In the stacks of books and articles written each year about immigration, certain voices are seldom heard: those of the border-crossers themselves.
A new book, Los Viajes/The Journeys, aims to change that. It will be presented tonight at 6pm at Galeria de la Raza.
“Most of the people who write these books are people doing research in libraries,” said Muteado Silencio, a poverty scholar at POOR Magazine who contributed to the book. “It’s actually people who have been through this experience first-hand who wrote this book.”
The stories and art in Los Viajes emerged from over a year of workshops in schools, shelters and cultural centers in San Francisco and Oakland, where immigrants shared their border-crossing stories.
The point, said Silencio, is to look at immigration in a new way – not as criminal activity, but as something that’s been going on for all of human history. “We see immigration as a natural thing that happens. It’s unstoppable,” said Silencio, who came to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico in 1993.
Among the stories in the book is that of Gloria Esteva, who came to the US with her five-year-old grandson for leukemia treatment he couldn’t receive in Mexico. The plan was for Esteva to bring the boy to the airport where his mother, who was getting together the necessary paperwork in another city, would meet them and take the boy to Tijuana. From there, she would cross with him into the US.
But a landslide prevented Esteva’s daughter from reaching the airport. The family had scraped together the money for two plane tickets, and they were non-refundable. So, Esteva made the decision to fly to Tijuana with her grandson, Jesus.
Family friends took the boy across the border, and Esteva followed days later. That was eight years ago.
After years of treatment at the Oakland Children’s Hospital, and two relapses, Jesus has been cancer-free for over three years. His mother and brother are now in the US, too.
But it hasn’t been easy. “People told me, you’re going to live like a dog [in the US] but it will save your grandson,” said Esteva, who works as a janitor, writes for POOR Magazine, and works part-time at La Raza Centro Legal.
Her family lived in shelters for over a year. They have faced poverty and racism. And while many people criticize immigrants, they ignore their contributions to the community and the work that they do, says Esteva.
“You live so comfortably, with your pretty houses that our hands clean. You deserve that, but so do we,” she said.
Esteva hopes that Los Viajes, which is written in English and Spanish, will help educate people about why immigrants come to this country.
“I want people to know that we’re not here because we’re stupid. We’re here out of necessity. I came for my grandson’s health. Others come because of hunger,” said Esteva.
Silencio considers himself a displaced person — displaced by the capitalist system. “I want the people to see that they’re not alone. There’s millions of us, not only in the US, but outside of it. We’re being displaced and criminalized and it’s happening all over the world.”
He hopes that sharing stories will help immigrant communities come together to work for more economic and political power: “It’s another step toward awakening the sleeping giant,” said Silencio.