I first got involved when I was in high school, in 2002, after 9/11. For many my age (21), September 11 was a hinge upon which ones life pivoted. For me, it provided a consciousness, both historical and social, that I have to this day. As I can empathize and relate to cultures that are not my own and quantify human elements that are shared.
Through music, I began to see the polarization of my community. I was a lead singer/writer and bassist for a punk band "A Small Cost" (old mp3s are available here: I sing on "Hopeless Dream" and "Rise Above"). I noticed in the faces in the crowd, all white and not so different from my classes in school. Segregation was commonplace.
I wasn't until after I left, and especially in 2006, when Manassas, my sleepy suburb of DC sought to expel "illegal" immigrants from town (a fantastic piece from this past Sept. by Nuestro Voice will bring you up to speed). Candidates ran for mayor and Congress on deportation platforms, with no regard for families and students, like the ones at ODU or GMU (George Mason University, the "local"ist college in neighboring Fairfax County). It was there I met Eusebio.
I was writing for another class at this point, a feature story on someone I knew since my punk days (he was the guitarist for another band). He feared, in acts of defiance that occurred throughout Manassas (which included tying up traffic as well as 12 by 40 billboard decrying immigration policies) that his family or himself would be deported.
I cannot go back to Northern Virginia as often as I could, mainly because of the massive intolerance that exists. But I'm also reminded of Eusebio, from El Salvador, who helped me understand the world in which immigrants live.
He never chose to be here, I remember him saying. His father, like Gustavo's, fled from San Salvador due to the killings, including some within his family. He lost a brother during the civil war that gripped the country from 1980-1991. Eusebio loved it here, it provided him so much. He often spoke of music, and poetry (he wrote often and loved Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton). Something I never mentioned in my piece for school - we agreed that we needed to speak out on this issue, force Manassas to change its mind. Through music, through words, through action.
I haven't heard from him since April of 2007. His family, after harassment, traveled back to El Salvador, to live with family. I do not, which is often the case, know how to feel. I'm sure he's just fine but part of me looks back on the e-mails we wrote for that article. The poem that he sent to me. The ominous message that it inherited given the new circumstances. It was written for his brother - but it could be written about him.
in the city where
water steals people away
under the jaundice glow of streetlamps
where people keep disappearing,
like breath dissipates
into the cold
(from the elderly man
arguing in espanol,
dialects and accents
stenched with sugar cane,
to teenage girls with
and a frail white-haired woman
shrouded in a jacket, waiting,
in faded prestige and past dignity
to go to a home
fifty years ago today)
little more than inaudible whispers
and that bitter stain of stale cigarettes to linger in the air
And I keep waking up
through bleeding gums
and cracked lips…