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Saturday 6 September 2014

Borderlands: Between the Dream and the Reality


Fog settles on the deserted streets of San Miguel Cuevas, a Mixtec village in the highlands of Oaxaca; over 80% of its population has emigrated to the United States, leaving it little more than a ghost town: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

...Jimmy Santiago Baca: Immigrants in Our Own Land

We are born with dreams in our hearts,
looking for better days ahead.
At the gates we are given new papers,
our old clothes are taken
and we are given overalls like mechanics wear.
We are given shots and doctors ask questions.
Then we gather in another room
where counselors orient us to the new land
we will now live in. We take tests.
Some of us were craftsmen in the old world,
good with our hands and proud of our work.
Others were good with their heads.
They used common sense like scholars
use glasses and books to reach the world.
But most of us didn’t finish high school.

The old men who have lived here stare at us,
from deep disturbed eyes, sulking, retreated.
We pass them as they stand around idle,
leaning on shovels and rakes or against walls.
Our expectations are high: in the old world,
they talked about rehabilitation,
about being able to finish school,
and learning an extra good trade.
But right away we are sent to work as dishwashers,
to work in fields for three cents an hour.
The administration says this is temporary
So we go about our business, blacks with blacks,
poor whites with poor whites,
chicanos and indians by themselves.
The administration says this is right,
no mixing of cultures, let them stay apart,
like in the old neighborhoods we came from.

We came here to get away from false promises,
from dictators in our neighborhoods,
who wore blue suits and broke our doors down
when they wanted, arrested us when they felt like,
swinging clubs and shooting guns as they pleased.
But it’s no different here. It’s all concentrated.
The doctors don’t care, our bodies decay,
our minds deteriorate, we learn nothing of value.
Our lives don’t get better, we go down quick.

My cell is crisscrossed with laundry lines,
my T-shirts, boxer shorts, socks and pants are drying.
Just like it used to be in my neighborhood:
from all the tenements laundry hung window to window.
Across the way Joey is sticking his hands
through the bars to hand Felipé a cigarette,
men are hollering back and forth cell to cell,
saying their sinks don’t work,
or somebody downstairs hollers angrily
about a toilet overflowing,
or that the heaters don’t work.

I ask Coyote next door to shoot me over
a little more soap to finish my laundry.
I look down and see new immigrants coming in,
mattresses rolled up and on their shoulders,
new haircuts and brogan boots,
looking around, each with a dream in their heart,
thinking they’ll get a chance to change their lives.

But in the end, some will just sit around
talking about how good the old world was.
Some of the younger ones will become gangsters.
Some will die and others will go on living
without a soul, a future, or a reason to live.
Some will make it out of here with hate in their eyes,
but so very few make it out of here as human
as they came in, they leave wondering what good they are now
as they look at their hands so long away from their tools,
as they look at themselves, so long gone from their families,
so long gone from life itself, so many things have changed.

Jimmy Santiago Baca (b. 1952): Immigrants in Our Own Land, 1977, from Immigrants in Our Own Land, 1979

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Adriana Gil Diaz, right, hugged her mother, Maria Antonia Diaz, who is on the Mexican side of the border from Nogales, Arizona: photo by Nick Oza via NYT Photo on twitter, 11 August 2014

President Obama (Evan Vucci/AP)

Immigration activist asks of Obama, "Where is his courage?" "I don't understand why the President doesn't have the courage to really face Republicans and what they're saying," says Erika Andiola: photo by Jonathan Capeheart via The Washington Post, 3 September 2014

sterling immigration

Immigrants use a raft to cross the Suchiate River: photo by Nick Oza via Newsweek, 10 July 2013

sterling immigration  

Arizona’s law SB 1070 essentially made it a crime for the undocumented to set foot in the state: photo by Will Seberger / Zuma via Newsweek, 10 July 2013


The undocumented often equate law enforcement with immigration enforcement: photo by Eric Thayer / Reuters via Newsweek, 10 July 2013


The border: photo by Larry W. Smith / EPA via Newsweek, 10 July 2013

Left behind by his migrant children, an ailing man lies in his yard, San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico: photo by Matt Black, 2011 (Matt Black Photography)

Saint's Day celebration. San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico.

Dressed for ceremonial dancing, a boy awaits the start of his town's Saint's Day celebration, San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

A man leads a Saint's Day celebration. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico.

 A man leads the Saint's Day celebration, San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

Sisters empty their family's corn crib. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico.  
Sisters empty their family's corn crib. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

Rocks litter the ground of an eroded farm field. Santiago Mitlatongo, Mexico.

Rocks litter the ground of an eroded farm field. Santiago Mitlatongo, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

Harvesting a wrecked corn field. Santiago Mitlatongo, Mexico.
 Harvesting a wrecked cornfield. Santiago Mitlatongo, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

An elderly man walks home from his remote corn field. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico.  
An elderly man walks home from his remote cornfield. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

Awaiting the start of a burial at the village cemetery. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico.

Awaiting the start of a burial at the village cemetery. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

An immigrant girl stands in the bathroom of a migrant camp. Hillsboro, Oregon.

An immigrant girl stands in the bathroom of a migrant camp. Hillsboro, Oregon: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

A Oaxacan immigrant mother feeds her daughter in a migrant worker's cabin. Hillsboro, Oregon. 
A Oaxacan immigrant mother feeds her daughter in a migrant worker's cabin. Hillsboro, Oregon: photo by Matt Black (Matt Black Photography)

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers detained suspected human smugglers with 108 immigrants in West Phoenix. Most of the men and women were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador
: photo by Nick Oza via NYT Photo on twitter, 11 August 2014

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Marcos Soto, a Border Patrol agent, used high-tech security cameras to keep an eye on the United States border at one of the remote locations: photo by Nick Oza via NYT Photo on twitter, 11 August 2014

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Immigration activists gathered to pray outside House Speaker John Boehner's office in Washington: photo by Nick Oza via NYT Photo on twitter, 11 August 2014
Embedded image permalink

Immigrants used a raft to cross the Suchiate River: photo by Nick Oza via NYT Photo on twitter, 11 August 2014


Maureen said...

Marvelous poem.

TC said...

Today the POTUS caved in to peckerwood... er partisan party politics... if this keeps up, Americano del Norte racists may end up having to clean out their own baby diapers and mow their own emerald green lawns... leaving that much less precious quality time for looking at tarty celebrity selfies.

Promises Made To Be Broken

The American Dream become road kill, nobody cares but the permanently crushed.


Stunned immigration activists lashed out Saturday at the Obama administration over the White House decision to delay executive actions on deportations until after the election. But beyond anger, the decision has left activists scrambling to figure out what to do next.

“We feel very intensely that that these decisions that are made affect people’s lives,” said Lorella Praeli, director of advocacy and policy at immigrant rights organization United We Dream (UWD), while at a UWD retreat to decide how the group will respond. “People were saying, ‘now I have to talk to my mom, now I have to tell my dad.’ That’s what drives our work. This is clearly a political move and politics over families again.”

“It makes me really upset — we had a forum with the moms and parents to prepare them for these actions,” DREAMer Erika Andiola said. “Now it’s not gonna happen and some of them have to go to court. It makes me so angry that he’s fully throwing Latinos under the bus.”

“The midterm elections were on the calendar back in June,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, noting that she thought the administration had made the political calculation that the benefits outweighed the costs.

Between now and November, “tens of thousands who could have been protected will be deported and more kids will end up in foster care because their parent was deported,” she said. “These politicians are not paying attention to the humanity.”

In the hours after the delay was announced, many immigration activists expressed similar feelings of anger and betrayal — but they wouldn’t say Obama and the Democrats are on their own.

Part of the tension for immigrant groups, Hincapié acknowledged, is that they want to punish Democrats and the administration for yet another disappointment but they know that Republican control of the Senate would be far worse for the vulnerable population they advocate for.

“We’re angry at the Democrats, but the Republicans are dead to us,” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, said. “The Republicans blocked the best chance at immigration reform in a generation.”

Hincapié doubled down on her belief that Democrats made a mess of the entire process.

“I can see the GOP being so happy, ‘Here go the Democrats screwing it up again.’ There’s a discipline on the GOP side in the way there isn’t on the Democratic side, where there is no backbone or a real clarity of focus,” she said.

"No Backbone"

TC said...

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice, said in a statement: “We are bitterly disappointed in the president and we are bitterly disappointed in the Senate Democrats. We advocates didn’t make the reform promise; we just made the mistake of believing it. The president and Senate Democrats have chosen politics over people, the status quo over solving real problems.

“To paraphrase the revolutionary writer Thomas Paine, these politicians are simply sunshine opportunists, who expect Latino voters to support them in good times, but when the going gets tough, they abandon Latinos and their issues as fast as you can say ‘piñata’.

“It is hard to believe this litany of high expectations and broken promises will be mended by the end of the year.”

TC said...

Thanks very much to Maureen for reading and appreciating Jimmy Santiago Baca's great poem.

Jimmy was born in the USA (Santa Fe). As a young man he did six and a half years' hard time, three of it in isolation.

His poetry actually means something to many, many people besides Maureen and me. Despite the fact it can be understood. And though he never typed out the New York Times and called that his "work", or pimped the Yellow Pages.

Plainly the xenophobic racist couch-potato "majority" wants nothing to do with this issue, immigration. After all, should the traffic stream of undocumented immigrants ever screech to a halt, they might have to hire somebody else to do their shit jobs. And actually pay a decent wage, thanks very much..

You people (who??) know what DACA is, right? Sure you do.

What I find most interesting in the first of these next two videos you won't want to look at is the alacrity with which Sen. Rand Paul (the puffy little dude in the popsicle-striped sport shirt) manages to escape a potentially uncomfortable moment by hurriedly jamming most of a hamburger into his wee puffy face (waste not want not), bending forward slightly so that unguzzled bits don't land on his popsicle shirt, before catapulting out of his seat and, quite literally, running away from what appears to loom as the Uncomfortable Moment: i.e. the appearance in Dingburg of two uppity brown-skinned humans, one of whom turns out be (oh no!) an undocumented alien with a US law degree:

At a fundraiser with Rand Paul in Okoboji, Iowa, DREAMers Erika Andiola & Cesar Vargas confront Steve King for trying to end DACA. Rand Paul runs away when Erika says she's a DREAMer.

A sort-of analysis of the "conversation" between Erika and our brave defender of the white-eyes, Rep. King:

Sen. Rand Paul Runs Away from Real Life Immigrants, Rep. Steve King Doesn't

Far, far from the remains of that cowardly politician's half-eaten burger is this:

Define American: Jose's Story

In one of the best of the many great TED talks, this intelligent, accomplished, courageous young man offers an extremely eloquent account of what it really means to be an undocumented alien:

"A walking uncomfortable conversation": Jose Antonio Vargas: Actions are Illegal, Never People: TEDxMid-Atlantic 2012

Makes you stop and bow your head. If you're me.

And if you're you -- ??

Mose23 said...

"You understand the English language, right?"

Well, there's a question.

Jimmy Santiago Baca takes up words as the tools to hand; sometimes you take them up as weapons.

TC said...

Yes, that was the telling bit.

Dude would have called in Law, had not camera been present.

That little playlet merely skims the surface of the generalized dysfunction.

Here's to the courage of the Erikas, the Cesars and the Joses.

Sold out once again, for their mistake of trusting the politician.

About Baca using words as tools, before learning that skill as effectively as he has, he was forced by the terms of prison existence to learn to use tools as weapons.

TC said...

O'B says now he can't act on immigration until he has "all [his] ducks in a row."


"Obama ducks now..."

"Where'd I leave those waders, Michelle?"

The major newspapers of this nation would prefer to go with the airstrikes in Iraq and skip the ducks.

The exception is the LA Times.

(LA Times, 7 September 2014):


The most troubling aspect of President Obama's decision to delay using executive action to change the nation's immigration system is that it seems rooted in crass political calculation. In that, he has now joined House Republicans in putting politics ahead of the needs of the nation, which is not a particularly good move for a president trying to cement his legacy.

Immigration reform is a thorny issue, and we won't rehash its nuances here. But nearly all the players recognize that fundamental change is needed. So why is it that there never seems to be a right time to get it done? Why, when push comes to shove, is it always immigration reform that gets elbowed aside? Sure, there are difficult politics involved, but for more than a decade now, those politics have stood in the way of badly needed action.

In June, with Congress still refusing to act, the president vowed to use the power of his office to make significant reforms to the system, saying he would do so at the end of the summer. Now, he says, he has decided to delay because of the recent surge of unaccompanied minors at the border. "The politics did shift midsummer because of that problem," he said Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press," adding that he wanted more time "to make sure that the public understands why we're doing this, why it's the right thing for the American people, why it's the right thing for the American economy."

That rings hollow; if anything, the surge has brought the system's weaknesses into even starker relief — as well as Congress' failure to fix it. The Senate has passed an immigration reform package, but House Republicans refuse to bring it to a floor vote. The House did approve the so-called Dream Act, which would have allowed permanent residency for some people brought to the United States illegally as minors. But the Senate failed to bring it to a vote. Obama then announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, adopting some elements of the Dream Act by granting two-year deferrals on immigration action to those who would have been covered by the act.

Ideally, immigration reform should be handled through the legislative process, preferably in a bipartisan manner. When a president is forced to act unilaterally, the system is not working well. But we share Obama's frustration with a Congress that has failed to address the issue — most recently in ignoring his request for $3.7 billion to deal with the unaccompanied minors — even as those same politicians bray that the system needs fixing.

Ultimately, a leader has to fight for what he believes in and deliver on what he has promised.

What exactly Obama intended to do by executive action was never announced, so it is impossible to weigh in on the merits. But this much is clear: Obama the candidate promised a proposal for immigration reform in his first year in office, a promise that went unfulfilled. Since then, his administration has set records for deportation, earning him the derisive nickname "deporter-in-chief." Now, when the president finally seemed poised to act, he looked at the Senate election tote board and decided that more delay was in order. Why? Despite his protests to the contrary, White House officials acknowledge privately that the president wants to avoid galvanizing Republican opposition at the November polls and jeopardizing the Democrats' narrow majority.

OK, we get it: The politics are treacherous. But ultimately, a leader has to fight for what he believes in and deliver on what he has promised.

Hazen said...

We’re all émigrés. It’s in the blood. It’s something we forget too easily.

Decades ago (only a few years after he published this great poem) I featured Jimmy in a documentary I made, called “New River Chronicles: Signs of the Times”. Jimmy was teaching a poetry workshop nearby. Then he moved west again.

TC said...


Sent the paralytic digits out on a slow bumbling pursuit of that doc, but it seems that like just about everything else that might be of actual use to us right now, it has somehow been managing to elude capture by the world wide cyber capsule.

Figures I guess...