Run Away from Me Now

Recently I wrote a post, titled “Mapping the Invisible,” about how a single map represents its terrain no better than the word “self” represents the multiple voices of our various internal selves.

In that post, I displayed two maps of Australia, one showing the modern political borders of the country, and the other ignoring that and instead displaying the hundreds of Australian aboriginal homelands. These two maps, together, add needed depth to a single place.

I also included a third map, revealing the historical instances of physical violence between aboriginals and colonists—mainly a record of massacres against indigenous people. This map is interactive, and clicking on a dot will call up the story of the massacre it locates.

Here is another pair of contrasting maps. The first simply represents the border between Mexico and the US.

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The second map, below (click for greater detail), records the 3,244 deaths that have occurred on the US side of the border from 1999 to 2018, numerous red dots that have been called “clearly marked ghosts.”

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This map, which was created by the organization Humane Borders, is also interactive. As the noted fiction and nonfiction writer Valeria Luiselli reports, in her remarkable book Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Humane Borders has created

“an online search mechanism that matches names of deceased migrants to the specific geographical coordinates where their remains were found. That way, family members of the missing can type a name into a search bar and either confirm their worst fears, when the map zooms in on a red dot in the desert, or continue to wait and hope.”

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These deaths in the US, however, pale in the face of additional statistics.

First, the majority of migrants attempting to enter the US are not from Mexico. Instead, they come from three countries to the south of Mexico: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

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And the journey north across Mexico is deadly. According to Luiselli:

“though it’s impossible to establish an actual number, some sources estimate that, since 2006, around 120,000 migrants have disappeared in their transit through Mexico.” Migrants are abducted, raped, beaten, killed. Hundreds of mass graves have been discovered in Mexico, with new ones being uncovered on a monthly basis.

So, if the path seeking a new life is fraught with such chilling danger, why would anyone attempt to do so?

Here, I would like to quote from the poem “Home,” by Warsan Shire (a poem I quoted from in my most recent post, “No One Leaves Home Unless”):

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Again, you can find the entire poem at this website.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are dysfunctional, nearly failed states that are largely ruled by gang violence. Families leave home because they are protecting their children: protecting their sons from either being killed by a gang or being forced to join one, and protecting their daughters from being raped by gang members and then being forced into a life of prostitution within the gang.

Migrants seeking asylum in the US are risking hell to escape the hell their home has become.

Valeria Luiselli knows this all too well. Her book recounts her experiences serving as a translator for children who have, against all odds, made it across the US border and are now seeking asylum. She sits across from them at a table and writes down the stories of these young survivors, stories that will determine whether the children can remain in the US.

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One boy says, The gang followed me after school, and I ran, with my eyes closed I ran. So I write all that down, and then, in the margin, make a note: Persecution? He says more: And they followed me to school and later they followed me home with a gun. So I write that down, too, and then make a note: Death Threats? Then he says, They kicked my door open and shot my little brother. So I write that down, too, but then I’m not sure what note to make in the margin: Home country poses life threatening danger? Not in the child’s best interests to return? What words are the most precise ones? All too often I find myself not wanting to write anymore, wanting to just sit there, quietly listening, wishing that the story I’m hearing had a better ending. I listen, hoping that the bullet shot at this boy’s little brother had missed. But it didn’t. The little brother was killed, and the boy fled. And now he is being screened, by me. Later, his screening, like many others, is filed and sent away to a lawyer: a snapshot of a life that will wait in the dark until maybe someone finds it and decides to make it a case.

Luiselli worked as a translator beginning in 2015, in an immigration system that was already under deep stress. Trump’s willful, unprincipled, and immoral decisions have only made it worse. And it will not improve, that is not what this current president is all about. So we must protest, volunteer, and above all, vote, vote this November as if your life, and the lives of many others, depended on it.

And here is Luiselli, from her brave and necessary book, with a final thought:

“being aware of what is happening in our era and choosing to do nothing about it has become unacceptable. Because we cannot allow ourselves to go on normalizing horror and violence. Because we can all be held accountable if something happens under our noses and we don’t dare even look.”

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2 Comments

  1. Pam Tisdale says:

    Philip

    There is a group from North Shore planning our reunion for next June 28. Is there some way we can contact you to get the information to you.

    Would love to see you and meet your wife. She sounds terrific. Please let me know

    Pam Tisdale.

  2. admin says:

    Hi Pam, so good to hear from you.
    I received something in the mail about the reunion last week, delivered to my Rhode Island address. June is usually a busy month for me, professionally, but I’ll do my best!

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