Me contaron que estabas enamorada de otro
y entonces me fui a mi cuarto
y escribí ese artículo contra el Gobierno
por el que estoy preso.
– Ernesto Cardenal
You wanna know the dirt truth? i longed so much for those hours of solitary confinement in the plain white waiting room before our release. The last hours in detention had been stifling though promising, even relaxing! The fast had begun, picking up men each day. We had circulated every room, and overwhelmingly everyone wanted to strike.
Those final courtyard recesses were hard. The men (and who could blame them) felt the belated escape. A release! I remember Dino – was that his name? – Dino’s name is actually Carmen, but he doesn’t like being called that because it’s a girl’s name. Carmen turned 19 in detention, the judge can’t deport him, can’t release him; one of his former guards in the juvenile jail he first was held in upon crossing into the states wants to adopt him. Carmen linger outsides the circle of men & eventually asks me: how do i get on TV? He has never approached me before. He’s terribly shy, terribly beautiful — what a country that would detain a beautiful man-child & gloat about it! What Carmen is really asking me is how do i get the hell out? — & i wanna say, when the global economic system collapses or some heroic shit like that, in reality, i don’t know what i said. But by sight i committed myself to him.
And if & when the door was opened, i wanted, yes, thirsted for release, and the pang! yes the muffled shriek coming from the 600 others still detained. The weekly deportation flights would continue & medical emergencies left unattended. But the men were most all committed to strike, we had maximized that organizing — in my most egotistical mind i thought of that piece from the gospel where the powerful wished to arrest Christ, but they couldn’t, not due to her divinity, but because they feared the people that loved her.
(I also thought of my father’s lashing out due to his diabetes [just visit the inner-city health facilities in this country for more info], of my mom who was psychologically collapsing [please read the first chapter of Malcolm X for more context], of my younger sister, & my older sister’s doubt — Detention does this to families. It did it to mine, in parentheticals i am trying to articulate the deep hate i have for this country . . . and ask you, the reader, to understand, to ask, how could you not hate what has violated your most sacred?)
Viridina & I were kicked out not at all in whole because we were dreamers, we met other dreamers in detention, but because Broward Transitional Center feared us. Feared 600 detainees declaring their humanity. Baldwin says, when you stand up & look at the world as if you’re right to be here then your life becomes a dagger cutting against the decayed corpse we’ve settled for & called society.
That final day it thundered during our lunch break. I enjoyed every minute, though without food for that week i was thoroughly full. We were asked to be interrogated. Refused. Released to our rooms. Seized & then interrogated again. I am told the men started chanting, chanting our name w/ thunder for background. A contingent asked for my whereabouts & then all erupted into “Free At Last, Free At Last, Free At Last,” Viri later informed me. How you teach 600 non-nationals to chant this in unison is beyond me . . . i am pathetic enough to say i could’ve died then, a virgin in too many ways, but having felt that deep a bond, and saved myself from the paralysis of knowing you know too many in detention . . .
In the future I might explore how you can do no wrong in civil disobedience, I thought I knew that then, but now I lived it. But here I am only unpacking those last hours. Never mind those three weeks where I learned what Baldwin describes as walking around corpses. Jose Castro was deported to the country where his cousins kill, & his father & uncle have been killed, last I saw him he hollered with both fists in the air after changing out of his jumpsuit, ‘least the ordeal of the wait was done. Angel Raymundo still calls, always telling me how much pain he woke up that morning with on a scale from 1 – 10, he has a hernia growing from his right teticle, has seen the emergency room twice at North Broward Hospital, but Immigration neglects their necessity to pay for his surgery because he’ll soon be deported anyways. Junior Harriot still has a blood clot at the knee (and a bullet in his back) which may stop his circulatory system at any moment.
I also failed to mention the laughs. In fact, I wanted to laugh in Miguel’s face before he was deported because of his thick Dominican way of saying “esa lluvia no es fácil!” to the downpour of rain. Or, how between my roommates of Haitians, Mexicans and one Honduran, the only song we all knew was Buffalo Soldier. How, the Jamaicans would play cards all day at their habitual table, and return to that spot at night to sign hymns & serenade the courtyard. How Chihuaha barked more than spoke. In another not-so-fine moment, Bernardo, expressed his disillusion with failed attempts at a work strike, which would, in effect, shut down the center: “those idiots just get fucked from behind and smile.” Of course, Bernardo, then, was a firm no to the hunger-fast, and when we tallied only 12 men, Turra said: “well, you said, persons, right?” How in the midst of cafeteria gossip, before he began his 30 day hunger strike, Claudio pointed out the man who had had digestive problems, complained, received sleeping pills, and then shit in bed unable to stir himself awake from deep sleep. & how this same victim later returned to my room and singling-out one doubter of the fast, belted: “YOU, do you wanna stay here!” Or, during that last run through all the rooms, one man asked for my autograph. Or, Jose Luis Carcamo, who picked fights with the old inmates in laundry service who did not want to wash his towel out of spite. Carcamo has been deported 8 times, he is 32 but looks seven years younger. He says he always runs the luck of being deported in August, where he returns to 2 weeks of festival, then rides the train through Mexico another month, in the attempts of crossing the fenced desert once again. Carcamo worked in roofing while in Florida, but one casual day he decided for some extra cash and waited at a Home Depot as a day laborer, he was deported in the worst clothes he owned, having paid a month’s worth of bills, cuffed at the arms & ankles, with a chain connecting both set of cuffs wrapped about his waist, and then another set of handcuffs connecting him to his flight neighbor.
It has been a month since our release. The abuses continue. The country has not yet sought forgiveness for its sins nor kneeled before the altar of truth (that’s from Frederick Douglass, by the way). But Carmen’s eyes look into mine. But Bernardo’s humour still warms me. Claudio has been released, so has Samuel & Samuel, thank love for that.
Today I confirmed that Regis & Pablicio are still detained. Called another wife that her husband had most likely been deported & told a father & the former wife (she explained to me that he has since remarried) of how to deposit money to their beloved.
One last point goes the question of how I did this. How we did this. Well, you do not put someone through a catastrophic mill and emerge just a survivor or become just a witness. That furnace is meant for & made by monsters, that we remain people, with some semblance of humanity (which in my book means some semblance of divinity) means a lot. It means that we, the undocumented, have been conditioned for the worst. Have become, in effect, perfect soldiers to tackle the architects & structures of our detention – not by employing our oppressors’ unimaginative tools. But by effective, ingenious organizing, by telling our nation her lies and hypocrisies, by speaking out of moral authority (the only power we have & need — yes, i know, Baldwin & Fanon may disagree) & by changing the miserable condition that exists on this earth. In effect the last man (the once submissive men) have become masters among men.
I loved the men, because they first loved me. Theirs was a faith unseen, how you trust a 22-year-old who tells you to tell your family to tell a youth to tell the country your hardest truth is beyond me. And our story is this: you can only ignore beauty for so long.
Am i free? are you still detained?
Viridiana Berenice Martinez : The final day it rained and thundered as we got escorted out. It was as if God herself was angry and the thunder was a sign of her validating what we’d done. And we’re not gonna stop. We’re not.
Marco Saavedra : Viri, muxer, when i first saw you inside i thanked god, because i know of few others as strong as you that could withstand that hate in the physical form & confront it.
Viridiana Berenice Martinez: I still cant believe we saw each other the first day of my detention. After that day, Id always look that direction in case you were there. Any sign of life in that hell hole can make one smile. But just because you’re walking and breathing doesn’t mean you’re alive.
Marco Saavedra: Too, too many people have asked to described the experience to them, it’s like describing light or your first crush: impossible. I say sometimes it’s like a pink motel you can’t get out of, save by deportation or legal relief, but that doesn’t get to the boredom, the psyche, the unknown pangs of angst.
All you need know is that there will not ever be a detainee who would prefer encagement over release. And that detainee could be you. So what do you do?
This Letter is not done. Can never be. War, hunger, poverty will ensure that. Nor is the American dream anywhere near its reality. Neither is there need to distinguish myths from the religion of this land. Concretely, we can only say that this reality is unsustainable, and will undergo change, period.