Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees
by Olivier Kugler
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
by Don Brown
In 2016, the year Macedonia completely closed its borders to Syrian refugees, I met a young Palestinian man named Walid in a squalid army-run camp on the Greek island of Samos. I was writing a magazine story on the conditions in such camps following the deal that March between the …
“I have seen sex workers all of my life,” Jessica Ramos declared. “I have seen them denigrated by neighbors. The answer is always, call the police to fix this. Police do not fix anything.” She was speaking at a February 25 rally in Foley Square, New York, in front of 150 sex workers and supporters. This might seem like a small event, one of perhaps thousands of protests that take place every year in this city of ten million people, but it represented a radical break with the past. For Ramos is a state senator, and this spring, along with her colleague, Senator Julia Salazar, she promised to introduce a bill to decriminalize the sex trade in New York.
To be an immigrant in America is to wait. This goes double for the millions of immigrants who have found themselves at the sour end of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureaucracy—and triple in the age of Trump. If you are an immigrant in the process of deportation proceedings, you must wait for your Master Calendar, on which a bureaucrat will assign you to a check-in date several months into the future. At this check-in, you may win several more months of anxious waiting—or disappear into a detention center, where you will wait for a one-way plane ride to a country you may no longer know.
Agriculture in India relies heavily on rain and temperature in the growing season; farmers here are highly sensitive to climate. They have already felt the beginning of the apocalypse in the form of dried-up wells, declining yields, and mass migrations of people. So the farmers had brought their bodies—ravaged by work, unaccustomed to television cameras after years of neglect, and weary from walking miles—to the seat of power. As thousands chanted “Marenge nahin, ladenge!”—we will not die, we will fight!—the farmers redefined themselves as the protagonists, not the fatalities, of the climate change story.
Though the Bund was largely obliterated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the group’s opposition to Zionism better explains its absence from current consciousness. The Bund celebrated Jews as a nation, but they irreconcilably opposed the establishment of Israel as a separate Jewish homeland in Palestine. The diaspora was home, the Bund argued. Jews could never escape their problems by the dispossession of others. Instead, Bundists adhered to the doctrine of do’ikayt or “Hereness.” Jews had the right to live in freedom and dignity wherever it was they stood.
Julia de Burgos’s life spanned Puerto Rico’s full entrenchment as a colony of the United States, while her public life as the island’s most celebrated and acclaimed poet took place against the backdrop of the twentieth-century’s global conflict between fascism and democracy. The problems Puerto Ricans face today, as their impoverished island fights for survival in an era when the international order seems to be coming apart, are the legacy of the struggles De Burgos faced. In January, I traveled to Puerto Rico with my father, carrying a copy of Julia de Burgos’s letters, visiting the places she had lived, trying to hear her voice.
On March 18, Turkey completed its conquest of Afrin, formerly a majority Kurdish city. Photos of the events soon flooded social media. Though far from the worst violations of the war, the scenes were emblematically dismal. Fighters from the Syrian National Army, now Turkey’s proxy militia, fired their rifles into the air at Afrin’s main roundabout, snapping selfies with their free hands. If a government had wanted to stoke new hatred between Kurds and Arabs, it couldn’t have staged a better show.
Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked like it was stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists—the anarchist and feminist Louisa Capetillo’s sons and daughters—were stepping up to rebuild their communities. Natural disasters have a way of clarifying things. They sweep away once-sturdy delusions, to reveal old treasures and scars.