Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Archive for the ‘borders’ Category

Façades

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Last night, Ann and I helped out a family a little. They’d just moved from Seattle on a Greyhound bus. They had the name and number of someone who was supposed to meet them and take them to an apartment. He never showed; when they called, the number was disconnected. They walked to the rescue mission. The rescue mission doesn’t accept women or children. The only shelter in the city that does was full. They walked to a police station. The police told them they couldn’t have a motel voucher since it wasn’t cold enough, and it wasn’t snowing. They came up to us outside our apartment. We gave them a lift to the grocery store and helped them get some food and some money for a room. When we dropped them off, I gave them my phone number.

“The first three digits are 666,” I said, “Number of the beast.”
“That’s bad luck.”
“Yeah, it is.”

On the way back home, we got a little turned around. They’ve been building up new apartments all around where we live. They just finished a complex a block away, and it still hasn’t quite sunk into the city. It still looks strange and alien and not all there, like maybe it’s a backdrop for a movie someone’s filming, and when they’re finished they’ll kick out the two-by-fours and carry the fake brick sheets off to a back lot somewhere. It’s draped with a huge NOW LEASING sign, though, and the windows are open so you can see inside. All the lights in the building are on full, showing off six stories of bright, clean apartments. Empty, to a one.

Walking and ghosts.

Friday, February 20th, 2009

They’ve never sat us down, my sister and I, and said, “It’s time we told you our life stories. We’re immigrants, and it’s important for us to share what that means, and it’s important for you to know where you came from.” I don’t think any parents have ever said that in the history of the world outside of movies. But you pick these things up—a stray word here and there, stories packed up the attic and left to rot. They’re patched and dusty, and they don’t fit together and I’m sure that dates and details have fallen off over time.

My mother came when she was twenty-four. Alone. She came because she wanted an education (education is very important to us), and because she didn’t want to live in a room with her five siblings for the rest of her life. She wanted independence. So she got a Rotary scholarship, stepped onto a plane for the first time in her life, and flew to Tehran.

My grandmother came seeking a doctorate in mathematics (education is very important to us), and she brought her family along. My father was seven, his brother 13. My grandfather was never happy here. Two years after arriving, they went back to India, leaving behind two sons and a bit of money.

When my parents tell this story, it has a very specific ending: “and that is how it came to pass that our children were born and grew to be greater and smarter and wealthier than us.”

That’s how the story goes. You’re can’t change the ending mid-way through. It’s cheating.

(more…)

But please, protect us from the terrorists.

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Fifty-five people died today, trying to immigrate from war-torn Myanmar into Thailand. Any reasonable person would consider anyone trying to get out of Myanmar a refugee, at this point, but that was, I suspect, hardly a relevant consideration for them. They wanted out, and taking what they felt was the best course of action led to them suffocating to death in a supply container.

Fifty-five people*. Think about that.

And just for a second, try to forget the politics of us and them. Try to forget the narrative that says they knew they were taking their lives into their own hands; try to forget the world in which they are criminals. They were doing what they thought was best for them and their families. They were trying to survive.

And then, of course, remember that they were evil people. I mean, they were breaking the law! They knew such immigration was illegal, but they did it anyway. Not out of necessity, surely, nor out of a sense that this was the best thing for them to do. We have to keep out the brown-skins, you understand. They are different from us in a categorical way. In their shoes, would not have made such a silly mistake; in their place, we would still be alive, because we are clearly much smarter than they were.

At work, we’re putting together a big map of all the installations of our exhibit. The director wants a big world map to convey an “international feel,” though the vast majority of the installations are in the U.S. He wants a global map, a political map, with big, thick borders between all the countries.

Because that, obviously, conveys a feeling of “internationalness.”

And I suppose it does. The issue, of course, is the big honking national in “international.” The issue is that when we’re clinically talking about “border control” and “immigration control,” and even “outsourcing” and various kinds of protectionism, we are fundamentally denying that the people over there are not so different from the people in here, and no less deserving of our compassion, whatever we may’ve been led to believe.

“The people said they tried to bang on the walls of the container to tell the driver they were dying, but he told them to shut up as police would hear them when they crossed through checkpoints inside Thailand,” he said.

The 46 people who survived the ordeal without injury have been arrested[.]

* — The SMH article I’m linking says fifty-four; I just heard on the BBC fifty-five. The BBC’s article isn’t up on the web just yet.