…If I lived in a country where everyone spoke English and looked like me, but that had little to no opportunities for jobs or breaking out of poverty, very dangerous criminal behaviors and a police force on which not everyone was corrupt but enough were corrupt that it wasn’t safe to call them to protect me – I’d rather just suffer and lose than even risk it…
(Hey wait…this kind of sounds familiar…)
…if I lived in a country like that and my parent was sick, and my kids were hungry, and I couldn’t afford a decent school for them or really anything they needed, and my husband cried every night….I’d be looking for answers.
If there was a country nearby called Burgium, where there were people of all colors and backgrounds who only spoke Esperanto, where I KNEW I could get work and make twice what I would in my home country, I would start thinking about going there. I don’t speak Esperanto, but I might get by if I take a job where I don’t have to talk too much. I might check Burgium’s website and see if I could figure out how to work legally…but I don’t speak Esperanto and translate rarely works well on these sites, so I’d probably be confused. If I had family in Burgium already, they might be able to tell me what to do; I’d trust them more than any government agency, anyway. My family isn’t corrupt. I might fly to see my family in Burgium.
Once I get there, I might be amazed by how casually everyone walks around, like there’s no fear or danger. The police might look a lot like my police, so I probably don’t trust them – plus I can’t understand them and don’t want to look stupid. I go to my family’s house, they tell me about some work. Compared to anything I made before, the pay sounds amazing! The work is hard, no one here wants to do it…honestly, I don’t want to do it. But I can buy my mother’s medicine. I can send my husband money for food. My son can go to a decent school. I can see a better future for all of us unfolding.
I’m not naive though, and I don’t want to get in trouble. I ask my family about words I saw on the website…working Visa. ICE. Immigration. My family speaks in hushed tones, gives me some papers. I understand from context that I’m talking about something dangerous. They tell me the government does bad things to people who don’t speak Esperanto; I see some of this on the news, always people from my country being hurt, screamed at in Esperanto by people with angry faces. Children dying. My family tells me not to make trouble, not to ask questions, not to stick out. In my country, people would kill me for less than making trouble, so this scares me. I take it seriously.
In my country, you have to know the right people to bribe to get “permits” that someone invented just to keep you from doing things. My family gives me some papers to show people if I’m ever asked. I can’t read Esperanto…I can barely read English. I assume my family paid the right people, these papers are valid. If I’m quiet, I’ll be safe and I can save my mother, my husband and my kids.
The next day I have a headache; my family gives me money, I go to the drugstore to get medicine. I can’t read the bottles. I don’t know what the denominations on the money are. I pick what looks like aspirin to me, giving random bills to the Esperanto-speaking clerk who looks at me like I’m stupid. I don’t know what this clerk is saying but she doesn’t sound friendly. “Don’t cause trouble,” I think to myself. I apologize in English, not knowing what else to do, and stumble out of the store without the medicine. The clerk is yelling something. I don’t understand…is she calling for Police? Shit, what did I do??! I run toward my family’s apartment, I’m not watching anything around me. Police in my country could kill someone like me. I’m terrified.
Suddenly, someone snatches my arm, pulls me between two buildings. Am I safe? No. He is whispering angrily in Esperanto. He smells bad. His eyes look wrong, red and dilated. I think he is threatening me, he’s grabbing for the money. I don’t call out for help – “Don’t make trouble.” I give him the money. I’m terrified, my headache forgotten. He looks like he still wants to hurt me, I don’t understand what he’s saying…I run for my family’s apartment. I’m crying.
My family tells me to stop crying before someone hears; they close the curtains, lock the doors, send children to their rooms. They ask me about the clerk, the medicine I tried to buy, the man who attacked me. They want descriptions I don’t have. They ask if I was followed; my teenage nephew checks the curtains nervously. My brother is furious. His wife cooks, her whole body tense – she is not looking at her husband or the window. She jumps at every sound. My brother paces. Food is put out, but no one really eats but the children. My sister in law and nephew go to bed, as the clock ticks deeper into the night. My brother is on his phone for hours. I’m supposed to sleep on the couch, but I’m worried about the danger to his family. I’m worried that Burgium is not the safe place I thought it was. I’m worried my brother still looks angry. I can’t sleep.
I fall asleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning. My sister in law shakes me awake, reminds me of my papers, hands me coffee. My brother gruffly tells me to “come on,” and we leave. I don’t know where we’re going. We stand outside a while, then a car pulls up with people i don’t know who speak English – they’re all bleary eyed, smoking, quiet. We get in; it’s tight but we fit. I’m nervous. We drive in and out of streets full of Esperanto signs I can’t read. We get to a factory; I hope we’re where we’re going, because I didn’t think the car would make it this far. I follow my brother who doesn’t even look up to see where I am or if I followed him. I guess I’m going to work here? It’s dark, it smells; the machines are big and loud and covered in Esperanto signs with scary symbols.
I was just thinking…if that was my life now, if that’s how I felt, I’d probably be too confused and too afraid to look for someone official to trust so I could report being robbed or ask about legal immigration. In fact, I’d think I was legal already. I’d be afraid to look stupid or cause trouble by interacting with Esperanto speakers, so I wouldn’t. I’d be afraid of being killed or jailed…I’d be desperate to take care of my family. I might not be doing shit right, but I wouldn’t be doing it wrong on purpose. I just wouldn’t know any better and I wouldn’t trust anyone to ask them. I’d feel alone.
Just a thought.