This is an excerpt from the introduction to Immigrant Dreams and Alien Nightmares, a new collection of poetry by José Torres-Tama. Room 220 will host a Post-Brunch Salon to celebrate its release from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Press Street HQ (3718 St. Claude Ave.).
Having been born in Ecuador, South America and come of age in the United States of North America, I consider myself a bilingual citizen of the Hemispheric Americas, but I often feel like a man without a country, especially since the heightened persecution of Latino immigrants in a post-9/11 landscape. During this epoch of blind nationalism driven by zealots who push and peddle fear to their misinformed constituents, the foreign born is cast as the alien other and dehumanized for the benefit of labor exploitation and new forms of slavery.
These themes drive the sixth and last section called Alien Nightmares: For My Brown Paper Bag People / Los Valientes, and these poems chronicle the struggles, brutal deportations, and wage theft abuses Latino immigrant workers have experienced while resurrecting the flooded city of New Orleans from her deathbed. Some poems are based on informal interviews of immigrant workers and others cover the activist group called the Congress of Day Laborers, El Congreso de Jornaleros, and their valiant work to address the human rights violations of a people who have contributed tremendously to our epic revival.
The “new” New Orleans owes much to immigrant workers who began rebuilding her when she was in critical condition. It’s the darkest secret in the open air of the reconstruction, but the City that Care Forgothas forgotten to thank the thousands of Latino immigrants who contributed tremendously to her rebirth.
As I pen this introduction, immigrants struggle to remain in a city they have helped to rebuild, and the labeling of undocumented workers as illegal aliens subjects them to abuse by a Juan Crow system that readily exploits their labor at the same time.
No human being is illegal.
I am an immigrant.
In my universe, there is
for immigrant haters!
I know the pain and stigma of the scarlet letter “A”of the alien classification. While I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, my Mestizo brown skin places me in a state of constant suspicion inside a country that is grappling with a rapidly changing hybrid people. Indigenous people, who existed before the European invasion was framed as discovery of the Americas, are the true stewards of these lands, and so are their descendants.
If we dare to be truthful, the metafiction reality of this continent’s colonization is that the real aliens are the Europeans and their descendants because the Pilgrims arrived without papers.Why were they not deported?
Columbus and his three ships were the first European invaders and illegal aliens, and their Castilian Spanish was the first non-indigenous language spoken in the continents of the Americas. Like the Puritanical English who arrived in the Mayflower, the transformation of land into property was one of the precepts upon which the colonization of indigenous people is based on—not just here but across the globe where European powers have taken turns to subjugate and enslave.
We, the colonized, are speaking in a variety of tongues, and we face the challenge of having to contest the hypocrisies of the dominant power structures with their own language. This is our poetic and conceptual challenge.
Torres drives Spanish conquistador blood through my veins, and Tama is an old German Bavarian name. My mother’s great grandfather migrated from Deutschland in the year 1900 to Ecuador. Like other Ecuadorian hybrids, I have Quechua Andean Native blood as well. The Quechua people inhabit Ecuador, Bolivia, and parts of Peru.
My body is a minefield of the colonized. We, the hybrid offspring of European and indigenous cultures clashing, the Mestizos on our rightful lands have been strategically labeled the aliens because as such the Euro- centric power structure defines itself as the center, and everything else as the ethnic other.
The obvious hidden truth is that the Europeans were the first ethnic immigrants on these continental shores. Let’s not forget and dare to remember. Let’s reject a culture that embraces amnesia. Let’s embrace critical thinking as a progressive reform to out the historical lies passing for truth and dare to birth a more perfect and inclusive Union.
Because of my birth in South American and having been raised in North America, I am more American than most, and so are my brothers and sisters from Latin America whose indigenous hands have rebuilt New Orleans. We have been forced to migrate North because of the decimation of our countries’ economies by U.S. policies and the many dictators—Pinochet (Chile), Somoza (Nicaragua), Trujillo (Dominican Republic), Batista (Cuba), and Noriega (Panama) to name a few—propped into power and supported from one century to another, keeping Latin America in a Third World state while plundering its natural and human resources.
My work is deeply rooted in exploring the vestiges of colonization and the lingering plantation paradigm in our many cultural and governmental institutions in the United States. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, diversity is championed but it’s still not practiced thoroughly.
The old structures of power persist, and progressive reforms are continuously under attack by fanatics who want to take America back. How far back is my question?
The 1950s were not good for any people of color, African American, Latino, Asian, Native American, or any women of all colors in the U.S. Not a good time to be gay or even Jewish in the so-called land of the free when McCarthyism was pervasive, and being labeled a communist was akin to being labeled a terrorist today.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
I believe in this experiment called the United States, but I an willing to be critical and challenge the country to live up to its mythic propaganda as the beacon of Democracy in the known universe. I want to believe in a paper constitution that has often failed to serve the larger we, black, brown, red, yellow, women, and gays.
My greatest belief in the future of this country lies in the hybrid make-up of my two boys, Darius Amancio and Diego Arjuna, who are Ecuadorian, German, Irish, Quechua American güerito guapos of the new millennium. Both conceived in New Orleans post-Katrina, my hope is that their future is one where hybrid people are celebrated and everyone recognizes diversity in all its forms, and no one is forced or conscripted to point at one group or another to employ as scapegoats and demonize.
My hope is that their future is one where the country lives up to its greatest promises and manifests a more inclusive and progressive American Dream.
These are my poetic observations from someone who has been dreaming on this side of the Americas since I traversed U.S. soil at the tender age of seven. I was categorized as a Permanent Resident Alien and given a Green Card to begin dreaming in Spanglish en el otro lado.
I invite you to take a walk on the wild side,
and ease on down my bilingual yellow brick road
to the Emerald City porque el sueño sabe más que tú.
¡Sí se puede!
This article was reposted from Press Street: Room 220, a NolaVie content partner.