Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
Today is a very special day. It was four years ago, today, that the U.S. government initiated removal proceedings against me.
I am not only here–but now I have lawful status, and on an expedited pathway to U.S. citizenship.
(This does not stop people from sending me hate mail, which goes to prove the ‘we support legal immigration’ movement is a sham).
When I was put into removal proceedings, I felt a certain sense of relief. Finally, instead of living in the perpetual limbo of being undocumented, someone would make a decision on my case, and I could pick up on living life again. Finally, I may be able to go home, and restart my life from when it had ended. I truly felt like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Americans are incensed by this. Of course, there is something to lose — your family, your community, and your life in the United States.
True, perhaps there is some loss there. But my great-great-grandparents were resilient people. And they passed on this resilience to the generations after them. They were taken from India to Fiji, as indentured labourers. Certainly, they must have lost a lot in that migration. Their culture, family, caste, and way of life.
Somehow, people also forget how much we lost, similarly, in moving here. That sense of loss does not go away with capitalist accumulation. Loss combines with isolation because the U.S. is such an individualistic society where everyone is so steeped in the rat race to nowhere, and worried about money.
People in the U.S. don’t smile and say ‘Bula’ when you walk down the street. We do not talanoa with our co-workers. Our neighbors do not know our names. If they know our names, they cannot pronounce our names. And they cannot seem to fathom the concept of an Indo-Fijian, much less a queer one.
Integration into this society is unpaid emotional and mental labor, and in the U.S., the emphasis is on assimilation, not integration. My integration was also hampered by the decade that I spent being undocumented. There was no instate tuition. No ability to drive. No health access for counseling or basic check-ups. No financial aid for college. No law licenses for undocumented lawyers. No white-collar employment. No ability to travel abroad. And certainly no programs like deferred action to enable any of the above. We had to work hard to make all of these things possible. I had to personally fight and win these battles.
It all draws me towards the conclusion that migration isn’t beautiful for a lot of immigrants. It is devastating to leave everything and come to a new country to start over again. Feeling completely displaced and lonely. Constantly feeling threatened, scrutinized and under attack from anti-immigrants. Having to work twice as hard as everyone else, and be twice as more qualified, for the same jobs. Having to learn and speak English.
The U.S. provides tremendous opportunity to reinvent and recreate ourselves, but that opportunity is often met with tremendous resistance, and frequent isolation. Maybe migration is beautiful but only for those who benefit from it. The cuisines, languages, and cultures that other immigrants bring with them enrich the United States, and the immigrant experience. The cheap and expandable labour–well, we know who mostly benefits from that.
What do you think?
In a shockingly poor decision, the Indian Supreme Court has reversed the July 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults. In doing so, India’s Supreme Court has recriminalized gay sex in India, rendering almost 20 percent of the global LGBT population illegal.
Overturning a High Court decision, the Indian Supreme Court upheld Indian Penal Code 377, an archaic and barbaric law that criminalizes “homosexual” acts:
377. Unnatural offenses — Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Western media and LGBT organizations are already demonizing India as “backward” after this ruling, which does not make life easier for Indians who are gay and lesbian abroad, and conveniently casts the West as an arbiter of freedom. In fact, the New York Times took a potshot at Asian countries as a whole in reporting about India’s tragic decision, perhaps forgetting that gay sex was illegal in parts of the United States only ten years ago. Because LGBT people have been marginalized and mistreated for so long, many people in the West mistakenly see some forms of “gay rights” as a marker for progress or modernity. Anthropologist Akshaye Khanna articulates this quite well:
We are seeing, in several parts of the world, a cynical appropriation of the discourse of sexual rights and sexuality by right wing and reactionary agendas. In Western Europe, North America and Israel, we see the phenomenon of ‘homonationalism’, where LGBT discourse is being used in deeply racist—usually Islamophobic—groups. In East Africa, the question of sexuality has come to be the central question in discourse about the nation – where notions of ‘Africanness’ have come to be tied to the position on homosexuality. This centering of the question of sexuality is always a way of diverting attention from political and economic questions relating to the control over natural resources, or instances of corruption.
While people in India and across the world are mourning and expressing outrage at the ruling, and shaming the entire country, it is important to note that Indian Penal Code 377 is a relic of British rule and colonialism. Contrary to the sexual puritanism and homophobia that the British wrote into the law while colonizing India, Indian and Hindu culture is enriched with queer sensibility. It is rather ironic that the British are finally getting ready to start allowing same-sex marriages next year, while their retrograde policies in former colonies continue to harm and hamper peoples lives. The Indian Supreme Court ruling is a reminder that the Indian people cannot rely on courts to strike down an injustice rooted in colonial oppression, and that colonial ideas remain ingrained in a so-called post-colonial country.
However, colonial-era law or not, many Indians are rightly outraged by this decision from the Indian Supreme Court, which should have outlawed colonial-era discrimination, instead of punting the question of sodomy to the Indian parliament. Thus far, the Indian parliament has remained non-commital on the issue, sparking more outrage on social media and across the country. In a display of vibrant democracy, Indians are taking to the streets both in India and abroad in protest of the ruling. That hardly seems backward and regressive to me.
Funnily, while LGBT organizations in the U.S. expressed disappointement at the decision, they have rarely ever expressed the same sort of outrage about queer immigrants who are criminalized and locked up in detention at home. Claudette Hubbard, a long-time lawful permanent resident of the U.S. who escaped Jamaica after facing persecution for being gay, has been locked in an ICE detention facility for two years now. Viesca, a transgender detainee at El Paso, Texas who won her credible fear interview, reported constant degradation and harassment from guards, and finally agreed to her own deportation yesterday. Kumar Jagdish, a gay asylum seeker from India, has been detained at El Paso, Texas since June, 2013. You won’t hear these stories in the mainstream media, because they do not show a flattering image of the United States as a beacon of hope or democracy. After all, detaining and deporting thousands of immigrants daily is not a marker of modernity any more than criminalizing homosexuality. Frankly, I am disappointed in all of us.
As for Section 377, the law is clearly an abomination. While Section 377 has rarely been used to criminalize gay persons in India, Indian queer liberation activist Kaveri Indira reports that there are many enforced laws on the books that cause less nationl and international outrage, such as Karnataka Police Acts, which criminalizes hijras, gender transgressives and transgender persons. Perhaps it is time to take the outrage, and pour it into the threats and daily assaults against queer and transgender persons of color that are far more real and tangible in both the U.S. and India, than this poor Supreme Court decision.
I think I just got banned from India too.
Note of caution: Homophobia in India is mostly a relic of British colonial rule. We wrote the Kama Sutra, which is full of queer portrayals of sex. Hijras — what is seen as India’s third gender — are considered auspicious for many occasions. The last thing I want or need to see is a bunch of Westerners touting their exceptional “progress” in institutionalizing gay rights at the expense of “Third World” backwardness on the issue. Seriously, don’t let me see this.
I’m left wondering what part of the gay non-profit industrial complex is going to build its email list from the Azad homophobia first.
“The disease of men having sex with men is unnatural and not good for India. We are not able to identify where it is happening as it less reported also,” Azad said at the national convention of zila parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV/AIDS.
Azad is moron of the week for being the Health Minister of a country and demonstrating that he is ill-equipped to deal with matters of sexual health.
If you want the definition of “undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic” then this article in my school newspaper pretty much sums it up.
Some straight-talk from me, with no pun intended:
“I think a lot of people are angry,” Lal said. “I’m more amused, personally. They can’t kick me out of the country.”
As a well-known advocate for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act – which, if passed, would offer illegal immigrant students a path to citizenship – Lal said her deportation case is going to blow up in the government’s face. She said she has a top deportation lawyer on her side.
“The people who know me best, the people I work with, are amused as well. They want this fight to happen in court. They’re looking forward to it,” Lal said. “They’re following up with DHS officials and the White House on this. It’s going great.”
I feel like I am in a war and people are dropping bombs on my home, my family, my friends and my community. I tend to internalize all my pain and anger and unleash it in the most unexpected places and frequently on the people that love me most. I hope I don’t face retaliation from my school or my professors for my words. Grades are the least of my concerns though, so it hardly matters. I am just trying to keep my family together.
Today, I was struck by this revelation that my great-grandparents left India for Fiji in the 1800s not knowing what the future held for them and maybe fully expecting to go back once the indentured servitude system was over. Maybe some of them were coerced, kidnapped and trafficked thousands of miles against their wishes. The indenture system was certainly not voluntary and most signed up under economic duress and hardship. The Indians sent to Fiji were called girmityas, referring to the “agreement” of the British Government with the Indian laborers as to the length of stay in Fiji. They had to stay and work for ten years. They experienced the most painful, degrading and gruelling conditions in the small Pacific island country.
After 10 years, they stayed. They spun a new fabric for the island nation and became an indispensable part of the country.
You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m also a 21st century girmitya in the United States.
I just hope that analogy is not offensive to my ancestors. I have a lot more rights and freedoms than they had while growing up. And yet, I was brought here involuntarily much like my great-grandparents. I’ve been put through the most grueling tests, which continue regardless of my achievements and contributions to this society. I’m waiting to become an indispensable part of this country’s history. Maybe I already am. I don’t know.
Girmit, as in Contracts, is knocking on the door.