, by definition are under age 18– The subjects of these brief interviews are confined to a secure facility because they have a violent or criminal past, or both. They speak, read and understand their primary language fairly well but their ability in English is very limited.
One never knows, in such circumstances, what is exaggeration or lies, but I have been doing similar interviews for a number of years, and in time one becomes more able to evaluate them. These, of course, were children; yet they were far more frank, open and expressive, less manipulative, than many adults.
Considering the alleged situation in their country of origin, and the unique opportunities available in the facility ( the jail), one might think they would be happy, or at least feel fortunate. But they are not, despite nourishing food, shelter, medical care, training in English, access to books and both video and classroom teaching.Why unhappy?
First, they are children, and moreover, teens, who by some law of nature are often unhappy and unhinged. Second, they are not free where they are. As Children their views are short-sighted and self focused; as humans they value freedom. It should not be surprising that they don’t like the strange food; but they hate worse the confinement. They want out; even if they go back to a situation that was dangerous or intolerable, it would be a place where they might Try Again to return. The reader may note that most had somehow had access to enough money to hire a coyote. Why? I cannot say, but wonder whether if criminal or drug activities were responsible, directly or indirectly. Their individual stories are moving. Here are condensed versions of a few.
Male Age 16, El Salvador Crossed on foot TX in 2014 at age 14; coyote $7k paid by parents. However, after crossing had no further assistance. Lived on street, Las Vegas; arrested for theft. Sleepless, wants sleep med and pain med for back problem. We spoke at some length about the dangers of using addictive medications for sleep or chronic pain, both best treated by being active physically! I doubt he wanted to hear such stuff, though; he didn’t seem impressed.
Male Age 17, Honduras Coyote paid $ 10k by family, 5k deposit, 5k due on arrival. Arrived age 14. Reached a relative in Las Vegas but later arrested after caught in robbery. Says he may be sent back, but will return, and is taking classes in English. The food is terrible in the USA, but the country is great!
Male age 17, El Salvador Crossed the border at San Diego asking for asylum. Sent to Oregon, placed in a shelter; but fell in with folk who lived on the street. Was arrested for theft and assault. Allowed that the request for asylum was not really valid; it was just a door that he opened. If he is sent back he will come again, this time without a claim for asylum… will cross some way, probably on foot. ‘ Better illegal here than legal there.’
Male Age 16, Honduras Dad paid for coyote, but when he got here dad sent word: ‘Good Luck, you are on your own’. Lived on the street. Arrested for assault. Expects release soon, wants to go back to Honduras because he has family there who are not without economic advantages. I asked: drug business? Yes. ‘Better a rich criminal there than poor and illegal here’.
Male Age 16, Mexico Was a ‘mule’ for marijuana smuggling; entered into Arizona on foot, but was immediately caught. Sent to Phoenix. Expects to be deported. However, in Sonora, his home, he doubts he will be able to avoid going back to being a mule. Why? Realistically there is no other choice
Male age 17, Honduras Caught while crossing near Houston; has family somewhere in US but they did not respond to attempts to locate them. Seems a bright kid, communicative, but didn’t know who his namesake, Roosevelt, was. I told him briefly about two presidents by that name. both, and he plans to look them up in the library and ask the English teacher to comment.
Female Age 14, Mexico Coyote crossed border AZ in a car trunk. Placed on bus to Las Vegas. Arrested prostitution and theft. Jailed then transferred here. Is awaiting hearing, pending transfer motion. On zoloft and resperidol not sure what it is or why. C/O tooth problem. Whether released or sent back home thinks she will return one way or another, this time with some English. She understands she has no skills and no advantages except quite a few years ahead for profiting from her looks. I expressed surprise that plan in place at her age, but she looked at me sideways, and commented that she lives in the real world where people have to deal not with ideas but with facts; besides, she said, ‘I have a good connections in Vegas.’
Male Age 16, Honduras Crossed on foot to reach his uncle here. But the uncle was unable to take him in. Lived on street; theft, prostitution, drug abuse. Arrested states he was ‘beat up’ and remanded to Foster care. Has HIV, probable source uncle? Hep C?He doesn’t know. On medication now. I asked him about his unusual first name. He said it was from a famous poet; he knew nothing else, but says he likes poetry. I suggested he try to look up two poems that may have something to do with his unusual last name. The first is by Oscar Wilde:
The lily’s withered chalice falls
Around its rod of dusty gold,
And from the beech-trees on the wold
The last wood-pigeon coos and calls.
The gaudy leonine sunflower
Hangs black and barren on its stalk,
And down the windy garden walk
The dead leaves scatter, – hour by hour.
Pale privet-petals white as milk
Are blown into a snowy mass:
The roses lie upon the grass
Like little shreds of crimson silk.
The other poem is by Brazilian Eduardo Alves da Costa, fairly easy to understand for Spanish speakers: Essentially: The first night they robbed a flower from our garden. We said nothing. The second night they openly trampled the rest of our flowers. We said nothing. Until the weakest among them entered our house by night and stole our light; and knowing of our fear, ripped our voice from our throats; then we could say nothing.
Na primeira noite eles se aproximam
e roubam uma flor
do nosso jardim.
E não dizemos nada.
Na segunda noite, já não se escondem:
pisam as flores,
matam nosso cão,
e não dizemos nada.
Até que um dia,
o mais frágil deles
entra sozinho e nossa casa,
rouba-nos a luz e,
conhecendo nosso medo,
arranca-nos a voz da garganta.
E já não podemos dizer nada.
Comment: These histories pose a problem: they put a face on illegal immigrants even though in this case they are criminals. The last three cases in particular suggest that it is risky to look at them, or to hear them, too closely. The same is often true of all criminals, and illegal immigrants. While our country cannot open our borders to billions of people from all over the world, we share a hemisphere with many other Americans, North and South; we share a common cultural and ethnic past with people on our borders.
In fact, as always, the USA needs immigrants. If all illegal aliens were to disappear instantly, there would be an economic and social crisis here; in gardening, building, hotel maintenance, restaurant work, and farming, to say the least… and arguably, even in child-bearing! We North Americans are too often unwilling to raise enough children to replace ourselves. That is too great a sacrifice! Houses, cars, travel, education, health care, and entertainment are expensive priorities, and it costs several hundred thousand dollars and tens of thousands of hours to produce and to raise a child conscientiously.
A child, as often claimed, is a hostage to fate: a risk. But without children there is only past. Frankly, it seems possible that within 20 years we will offer to pay people to immigrate to our big beautiful USA. To relate stories like those above is not meant to glorify illegal immigrant children; yet, their desperation and decisive, high risk attempt to change their lives is the recurring story of the USA. Unfortunately, many of these illegal children come from criminal and drug dealing environments, or worse; they bring that with them. Some are MS13 members. But the first illegal immigrants who crossed the atlantic in wooden ships were often undesirables, rebels, or troublemakers. Some were criminals. All are kin to those, criminals or not, who pay coyotes or cross nations and deserts to reach our beloved land.
Adults who are illegal immigrants today are people whose journeys are even more hazardous, more sacrificial, than that of most child criminals; yet they also reveal an intense desire to find a better life in the US. As a consequence they create a better North America, and in a wider sense, better Americas.
My son Fred, a master carpenter, once again this April, drove from South Dakota to Baja California pulling a trailer full of equipment. He joined a group of Methodists to build small homes. In this case that is not simply a charitable act; the recipients of homes are limited to people who 1) work 2) have their own a half hectare lot, where they live in very marginal conditions, and 3) have children who regularly attend school. I go to build or to work as a translator for Lighting for Literature, providing small solar lighting units in the homes of the same kind of families, so schoolchildren have light to study in the evenings.
The clear majority of such families have a connection with the USA; it is generally with a close relative, usually one who has, during most of a lifetime, regularly sent money to their relatives to make their present and future more promising. That sort of story of immigrants and cross culture exchange is as old as time. It is the stuff of progress, and of civilization.
We’ve been probed, CT’d and MRI’d,
Have suprapubic midline tatoos,
And golden marker seeds inside
To show gamma ray binocular eyes
Where to send high energy rays
to the place where cancer lies
awaiting a deadly dose of Grays.
We arrive, our bladders full,
With a Fleet’s clean sigmoid;
Identified, pastic bracleted, we pull
Off our clothes and try to avoid
More exposure of bare buttox
To watchful target cathodes
waiting in cold whiteness.
We are cheered by nurse and technician
Who treat us like aged newborn babes
And carefully swaddle us in position.
They leave. The machine wakes, and stirs,
To mufflled beats of rap that plays;
It rotates, stops, starts, and whirs
To shoot off focused gamma rays,
Until the prescribed dose is spent;
Then deflates the swaddling wrap,
sighs, and stops, as if content,
and settles down to take a nap.
Our nurse helps us to our feet,
pulls off our wadded sheets,
Then sets it all in order again
For friends of Grays and Fleet’s
To a Surgicenter and KP:
And skillful doing:
From the first step
off the gurney,
to the very last,
I’ll remember you,
The skillful people,
was gently lavished
on a troubled knee,
That slept on attic floors
of Alta Peruvian Lodge
doing light work,
to ski free that Spring of ’53;
Was injured in a fall
leather strapped to 7 foot boards
with strips of metal
screwed to the edges;
And since those days
went many mountain miles,
but often effused complaints,
until it could no more.
How is it, Dr David,
that so many people become
a selfless, seamless whole
at a Surgicenter,
To give a stranger’s knee,
A second chance to ski,
lead pack llamas up trails,
bike, or walk the city,
When the mother country
burns with uncivil strife,
enraged by opinions
not our very own?
This old knee
doesn’t give away
it’s private opinions,
except only to say:
From the first step
off the gurney,
to the last off the earth,
… Thank You.
Where oh where has my little dog gone; oh where oh where can he be?
With his ears cut short and his tail cut long
Oh where oh where can he be?
Children’s song by Septimus Winner (1827 – 1902)
Where O where has P Dog* gone,
Where, O where can it be,
With no ears turned on
My doc can’t talk with me.
With eyes on a laptop screen
And hands confined to its keys,
I’m cold, untouched and unseen
paper gown’d at 70 degrees.
My provider’s gloves are thick and blue,
We avoid each other’s infections
I find that considerate, don’t you?
Providers too need protctions.
But why, why not , touch me
or ask what’s on my mind?
Hear my lungs, tap my knees
To find what is there to find?
The EMR holds my future and past;
My imaging, scripts, and labs show
All that matters, first to last
All providers need to know,
To fill the blanks on screen,
Clicking each little square
So it can be clearly seen
every code is entered there.,
And kindly saying at the door
“See you next month; we’re done;
Your scripts are filled once more
For problems please call 911!
* Archaic: Physical Diagnosis by touching, feeling, listening, and speaking.
Si somos americanos*
By Rolando Alarcón
Si somos americanos,
somos hermanos señores,
tenemos las mismas flores,
tenemos las mismas manos.
Si somos americanos,
seremos buenos vecinos,
compartiremos el trigo,
seremos buenos hermanos.
resbalosa, huayno y son.
Si somos americanos,
seremos una canción.
Si somos americanos,
no miraremos fronteras,
cuidaremos las semillas,
tiraremos las banderas.
Si somos americanos,
seremos todos iguales,
el blanco, el mestizo, el indio
y el negro son como tales
* in Spanish, capitalization is often different than in English.
If We Are Americans
If we are Americans
We’re family my friends,
We’ve the same flowers,
and the same hands.
We dance the marinera,
resbalosa, huayano and son,
When we are Americans
We are a song.
If we are Americans
there are no borders
we care for seeds,
not a nation’s flags.
If we are Americans
we are all the same,
White, indigenous, mixed,
and black are one.
I have taken some little translation liberties like introducing gender neutrality because I feel these are essential and inevitable to t translation appropriate to the times. Just as when we read we interpret and and translate and recreate and modify word symbols in our mind. What, for example, is a cow? Whch one, what color, breed, something else entirely? The reader decides. Among the folk songs of the Americas there are many that express the feeling of discrimination and isolation from the dominant culture… like Angelitos Negros, where the poet asks why there are no black cherubs or angels.
Alarcón became a music teacher in the 70s, and was a communist, revolutionary, homosexual, and widely acclaimed poet folk singer associated with wold famous folk groups. His songs are often accompanied by altiplano flute and charango, a small guitar often built on an armadillo shell. The huayano is an altiplano ONE- two- three step dance. The son is a generic word for Mexican folk dance.
Chileans are notorious as poets, miners, and engineers who must build to withstand recurring earthquakes. The first American woman Nobel laureate was Gabriela Mistral Mistral lived in Valle del Elqui, a long remote Andes valley where the high air is so clear it has attracted the world’s biggest collection of international observatories. Neruda is another Nobel laureate poet. Rolando Alarcón was born in Sewell, Chile, an old High Andes company owned mining town, at El Teniente Mine; it is still the largest underground mine in the world ; It operates within one mountain on multiple levels; the rock crusher, mill, flotation process, kitchen and restaurant are interconnected by 2500 km of two lane highways in huge air washed tunnels, with traffic lights; miners enter and leave by train on the lower level.
The Americas are home to lots of deep or fascinating cultural stuff; like some of my mother in law’s Gajardo family that includes the first woman engineer in the Americas, Justicia Espada… Justice Sword — her parents refused to give their children family names. The link includes the names of her siblings. Perhaps those wierd names made them eccentric; see Gajardo’s Moon post on this blog.
I think this old song is timely because it enunciates some current attitudes of many pan-american and pan-african indigenous peoples; and those of many of the world’s transnational millennials, who want to live like one-world citizens. Further, perhaps there is some sort of connection between the sentiments expressed in the folk poem, and those of that stunning political pyromaniac, The Bern, and with those of Moisés Naím, in The End of Power) also reviewed on this blog. .
It’s not the Persian carpet, the house , car or jewels,
but the little things that whisper or suggest
even when they’re silent what I little know,
of where, when, why, who or even what about her life gone by:
Her medicine chest, kitchen and pantry, bedsheets and closets;
eleven hard drives in a plastic ziplock — meticulously destroyed.
An unspent bullet in still stale air and cluttered dark.
A crochet hook, sewing kit, items for recycling.
Old photographs, TP and paper towels;
Bank statements, letters, perfume, and lotions,
Detergents, linens, a dog dish and bird feeder– half full.
A mail box, still alive, when emptied, cries out
for a little more, until rewarded with delicious junk mail and collection letters.
Pills, notions, lotions, purses, shoes, clothes,
and a hundred hand written pages from a lined spiral notebook
filled with fear and voices speaking in silent audibles.
Dry plants, and flower beds, disconnected sprinklers, old hoses and garden tools.
Cruel little things speak in their sharp edged forked foreign tongue.
Sad little things that hint of little pleasures, big plans, and hope of love.
I follow the footpaths through the underbrush of her tangled troubled life.
I walk there barefoot aware and wary of thorns, adders, asps, and broken glass.
The little things leave weeping little cuts that still wait and want to heal.