June 19, The Kojo Nnamdi show on NPR’s WAMU station reported on the immigration crisis that left both the American government and its citizens concerned and anxious about the influx of wide-eyed children seeking asylum away from their impoverished and violent homelands. I remember sipping on a cup of coffee in my parents’ house, reclining on the plush, blue couch in the family room while listening to Sheena Wadhawan, the legal program manager at Casa de Maryland, outline the tremendous hurdles that Central American children jump in order to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The risks the children endure laid out by Wadhawan are almost unfathomable. She says, “rape is almost ubiquitous for young women. They’re selling Plan B, the morning-after pill, all around the route, which girls take in advance, so because of the high probability that they will suffer sexual assault along the way. Kidnapping, assault, murder, starvation, heat, harassment by gangs, by various customs officials, having to give bribes”.
Girls preeminently taking Plan B, assuming they’ll get raped? This surely made me cringe when I recalled the countless number of stories of girls I knew irresponsibly popping Plan B pills like Pez. I can’t believe that anyone wouldn’t sigh in discomfort or empathetic pain at the graphic detailing of these conditions. Those are the only reactions I can assume from anyone who’s just heard that Honduran gang members publically dismembered children as young as 5 years old in order to send a message of who’s boss.
Following this conversation exposing Americans to another world of systematic violence, one taking place on our neighbor’s lopsided continent, the program brings various callers on air who ardently oppose America’s absorption of Central American children as citizens. The callers start off with a pre-crafted phrase like, “my heart bleeds for the children,” or, “please don’t think I’m insensitive,” but… this ain’t my problem.
Well, while the complexities of U.S. immigration policies extend far beyond this situation, which has recently been quelled by a myriad of forces, including the more aggressive attitudes taken on by the U.S. Border Patrol, I fully believe that this is America’s problem. When I lived in Havana from January to May of 2014, I became blatantly aware of the discrepancy between my initial perception of U.S. involvement in Latin America’s economic and social systems, and the reality.
For four months, I’d ride the Cuban yank tanks all around town and be blinded by the excessive number of revolutionary billboards that stood tall next to the palm trees. ¡Viva la revolución! Long Live the Revolution! And next to those billboards that so assiduously push the communist agenda were other, more disturbing declarations. El bloqueo es genocidio. The embargo is genocide. I couldn’t remember a time other than in a high school U.S. history class that I’d spoken about the U.S. embargo against Cuba. And at home, it didn’t matter. But here I was in Havana, being taunted by America’s incursions, failure to recognize the need for socialist ideologies in Latin America and the eventual 1962 embargo that would plague Cuba with severe economic impediments.
Unfortunately, although the Castro government is more dictatorial in nature than it is truly socialist, the American influence over Cuba’s economy has a lot to do with Cuban suffering.
The fierce North American attitude toward Latin American democracy, however, is not unique to Cuba. In Guatemala, for instance, one of the Central American countries from which children are fleeing today, U.S. incursion brought civil war and a 30-year military rule over the country. In 1954, when the elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, proposed land reform and attempted to seize idle lands from United Fruit Company, supplemented by demonstrations more democratic than socialist, the U.S. government led a covert operation attempting to “liberate” Guatemala from communism.
What liberation meant here was the maintenance of the U.S.’s unfair economic foothold in Guatemala. Not to mention, a strategic political ploy against Soviet Russia to maintain capitalism under the heavy weight of the Cold War. But I wonder when or how anyone might know about America’s detrimental influence over Latin American popular mobilism if not through the insulated bubble of academia.
Guatemala was a fruit not allowed to ripen, and Cuba, a ripened piece of fruit then taken off the shelf. America’s influence over what present-day Latin America looks like is, like its operations, covert. But that is not to say that American influence has not damaged and extinguished popular mobilism that could have turned into positive socialism. Not every socialist movement has to turn out like Cuba. If America is willing, through the Cuban Adjustment Act, to make Cuban refugees automatic citizens of the United States, then why can’t that same privilege be extended to the Central American children who attempt the journey to the United States knowing that along the way they could be raped and murdered?
We say that we are patriots, and we proudly accept our national identities. But how can we claim to be patriots when we ignore the historical significance of U.S. imperialism?
The heavy inpouring of the children is over, but immigration from Latin America and into the United States is ongoing. If your sympathies are extended and your hearts are bleeding, but you still don’t think that it has to do with you, then ask yourself if you are a patriot. And if you are, then this is definitely your problem.
Abby Taskier can be reached at email@example.com.