Its like a fad, jumping on this euphoric bandwagon of revolutions whose spirit has crossed all borders and generations. Its infectious, hopeful, energetic and we can’t help but jump up and cry out in solidarity “We’re all Egypt! We’re all Undocumented!” We are looking for freedom fueled by youth and spread by Facebook.
Check your privilege. No, we are not all undocumented because you can kill a man and you won’t be deported but I don’t even have to take a stand and I can be thrown out of my country. You want to stand in solidarity? Then walk to the state capital and sit with me as I tell my story to the staunch legislator who won’t give us a chance in hell. You want to take a stand on this issue? Head to Alabam a or Georgia or North Carolina and stand with those who are criminalized for being immigrants.
Another thing you can do: Please be quiet for a second and listen. No you’re not listening, you’re hearing my words but you’re not listening; there’s a difference.
Don’t get me wrong. Nothing’s more valuable to me that your support but to stand with me, you can’t stand ahead of me; I need to tell my story, my struggle, to show just how heavy the burden is on my back. But when you tell it then suddenly you own it, and everybody else can own it and if everybody has a piece of it then what’s the movement’s meaning? Suddenly being undocumented is not such a roadblock if everybody’s feeling it but you’ve never felt it so what gives you the right to tell it?
Our stories are our voice, our tools, our reality, our proof to others and ourselves that we are really alive.
You may not like it, but the truth is I have to walk ahead of you, because my status is beating me down, strangling me it seems with a list of “You can’ts” that’s left me stuck in the back of an everlasting line. My first step up is to pick up the mic and speak up.
What self-righteous thought possessed your mind to think you can tell my story? You’ve never felt as helpless as I am against an entire institution; you’ve never looked at your future and thought, “Damn I have nothing left, I have no choices, no paths to choose from; my future’s a giant blank.” You’ve never felt useless as your brother applied for college while you and him both knew there’s no chance in hell of him attending.
Don’t rob me of my voice. Otherwise the voiceless will stay that way and we’ll stay a stereotype in the minds of peoples and politicians, a faceless abstract image in the back of their heads coming to the front only when they need someone to take the heat. Don’t make up my voice because I’m real, I’m alive, I exist, and when I can only watch the world that I thought I was a part of from a dark corner, my voice is all I have to know that No, I’m not less, I am the same as all the others; I’m human too.
Yes I know I risk arrest, but don’t belittle my choices; I’ll make that decision for myself, please don’t make it for me. It’s hard I know, because you don’t want to feel helpless unable to stop the cop from locking the iron on my wrist but this is what it means to help me fight.
And if I get arrested I’m going to ask you to be strong and call my mother to tell her I‘m not coming home tonight.
I can only speak for myself, for my struggles, for my burdens, and I won’t speak for no one else, because each person’s fight is their own to own and they will choose to speak up or be silent.
Are you beginning to see why it puzzles and disturbs me to hear you proclaim so loudly and proudly that we’re all undocumented? Because we’re not. A number separates you and me. A number open doors for you and shuts them in my face. You have a privilege I have never tasted. It’s easy to say that you’re undocumented when you’re risking nothing; it’s a heart shaking, anxiety filled fear for me.
You will never get that letter in the mail that details why you are deportable. I got mine last month. And I have to come to grips with the fact that a year from now, I may never be able to see my family or friends living here again. This is what I think about while you sleep in the dead of the night.
You can’t imagine what its like to live under the shadow of a country you grew up in, hand over heart, pledging allegiance to the flag for which it stands one nation, under God, for liberty and justice for all. And justice for all. Except me.
But it’s still there for you.
You can’t claim undocumented any more than I can claim Egypt or Syria. To my undocumented peers: listen closely, because we shouldn’t be having this conversation but here we are. Why I even have to explain this I don’t know, but here goes.
I am a Palestinian, born in Kuwait, carrying a Jordanian passport but I would never claim I am Egyptian. Or Libyan. Or Syrian. The horrors lived, the lives taken, entire nations and armies rising up, people disappearing; how can anyone who never had to endure that possibly have the nerve to claim Tahrir Square or Egypt?
I only hope I would have half the courage of these people to say that I too choose freedom over bread, that I’d rather die than live under a dictatorship, that I will lay down my life for future generations. I’m a proud Palestinian but as much as it hurts to say, I’d rather be undocumented here rather than a citizen living under dictatorship over there. I may not be strong enough to stand in front of a tank/soldier and risk death.
Don’t confuse with being an undocumented protester here with being an Arab protester over there. We are struggling to be a part of the system; they are laying down their lives to overthrow and reestablish entire governments. We can be deported; they can get killed. It’s as simple and as brutal as that.
Check your privilege; I just checked mine.
Alaa Mukahhal, IYJL Organizer.