Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic: 21st Century Girmitya?

Prerna Lal, a GW Law School student and immigration activist, faces deportation after spending more than 13 years in the U.S. She is fighting in court to achieve legal status.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.

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