Hey guys! It’s Annie again, back for another Tuesday Book Journey. After the holiday weekend, I wanted to take the time to chat a bit about what Independence Day means in our modern day.
This year, like every year, we don red, white, and blue, make last minute trips to the grocery store, find sparklers or firecrackers to audibly imitate the loudness of our looks. All the while, we call ourselves independent. It’s a day to feel uninhibited (the fact that we get the day off work certainly helps), proud, patriotic. It’s a day to remember what America provided us that other countries couldn’t, to feel the freedom we have earned by our citizenship. But this year, it’s important to remember those that America does not care to provide for, whose ownership she has shirked, whose freedom she has left for the dogs.
I drank a whole bunch of beer on the Fourth. I had an amazing time with a small group of friends ceaselessly and dedicatedly cooking. We didn’t take our eyes off the grill save for a few 20 minute spurts during which we’d play rage cage, which is a drinking game I’d encourage you to avoid should you come across it due to its impressive capacity to intoxicate. We made amazing ribs, the most successful first attempt I’ve ever had. We listened to throwback jams until it got dark and the fireworks started, dotting the coast at about 13 different stations (we counted). It was the most quintessential American holiday I had ever lived, topped off with a dollop of key lime pie.
But this Fourth was something of a devil in disguise, if I am to put it gently. From the moment I awoke on Thursday, relentless notifications illuminated my phone screen, catching my eyes as my lids were lifted. I woke up to an incessant buzz of New York Times, Instagram, Apple News. For weeks now, we’ve been hearing of the outright despicable situation at the US-Mexico border. Headlines call it “A Crime By Any Name;” the UN human rights chief calls it a horror to behold; Holocaust survivors warn of the ominous similarity it bears to the moments of their past. From the second I awoke, the idea of freedom was called into question. America was eclipsed, partially in shadow. She was caught in a lie on her birthday, dishonest and bare.
Reading these news stories and posts from my friends conjured up a memory of a book I had recently finished: Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli. Luiselli worked as a translator stationed at the border after moving to the U.S. from a wide history of domiciles, including Mexico. Luiselli’s job is not an easy one; her work as an interpreter forces her to ask a succinct 40 questions to each child to determine whether they can be granted the ability to stay. So many are unanswerable: Did you ever feel threatened on your journey? She feels foolish, unforgivable, asking them to these children whose faces say more than their words. The journey so obviously forces them into these life-threatening situations, where a disgustingly high 80% of young women crossing the border are sexually assaulted. Mass graves litter the path into the states, and border patrol agents just toss bodies in like garbage. But again and again, parents send their kids to America with the hope of a better life, knowing that, despite the fear and assault they face, anything is better than what they had.
While Luiselli narrates the stories of these kids coming to America, she and her family also face a parallel journey moving south within the states. She and her family had just applied for visas, so they go on a road trip while disallowed from leaving the country. Throughout, she points out points of similarity reflected in their paths, but more so, she talks about just how easy her family had it in comparison. The waiting, ultimately not receiving the visa, tracking it down, the ease of a drive on a network of highways. Her checkpoints were tolls, tickets, while these kids faced robbery, assault, death.
And when I was reading the narrative, that’s exactly how I felt. The ease of living began to feel shameful. Taking a leisurely trip to Safeway, deciding on ribs versus burgers, sitting on the roof in the arms of loved ones as fireworks explode in pairs. I’m not saying you can’t have fun on those quintessential American days. I am saying that we need to start acting through another level of consideration. Think about those children, caged at the border. Think about the faces represented by the red, white and blue, and those who seem to fall in the shades between. Think about those we deem nonessential to our idea of independence, and counter that. Because when we drink a beer and look up at a sky exploding with color, kids at the border are watching, too, shoulder-to-shoulder, in cages, terrified.
Educate yourself and let it start a fire within you. America might be home, but she is a home with high walls, thorny and threatening if you enter from the outside. Let it become impossible to think of freedom as our reality until it is a reality for all. Learn, activate yourself, and use your connections and places of privilege to spark real change.
If you want to do more reading, I have two more stellar suggestions. First on the list is The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantu. This is a one-of-a-kind, first hand account of one young man’s relationship with the US-Mexico border. His grandmother is an immigrant. He comes from a lineage of Southwest Mexicans. His mother worked as a park ranger, so he grew up to join a new type of force: the border patrol. Cantu gives an honest, unrelenting description of coming to terms with the brutalist force he has aligned himself with, ultimately leaving the patrol. The memories of the death toll, the bodies, the caged-up children haunt him in this truly heart-wrenching narrative.
Second up is a book called Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. Originally published in Spanish, this book gives a Mexican account of the border and those who cross it. It is a fictional twist on a very real story, where a young girl, Makina, begins her hardened journey into the United States carrying messages from her mother and the underworld. It is eerie for both its fictional and nonfictional elements, and Herrera strikes a true balance between them. But he doesn’t stop there; he adeptly weaves in metaphors of internal borders, translations and the crossing-over of language, the symbolism behind steps that you can’t take back. The imagery is deeply troubling, shocking, a beautifully rendered account of the travesty happening at the American border years ago and still today.
I’m Annie, a recent UC Berkeley grad and publicity intern here at Art + Deco Agency. I’ll be your resident blogger, chatting with and about emerging voices in the literary industry and getting you started on your summer reading list. Catch me here every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday!