This was just posted by a friend of mine on a private post. She gave permission to cut and paste it, leaving her name off. Here it is. If you want to cut and paste it please take my name off too. I’m probably being paranoid but I don’t want anyone to accidentally figure out who she is.
So many Americans have lived for so long in a warm, naive and protective bubble that results in difficulty understanding why refugees and immigrants come to this country, what it is really like to live under totalitarianism, and how it actually can happen fairly easily, even to them.
I’m not saying that what’s happening in Syria, or what has happened all over the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, or in the Ukraine, or what happened in Germany last century is happening to the same extent or in the same way here in the US.
What I want to say is that it is not too far fetched to consider that the worst aspects of true totalitarianism could happen to this country and that we are moving further in that direction with the many recent actions of the republican administration. I also want to share my personal experience with the cruelty of human beings and to point out that it was the United States who helped bring that particular nightmare to power. That it may now be increasingly coming to rest here at home…is a wake up call!
Don’t ignore it! Resist!
When I was 18 I lived for almost two years in Mexico and Central America. Most of that time was spent in Guatemala.
I don’t talk about this period in my life very often, although I have periodically and privately written about it for many years. Believe me…the impacts upon me of what I have seen and lived…have never left me…”post-traumatic stress” is a mild and sanitized name for these memories and their influences upon me and my life. Even my closest friends and family have mostly only heard bits and pieces…for one thing, because I can’t find a way to articulate atrocity to those who have been as sheltered as most US Americans have been, for another, because it all just hurts too much to really dig back into, and finally because it’s almost impossible to really explain experiences like these to someone who hasn’t been there.
This, I think is what may make my experiences relevant now though, and for this reason I am choosing to speak up about this a bit.
During my time in Central America I had an opportunity that many US Americans have never had…to see first hand totalitarianism and autocracy in action.
Guatemala in the mid-70’s was a dictatorship. If you were for land reform, or wrote a story the government did not like, or were just accused by a jealous neighbor of criticizing the government you could be taken away and imprisoned or tortured, and if you were lucky, you were eventually released, but often you were “disappeared” becoming yet another of the desaparecidos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_disappearance)–victims of the mano blanca (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mano_Blanca) …the White Hand. This resonates for me with the servants of Saruman…my rants about myth and fantasy and geeks against tyranny are rooted in such comparisons. I’m not joking or merely geeking when I compare current tyrants to ones found in folktales or Tolkien stories. These modern day orcs and Uruk Hai, and other servants of Sauron, or Voldemort, or Saruman, are familiar to me. So are their leaders.
I will not write here now about my experiences being confused in Guatemala in early September 1975 for Patty Hearst just days before she was apprehended in the US…another tale entirely that I don’t want to discuss in this venue…and focus instead upon early April 1976 shortly after a huge earthquake devastated the country leaving 100,000 people dead immediately and over one million homeless.
A lot of the emergency relief food and clothing was seized by governmental agents and warehoused to be sold rather than distributed to those who needed it. There were exceptions. I was volunteering for the Girl Scouts sorting mountains of shoes and clothing and putting together packages of food and blankets to hand out.
Later, I was going door to door delivering these emergency packages of food and clothing in a neighborhood of Guatemala City when I unwittingly knocked on the door of a house that was ostensibly being raided for the sale of marijuana. I was a little over 18 years old at the time and had my young child with me. I was pulled inside by the police and thrown into a corner to be searched. I was then dragged by the hair into a small room alone where one of the police officers “frisked me” by “fondling” my breasts, grinning, repeatedly trying to get me to kiss him, and then thrusting his hand inside my jeans and underwear and grabbing me there. I was then held at that house with everyone else there for about 18 hours.
Most of that time I was trying to keep my squirming baby from getting loose to play because I was told that he would be taken away if he kept bothering the police. At one point when the police got bored they put a gun to my head and made me dance sinuously for their entertainment.
They quickly found new fun however when a young student about 19 or 20 came to the door with a clipboard. He was taking a survey about earthquake damage and impacts upon the neighborhood and like me, he got caught up in the raid. He tried to explain this but they laughed at him. He was somewhat “effeminate” and very bright and was trying to explain and prove that he was really just a surveyor and not there for illegal purposes but they did not want to hear any “excuses”.
The lead officer was a true and classic bully. He moved to kick the young man but slipped on something on the floor and fell down. His fellow officers found that funny. He didn’t. So he proceeded to beat the young man in and out of a closet, back and forth through the room, and then out the front door and into the yard. While this was going on, the rest of us were taken at gun point to the open back of a pickup truck to be taken to the police station.
It was a commandeered truck with old wet broken bricks in the bottom. It wasn’t comfortable. We were loaded into the back of the truck while the police officer continued to beat the young man senseless. He put up no resistance. The officer then took out his gun and shot the unconscious student in the head. The blood from his head leaked out and ran down the sidewalk to the gutter and mixed with rain water there to pour past the wheels of the truck we were in. I will not forget that river of blood. Ever.
The police then all went into the house for about 15 minutes or so while we were left in the truck with one young, fairly nervous officer. A quiet discussion among the prisoners ensued as to whether we could hit him in the head with a brick and all of us run away before the rest of the police returned. None of us at that point was restrained by anything but fear.
None of us ran. We were taken to the police station where I was questioned and then released the following morning. When I was released the murderous officer tried to be friendly with me. He wanted to know if I would go out with him. He laughed and offered me a joint he had behind his ear. When I demurred he said…well you are a good girl aren’t you…and you know to keep quiet…now I want you to go out that door and not look back. And I want you to run.
You might imagine I was terrified. I thought they were going to shoot me in the back for trying to escape. I had my baby in my arms and was zig zag running down the street trying to hold him out from me a bit in case maybe if the bullets went through me they might not hit the baby.
I then ran into a little store, jumped the counter and ran out the back and then went to a small “pension” and checked in to hide. Eventually, I was able to return to the United States because of that amazing treasure I possess: a US passport. So I don’t take it for granted. I left behind people who did not have that luxury and wouldn’t take it for granted. I understand why immigrants are such a gift to our country. They have perspective and appreciate what our constitution and country has to offer. I don’t see why our country should turn its back upon people in desperate situations. I see the borders as a political fiction. The land is the same on either side.
I love our Lady Liberty and our constitution and damned if I want to see our nation decline to undermine and punish the press, return to destroying the environment and talk about forcing sovereign nations into building border walls to protect a racist policy and deny entry to people who are descended for the most part from peoples who were here before the European invasion and migrated back and forth following the crops for centuries before European arrivals.
My story above was just one in a number of days where I saw things nobody should see. It wasn’t the only murder I witnessed and it wasn’t the only egregious abuse of power I experienced. I have seen hunger, oppression, and terrible abuse. I have seen cruel people revel in causing pain and wallow in unfair access to wealth. I have seen, first hand, atrocity. I understand deeply why people want to come to the United States to possibly realize a better life.
And I recognize the symptoms of despotism. It makes me afraid. It also makes me angry.
When a refugee becomes frightened and desperate and/or hungry enough to run and try to come to a haven of freedom like the United States was…and still could be…to turn them away for religious or racial or cultural reasons is to embrace the same ideals as the White Hand. I see what these modern day orcs and Uruk Hai are doing…felling forests, poisoning rivers, treating people of good will like criminals, and I will not be silent. RESIST!