What if you’re from Guatemala? Since sixty percent of the country is in poverty, you probably are, too. Maybe you’ve been hopeful. Maybe you’ve done your absolute best to support your family. Maybe your whole family, children and all, are out there every day just trying to get enough money to survive to the next day and do it again. Maybe you’re worse off and you’re all just scrounging for whatever food and supplies you can find. Then Volcán de Fuego erupts. You have to flee, but maybe you flee just out of the volcano’s reach.
Maybe you’re hopeful that global humanitarian efforts are underway to help you. But then Guatemala’s electoral court decides to dissolve the party of President Jimmy Morales. You remember the genocide of the Ixil Maya in the 1980s, a genocide that Morales denies even happened. Natural disasters and political instability are a bad mix. Your family’s survival now at stake, you leave Guatemala.
What if you’re from Honduras? Sixty percent poverty there too. With as many as 40,000 active gang members throughout the country, there is unspeakable violence. It’s so corrupt that eighty percent of homicide cases don’t even get investigated. Your family’s survival at stake, you leave Honduras.
What if you’re from El Salvador? The poverty rate is 40 percent and the gangs will give you a choice: join them or die. The gangs also target women for sexual violence. Your family’s survival at stake, you leave El Salvador.
You head for the United States, where the government promptly abducts your child. You are put into an internment camp. You have no idea that from 2010 to 2017 there have been more than 1,200 complaints of sexual assault in these camps — more than half of which involved ICE agents or private contractors. You can only pray your child is not shipped to a camp in Texas, where there are reports of children being forcibly injected with drugs. Or one in Virginia, where there are reports of children being handcuffed, beaten, stripped naked and thrown into cold, concrete cells.
You may not speak English, but maybe you don’t speak Spanish, either. Maybe you only speak a language indigenous to Central America. There are more than 20 such languages in Guatemala alone.
Hopefully, you don’t have to listen to our bigot politicians, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deliberately racist interpretations of the Bible. Maine’s own Sen. Susan Collins has supported this blatant bigot, once describing Sessions as “a person of integrity” and “a principled leader“ and “personally a good friend.” Defending Sessions against charges of racism, Collins once said, “I have never witnessed anything to suggest that Jeff Sessions is anyone other than a dedicated public servant and a decent man.” She must never have read Coretta Scott King’s infamous 1986 letter to Congress urging them to block his nomination to a federal judgeship.
Yes, we all know the president hopes to make this country so dangerous for you that you won’t try to come here. And yes, we all know that he’s just the kind of fool who would burn down his own home just to keep a stranger from knocking on his door.
And yes, in this country, disorganized stupidity reigns. And yes, the White House has changed its story more than 14 times as to whether its intentions regarding child separations are deliberate or even actual intentions. And no, the people on their side do not see their own hypocrisy. This is because, as the excuses mount — 12, 13, 14 … — they’re just waiting for the one that excuses their own racism. They stop listening as soon as a politician says the Bible OK’s it, or it’s blamed on Obama, or whatever.
And yes, if you woke up in the middle of the night and noticed a small but growing fire in the corner of your room, you would first stomp it out and then try to find out how it started. But that’s the difference between responsibility and blame. We’ve always had a difficult time with that in this country — we prefer blame. Culturally speaking, there is a raging fire all around us and we’re out in the hallway with our backs turned, quietly asking no one in particular, “Why is this happening?”
But that isn’t all of us. There are politicians, like Rep. Chellie Pingree, drawing attention to our country’s sadistic direction. Many of us are giving money to groups like the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), and the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee. So, please, call your representatives. Volunteer. Donate. Be on the right side of history.
Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at .