Running

I’m a perpetual migrant
a forever foreigner
I run
from connections
I run
from feelings
I run from anything
that gives life meaning.

I’m a perpetual migrant
a forever foreigner
We make America great
And in return for our greatness
We get so much hate.

I’m a perpetual migrant
a forever foreigner
They told me migration was beautiful
Then why is it so painful?

I’m a perpetual migrant
a forever foreigner
With undocumented feelings
Easier to leave and dream
than to stay and remain bleeding

I’m a perpetual migrant
a forever foreigner
I run and
stay running.

Validations

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I think this is a powerful quote from poet and artist Nayyrihah Waheed completely validates my immigrant experience. We often speak about the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. but not enough is said about how we actually get treated once we have sacrificed everything to be here. It almost makes the sacrifices not worth it. I personally don’t think it is a fair exchange, but others who have fled persecution in their home countries, and found sanctuary here, feel differently.

What does this evoke for you?

P.S. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading salt, milk and honey and anything else that Nayyrihah Waheed has put out in the world for us to heal.

Is Migration Really Beautiful?

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?

Freedom

It’s hard to imagine how a fish can survive without water, how a plant can live without sunlight, how a human can survive without air.

Actually, it is rather impossible. And I can no longer do it.

Prerna Lal - Awesome Adventures

Enroute to Beachcomber, an island in Fiji.

I went home on August 22, 2014, for the first time in 14 years, 9 months and 9 days.

Lets just have that sink in.

I went home after spending 14 years, 9 months, and 9 days in a prison tantamount to hell. I am sure people have been imprisoned for far less and in far more horrible conditions. But that doesn’t begin to change that it was akin to hell. And it was wrong.

People leave their homes for many reasons. Some seek employment opportunities abroad. Some are trying to escape persecution. Some decide that they need to experience another culture. And some are forced to do so, for no conceivable reason, and have no real choice in the matter.

There’s no point in re-hashing why my parents moved to the United States. To be honest, they tried to go to Australia and New Zealand for the longest time, but could not make it those countries. I made the most of what was a horrifying third-choice, and learned one very vital lesson: Don’t move your child to a new country when they are 15, unless they are dying. Because, it is essentially, akin to killing her or him.

But enough about the nightmare that is the United States. What I do want to talk about is the utterly marvelous, thrilling, spectacular, life-changing, journey home.

It has taken me a long time to write this because I’ve been lost for words. That doesn’t bode well for a writer or aspiring novelist. Yet, it is hard to write about magic.

Therefore, I’ll start with the photos. Now, photos cannot quite capture freedom. Nor do words. All I can say about freedom is that it is brief, it is beautiful, and everyone should be able to have a glimpse of it, if not feel it throughout their lifetimes.

Freedom at Beachcomber, Fiji

Freedom at Beachcomber, Fiji. No alterations.

The other thing about freedom–a secret that only a former prisoner can attest to–is that you don’t really feel it until it is gone.

Addressing Brain Drain

Commodore Bainimarama’s speech to the UN General Assembly last month:

Fiji has suffered more than 20 years of mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism. Our infrastructure, our judicial system, and our systems of accountability have all remained underdeveloped and unproductive. Many of our finest brains have left the country to migrate, because they could see no future in a country governed by ethno-nationalism, corruption and greed. In order to ensure that democracy has a real chance of survival in Fiji’s future, serious, and principled reforms must be implemented to build roads, institutions and values.

Here’s the sad thing Commodore. I am probably one of the brightest Indo-Fijians around, not to mention one of the most educated ones. And I neither chose to leave Fiji nor stay in the United States. However, how are you going to encourage people to come back and the bright minds from escaping with your dictatorial regime in place? We want to work in a democracy, not under some power-hungry demagogue.