Rajasekar, Shruthi: did you know
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Content warning: death, violence, tragedy
did you know
did you know how they’d see us?
only hearts for their own blue-veined kin. Your own.
but did you know that I bled from the hands?
would that change your heart?
did you know about the lamb?
Shruthi Rajasekar, 2019
In the final week of June 2019, two stories catapulted the USA–Mexico border crisis into the international headlines. One graphically reported the deaths of a father and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, who drowned in the Rio Grande; the other told the story of young Gurpreet, a six-year-old girl who journeyed all the way from India only to die in the Arizona desert. We were stunned to our core by these two stories, but this is an old tale: the non-profit organisation Border Angels estimates that over the last 25 years, 10,000 people seeking new life in the United States have died while crossing the border.
This treacherous region’s harsh elements are only one embodiment of the hatred in the United States towards ‘illegal aliens’. The entire Western world holds migrants in contempt, but the tension in America is uniquely characterised by the history of the land: stolen, claimed, exchanged, and annexed before it was proudly incorporated into a nation proclaiming freedom.
The border is a wound that never ceases to bleed, but it is something we can begin to understand through the writings of those who have experienced it. I urge you to learn their stories.* The short lives of Valeria and Gurpreet shook something in me, something that had become numb to tragedy. Suddenly, I was angry: angry at death, angry at politicians, angry at adults, angry at those who dissected the issue, angry at those who did not, angry with myself for my complacency and avoidance. The resulting poem and piece began with Valeria and Gurpreet, but inevitably include my experiences as an Indian–American second-generation immigrant and the journeys and hardships of so many others. ‘did you know?’ means ‘were you complicit?’ But it asks another question: time and time again, our ancestors have not prevented atrocity because it was not their own issue to be solved – will we continue the cycle?
* Authors who write about the border:
Quique Avilés, Jack Agüeros, Richard Blanco, Kristiana Rae Colón, Eduardo C. Corral, Maria Melendez Kelson, David Hernandez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Antonio López, Sheryl Luna, Yessica Martinez, José Olivarez, Shin Yu Pai, Emmy Pérez, Patrick Rosal, Emanuel Xavier, Tracy K. Smith, Javier Zamora
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