The Overwhelming Burden of Consciousness
By Fernando Romero
Fernando, graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2009 and studied Creative Writing and Journalism. He is a co-founding member of Dreamers Adrift and co-founding member of the AB 540 group FUEL @ CSULB. He is also the Coordinator for the Justice for Immigrants Coalition of Inland Southern California, which is an immigrant-rights coalition in the Inland Empire region of California. He is also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post on the Dream Activist series. He also serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors on the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, a day laborer center in Pomona, Ca.
The People Don’t Want Power, They Want Pleasure
The people in Jinotega, Nicaragua were lining up at 5 a.m. long before dawn, hundreds of people stood in line waiting for the arrival of the International Medical Alliance (IMA) brigade. It was the first day of the mission and it turned out to be by far the most hectic of the ten days we were there. The medical humanitarian mission consisted of close to 100 people that included physicians, doctors, surgeons, dentists, registered nurses and other medical personnel that traveled from the United States to Nicaragua. The mission was to provide medicine, give consultations and in some cases, conduct surgeries for those who needed it.
This was my first time out of the United States in 20 years. Upon receiving my permanent residency card (green card) I was able to travel outside the U.S and like an outlaw torn I searched for and found that infinite freedom. The green card was lost in the mail by the postal service. US CIS refused to acknolewdge that fact. I had to fill out the I-90 form to replace my green card and cough up the fee for it, the process would take a few months for my card to arrive. If I wanted to travel out as scheduled, I had to present my Mexican passport at a US CIS office, have the US Government stamp my passport citing that my green card was lost and that the process to replace it was active and therefore I was elegible to travel out and back into the country. All of this for me to be part of this mission and be part of the translation team as an interpreter between the doctors and the Nicaraguan patients. It was a trip that affected me on different levels, which as a DREAMer, made me reflect on an array of issues. It also weighed on me and presented some anxiety on the trip back home.
My first time out. My first time back in. On the flight back to Miami, as a non-citizen, no green card in hand, I was separated and placed in a room by Customs and Border Protection personnel who aked me a myriad of questions about my trip and about my immigration status for about 45 minutes. Ultimately, everything checked out and I was allowed to board my connecting flight to Los Angeles with the rest of the medical brigade. Nonetheles, it made me question the ambigous nature and the power these government officilas have to deny entrance to people, even on a whim if they felt like it. So much power in the hands of few people.
Jinotega is located on the northeastern part of Nicaragua near the border with Honduras. It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains that rise sharply; straight into the air like trees. No matter where you turn your head, the four coordinates will overwhelm you with picturesque views of lush greenery. The town is known as “La ciudad de las numbras,” (the City of Fog) and is situated at over 4,000 feet above sea level right in the midst of cloud formations. Jinotega is much like every town scattered throughout Latin America. It is inhabited by people of mostly mestizo and indigenous descent; it has a plaza at its center and a cathedral facing the east adjacent to the plaza. It has the remnants of a Spanish colonial past and the ever-present feeling of destitution wrought by poverty.
Jinotega was hit hard by the Sandinista Revolution in the 1970s and subsequently by the Contra War in the 80s. The locals say that in fact, it was the region wherein the most grueling battles occurred with the mountains inhabited by guerrillas and the relentless bombing of the countryside by the Contras.
Nicaragua is also the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. This country is the equator of the Americas, wedged in the center of Central America. Upon taking power in 1980s, the Sandinista government embarked on a remarkable educational campaign for the people most noteworthy, reducing the nation’s illiteracy rate from about 50 percent to 13 percent in less than a year. Nonetheless, 48 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line, with almost 80 percent counting on less than $2 a day as their means to survive. And according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) more than 27 percent of Nicaraguans suffer from malnourishment; the highest in the isthmus.
During the trip, we met a handful of women from the Peace Corps. Most of them were white, mid 20s, American, fresh-out-of college, ambitious with a determination to change the world. They all had different qualities and personalities, but they reminded me of Rachel Corrie and revitalized my conviction and the principles of what we set out to do, not just in this medical mission, but in our quest to save the world.
It’s hard to articulate the work we did while in Jinotega. Every day, about 600 to 800 people came and went from the makeshift clinic/hospital. Most were prescribed medication to treat common ailments like gastritis, migraines or body and muscular aches. Others, those who required immediate medical attention and/or had physical problems which were treatable by the medical staff, were guided to the operating room or provided with care by a specialist.
Everyday would conclude under the blur of exhaustion and haziness. Unsure what tomorrow will bring; unsure if the shadows of that day’s patients would spawn clones that would visit us the following day with the analogous ailments.
The Overwhelming Burden of Consciousness
A sense of anxiety permeated the air. Torrential downpours shook our tents as we treated the patients in a makeshift triage located outside the city hospital. For every patient, I translated for; I tried to empathize with them at a level that surpassed their ailments. I felt an enormous privilege to be the liaison between the people and the medical staff. Even when my throat felt tired and sore, after talking for hours on end, I wanted to make sure that these people’s ailments and their stories were heard.
In their face and in their eyes I saw a defeated race, I saw the trauma left from the bloodshed of the Sandinista and the Contra Wars, and I saw the scars on their body as remnants of a hard life. I thought about the fact that I had been born and raised in a town in Jalisco, Mexico. A town not unlike Jinotega.
What went through my mind were selfish thoughts. I thought about the fact that if it hadn’t been for the bravery and audacity of my parents for taking us up North; that this could’ve been me. I thought that any of these people would gladly trade places with any DREAMer or undocumented person in the States. I thought about the fact that it was never really not so bad for me here, and that I would rather recoup my undocumented status for the rest of my life than to suffer the hard life of these souls who couldn’t find their way North.
I’ve been accused of being overly sensitive, and this sensitivity all it does is fuck with me. For every patient that sat down in front of me to explain their body aches (and show me their scarred bodies), I sat down with their pain. As a dreamer, I’ve spent so much of my life inside my own pain as an undocumented immigrant; experiencing it, hiding from it and numbing it at the same time, trying to heal it with reflections on the notion of injustice and the reasons that have brought us here. All of which have, ultimately defined my identity.
In the modern world we live in, (one that does not exist in a vacuum) for every social movement, anywhere in the world, there is an array of intersections of other social movements attached to it. As dreamers, as activists, but mostly as human beings we have to be able to sit comfortably with the pain of the world. We have to overcome our own pain and overwhelm ourselves with the pain of the world, so much so that it becomes heavy. Heavy with meaning at the very least.
You Have to Live With Eyes Wide Open
Every time a packet of pills, or a form of medication was prescribed to the patients, I cringed if only in the hope that those pills would last long enough. Long enough for their ailments to cease and for them to get better. I thought about the impotence of this humanitarian mission. About the fact, that there was nothing we could do get these people out of misery.
Many of the townspeople lacked potable water, access to electricity, access to a proper nutrition, of decent housing and sleeping arrangements. All of this compounded by the fact that most worked in the fields or did odd jobs that were usually grueling and backbreaking. The people didn’t want a cure for their backaches; they wanted to stop doing backbreaking labor at a wage of $2 of day for their rest of their lives.
There’s so much pain and suffering in the world. This world that seems so unforgiving and miserable. And I know that there are worse tragedies in the world. Tragedies that I know for a fact I can’t do anything about.
There’s a child in Africa dying of hunger-related diseases every minute; and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t find the cure for cancer. I can’t stop the depletion of the rain forest and the subsequent systematic displacement of native peoples and fauna which reside there. I can’t prevent the boiling waters of the Baltic Sea from melting the polar ice caps. I can’t stop Nike from employing another six-year old Taiwanese girl into modern-day slavery. I can’t stop an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing the home of a Palestinian family living on the Gaza Strip.
I can’t do any of that…
But I can advocate for immigrant rights here in the United States. I can change the oil on my car and maybe do the dishes.
Understandably, we must start at home, within our community in order to find ourselves. We must look for that one thing we’re hungry for and chase after that hunger in order to make lasting change. We must live with our eyes wide open, and even thought that tenacity to face the world will age us like mountains, we have to be cognizant of our special privilege we’ve been bestowed upon.
That not only are we out to change the world, but that we really are changing the world. That as dreamers, our struggle is bounded by an array of oppressions that we should always be conscious of. That as dreamers, we are privileged by our education and our place in this first-world country. We all have the ability to live up to our chimeric and sometimes Quixotic lunacies in pursuit of social justice. Our mission is not the save the world, or to save anyone really, but to live in this world and be present and to heed its calls for help. We have to be the most engaging and thoughtful and receptive human beings on the planet in order to make lasting, progressive change.
– all photos courtesy of Marina Wood.