"He made a story for all of them, a story to give them strength."
--Leslie Marmon Silko, “Ceremony”
I made the mistake of watching a CNN feed on my Facebook page early in the morning. A 39-year-old man who had been brought to America when he was ten, no crime or misdemeanor on his record, married to an American citizen with two American-born children, was being deported. I could feel the family’s scream in my teeth.
That day, I had planned to work on the revision of my novel which is set in pre-Revolutionary New York. I had stopped in the year 1741, months after a slave rebellion. A slave in the Franks household, a real family I am amplifying with my imagination, had participated in the rebellion and been captured. He was up for trial in front of Judge James Delancey. The judge had only two choices: execution or deportation to one of the British-held plantations in Jamaica, the most brutal slave plantations in the hemisphere, perhaps in the history of slavery. In other words, this slave was being deported to his death.
The same is true of many illegal immigrants escaping the gangs in Central America: they are being deported to their death.
Where are we now in our evolution as a humane society? How far have we progressed since Hitler marched into Vienna in March of 1938 and began redefining who was German and who was not, selecting and then deporting Jews, homosexuals, and political dissidents to transit camps before being gassed in the death camps? How far have we progressed since the Serbs decided that the Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia were less than human? Since the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis in Rwanda?
No CNN cameras were rolling when the jackbooted soldiers ordered my grandmother, Nanette, at gunpoint to get down on her hands and knees to scrub cobblestones. She had been on her way home from work at the family-owned retail glove store near St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Would I be exaggerating if I said that the ICE deportations are an analagous form of ethnic cleansing deserving of prosecution by the International Criminal Court? I do not think so. And just because these deported men and women disappear, never to be seen in America again, does not mean that we haven’t killed them or destroyed their families. And I use the editorial “we” here deliberately.
Bear witness, dear reader. Write your stories. They will give you strength.