Culture

The refugee could be you

For Suketu Mehta the refugee boats floating today in the seas are a human version of the famous New York garbage ship, the Break of Dawn. It ran 1987 when that freighter traveled the Caribbean Sea looking for a place to unload a mountain of debris from 70 meters long by five meters high. It was supposed to dump them in North Carolina, but officials there rejected it, suspecting there was something toxic in the waste. That made Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and finally Texas also deny him the ability to download. That is why the ship passed into Mexican waters. The Mexican Government sent its armed forces to ensure that the discharge did not occur. The Belizean navy also gave orders to control the barge. Nor did the Bahamas accept New York’s trash so after traveling six thousand miles and spending a million dollars trying to find a safe harbor the Break of Dawn returned to New York and dumped trash in an incinerator in Brooklyn. It would be comical as well as absurd if the refugees could return. But many times they cannot.

Today there are in the world there are 10 millions of people without a homeland. They have no nationality. They cannot leave home because they do not have it: their land has been destroyed by war or desertification. They carry the burden of a failed state on their shoulders. For the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the refugee brings with him the specter of chaos and anarchy that has forced him to leave his land. It embodies the economic and political disorder that the organized wealthy countries caused by abandoning their surplus populations in the colonies, before withdrawing, leaving behind ill-defined nation-states. The refugee knocks on the door of the West and sneaks in even though he is not welcomed or tolerated. He is willing to do whatever it takes: wash sheets in a hospital for example, even though he is more prepared than most doctors. It must be subservient by giving up claiming a fair share of the wealth of its new habitat. He only hopes for some personal safety and the possibility of sending his son to a school that is close to the refugee camp where he awaits the opportunity to reunite with his father, siblings or friends.

There is people who have understood it. Not that stateless people need land and immigrants work and security, they have understood that we need immigration. In 2002, Albert Jurczynski, then mayor of Schenectady, upstate New York, was in command of that heavily polluted city. the factories that lost a third of the population – the majority Poles, Germans and Italians – when the factories closed. The houses were left empty and deteriorated. One day he met a group of Guyanese people who were transforming an empty house into a temple. He began a relationship with other Guyanese. He invited them to town. He took them to his father-in-law’s house to drink homemade wine. And he proposed a pact to them. It cost your city council 16. 500 dollars tearing down a house. If they refurbished it, he would offer it to them for a dollar. Today in Schenectady they work and live 10. 000 Guyanese. Many in the construction business. They are the 15% of the population.

El escritor Suketu Mehta en una imagen de su propia web.
The writer Suketu Mehta in an image from his own website.

There are also other ways to deal with separations. In 500, First Lady Pat Nixon inaugurated the Friendship Park. For three meter high steel that, at least, would allow families to see each other and even have food. It lasted 15 years. The Obama administration decided to block the US side by placing a second fence. There were so many protests that three years later, in 2011, they undid the fence leaving a thick metal mesh. It was only possible to touch with the little finger. But it was possible to touch. The merchandise, the meals, the medicines could no longer pass from one place to the other. There is, however, a door that allows a moment of union. But since 2013 it has only been opened six times. Mehta tells that in 2017 it was to celebrate a wedding. They went over to the American side, got married, photographed and separated. The writer has written in the essay This land is our land that that door is the most cruel and hopeful place he has ever seen.

A patrol of 20. 000 Agents control access to the fence. In the year 2000 there were only 9. 000 police officers. “We want to protect our borders so that no one enters, but as soon as they enter, we want them to cut our grass, to clean the hotel … We have a double personality,” says Mehta. And he wonders: What makes someone from Honduras risk his life to get to the United States? Two things: someone in his family has been murdered. Someone he knows has lied and claims to live in luxury, with a job and with a hopeful future on the other side of the border.

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