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?
I’m so immensely excited about having the chance to vote in the first Fijian elections in more than a decade. I’ve never had the chance to vote! And I’m absolutely uninterested in voting for the lesser of two evils in the U.S.
These are the parties seeking registration under the new decree:
- Fiji Labour Party (originally multiracial but now predominantly Indo-Fijian; led by Mahendra Chaudhry)
- National Federation Party (NFP) – predominantly Indo-Fijian; once a major political party
- Social Democratic Liberal Party (SDL) – a renamed and reformed Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua
There is much controversy about the registration of political parties but hopefully, things will be sorted out. I’m neither a fan nor foe of Commodore Bainimarama’s regime, which is currently in power. I supported overthrowing Laisenia Qarase’s racist regime in 2006, while I also criticized Bainimarama’s deportation of Fijian academics, abolition of the judiciary and censorship of the bar. His stance against guaranteeing sexual orientation rights in the Constitution is also simply homophobic, even though Fiji was the first country in the Pacific to decriminalize homosexuality and only the second country in the world to provide affirmative protections for LGBTQ people in 1997.
I am hopeful to see Fiji returned to democratic rule, even though I’ve always been suspicious of how well democracy would work in such a racialized electoral system. Bainimarama’s staunch advocacy that all Fiji citizens, regardless of our ethnic groups, should be called Fijians should go some way in bringing about much-needed social change. However, the new Constitution suffers from serious defects, and I’m not too confident that it will prevail in the long run.
We seriously need to return the Fiji Labour Party to multi-ethnic roots, though it makes sense why a labor party in Fiji will be predominantly Fiji-Indian–we make up most of the labor force. My parents were staunch supporters of the FLP, and my Dad participated as an overseer of the electoral count during the 1998 elections. His cousin’s husband, Mr. Chaudhary, was elected as the first Fiji-Indian Prime Minister of Fiji. It all went downhill when in May 2000, George Speight kidnapped thirty-six government officials and held them from May 19, 2000 to July 13, 2000. The rest is the history of a true banana republic.
I was already in the United States when Speight abolished the Constitution and instituted military rule in Fiji and never witnessed any of the coups. But the 2000 coup brought about the exodus of thousands of Indians from the country, who are now settled in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.
Fijian nationals living in the U.S. can subscribe to a newsletter issued by the Fiji Embassy for updates. Contact info for the embassy:
EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF FIJI
2000 M Street, NW, Suite 710 | Washington D.C. 20036 | Tel: (202) 466-8320 | Fax: (202) 466-8325 | Email: email@example.com
More details will be posted here once registration of overseas Fijians begins.