Today I bring to you the incredible story and the moving poetry of Erick Fajardo. He and his family came to the United States from Bolivia seeking political asylum. Over several emails we corresponded about his experiences here and his work as a journalist and poet.
The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.
Back in Bolivia Erick Fajardo was a journalist, political writer, and college professor. His resume is impressive and includes such positions as Spokesman for the Governor of Cochabamba, correspondent for the newspaper Los Tiempos, and Chief of Desk/Press Advisor for the National Senate. After years of successful work, however, Erick and his family were forced to leave the country and remake their lives in the United States.
In January 2010 the government of my country sat me in a plane without any chance to choose. Or, to be more precise, they gave me the choice to elect between imprisonment or exile. After ten years as a successful journalist and researcher, today I clean kitchens to live. However, God gave me a talent: to touch people with the words, and your initiative [Through Courageous Eyes] is the first chance I got to tell others like me about my personal experience as a refugee.
Though his life has “changed dramatically” Erick still writes for the prestigious Bolivian newspaper, Los Tiempos. One of his recent articles is about the state of Bolivian art in Virginia. In this article he wrote about an exhibit of indigenous art by Roberto Mamani Mamani, an Aymara-Quechua Bolivian, held at the Smithsonian Museum of Native American Cultures.
The poem he chose to share with us is “a piece of social poetry” about his early experiences in the U.S. It was written at the end of his first year here, after dealing with “immigration procedures [that] are slow and tricky.” The family also endured a year without work authorization, social security numbers, or driver’s licenses. All the while, their few resources were spent on lawyers. Further complicating their situation, Erick was hurt in an auto accident; “six months after our arrival a truck hit me in the leg and I lost the only job I got: to run between the cars during the red lights delivering flyers to the drivers.”
Assimilating what “Exile” means
Exile is not a war flag of liberals nor of conservatives, but it is merely banishment.
And exile has no heroes or villains, just victims who left and victims who remained.
Exile is the implicit death warrant of a tacit political intolerance:
It is a statement that no one takes but running relentless.
It is the choice of those without choice: Instead of a sudden social death,
a distant, long and slow agony.
In exile there’s no patriots or stateless, but simply expatriates.
There’s no dishonor, nor glory.And although the power calls you “fugitive” and yours say “hero”,
exile is a condemnation to anonymity on foreign soil and oblivion in your own land.
Paradox! Here no one knows who you were, and there you are a most vague memory every day.
Exile is a beast without sex or creed.
It is not the original sin of revolutions or dictatorships but it is a vice of those in power.
Nazism banished Albert Einstein from Europe,
same as the anti-communism did to Charles Chaplin.
The same revolution of contradictions that exiled Trotsky,
today exiles who stands against some “socialism” of the new rich
and the misery of the eternal poor.
Exile is a human life that a political opinion overturned “to square one”.
When the accusation is “enemy of the state”, the oldest procedural defect is your same birth.
Such as an apostate excommunicated in New world, without degrees, certificates or citizenship;
As a castaway vomited from the metal belly of a ship, exile is a remote and uncertain fate.
An exile is a penitent grounded in limbo between undocumented and resident.
Is a without-time-sailor navigating an uncertain present;
a journey without charts across a geography without setting.
Exile is a train station called Uncertainty, an indefinite delay at an airport,
the stop for a bus you do not know how far goes or until what time comes.
Exile are larger and smaller things but only absences:
Tears of wife here and anguish of mother there,
The distant bark of an old dog and the vivid smell of homemade bread oven,
It’s sense of truncated utopia, of sleep engulfed by the same nightmare
which imposed us to awaken naked over the other side of world.
Exile is a slow and bitter pill that corrodes the continuity of our stories.
A pain that our understanding will digest in endless insomnia journeys,
but our soul, removed with forceps from homeland , will never assimilate completely.
Erick says his poetry serves “as an example of what to do, what not to do, or simply what to expect from a new country” but that mostly “it lets others know that, no matter how hard immigration is, someone else already felt your pain, your fears and your will to survive.”
I asked Erick about how he began writing poetry and whether it was before or after coming to the U.S. He replied with this story about the day he became a “poet of sadness.”
Nine months after my arrival, unemployed and sick, I fell to the bottom of a crisis. The stress, the fights with my wife and the trash food put me in the Jackson Memorial’s urgent care. A young doctor Cuban-American took off my gallbladder to save my life. He did it in half hour and he charged me as a year income.
Without medical insurance, Medicaid or any other to face the debts or the child support, an applicant for asylum easily turns into a poet of sadness. Until that day I was merely a journalist and a writer. It was the pain and misery, which turned me to poetry, giving “soul” to my texts. Since that day I began to write press releases to myself. Like pieces of memory that I was afraid to lost and I was trying to keep in a log.
To conclude, I asked Erick if he had a message he would give to other refugees or asylum seekers. His response, “If I got a message for other like us? Course I do! Our very survival is the greatest message.” He is proud of his two children doing well in school and getting good grades. He adds poetically,
The journey of every family of refugees in this country is a song to life, a poem to the will to survive. Our personal message is: there’s no such a thing as an “American Dream”: this country is as good or as bad as we do each of us.
Though Erick has translated his poem into English, the original in Spanish has its own power. Here is Digiriendo El Destierro for those who are able to read it.
Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.
Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at email@example.com.
Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser