post archive

Resistance


Two Fronts

Armenian Refugee camp at Ras al Ain

I have been distracted, lately cycling between rage and grief, while having difficulty sleeping. Images and stories about Israel’s horrific genocidal campaign in Gaza are the stuff of nightmares. I often think about my Armenian genocide survivor grandmother’s stories about her experiences during The Deportations. They were starving, the dead and dying were all around, and she ended up one among 8,000 orphaned Armenian children in a refugee camp in the Syrian desert on the outskirts of Ras al Ain.
 
I wake up in the middle of the night to check Instagram and WhatsApp to see if my friends in Gaza have posted updates or responded to my messages. I want to know whether they have survived to see another day. One of them has lost thirty pounds because of how little food there is. Another has been displaced four times and is living in a tent.
 
Since 2015, I have been part of the We Are Not Numbers literary mentorship program that pairs established authors with young writers in Gaza. Enas, one of my former mentees, left Gaza for the first time in her life to attend the Palestine Writes conference in September, and was unable to return home—she’s living with an aunt in New Jersey and is worrying around the clock about her family, who are displaced in Gaza with little access to clean water, adequate food, and medicine, and under constant threat of being killed in Israel’s indiscriminate bombing campaign that has to date murdered over 11,000 children. I helped raise money for Hossam, another mentee, who has a large social media presence and is therefore a particular target, to get across the border with his family, but the list is long and the wait seems interminable. I started with a new mentee, Haya, several weeks ago, and I’m sick with worry about her and Hossam. I recently worked with Haya on this moving piece about what daily life is like for her right now.
 
In addition to this brutal reality, repression on the Columbia and Barnard campuse are entirely bonkers, and my spouse James, who has been teaching at Columbia for over thirty years, is spending hours writing letters to the new “Task Force on Anti-Semitism.” This task force includes no actual experts on the subject—and there are a few of those on the faculty who might have been invited to join. The task force is co-chaired by known Israel boosters, and when James asked them how they define anti-semitism, they replied that they don’t have a definition. They are just getting a sense of the feelings and the vibes on the campus. Meanwhile, two weeks ago several Israeli students used a banned chemical weapon against a protest on the Quad, sending close to a dozen students to the hospital. 
 
On the German cultural scene, it seems that collective guilt about the Holocaust has morphed into a feeling that Germany must stand by Israel no matter how genocidal the Israeli government’s actions are. An artist friend, who lives half-time in Berlin and half-time in Brooklyn, has been sending us weekly updates about the cancellations and other forms of punishment being meted out against writers and artists who call for a ceasefire or advocate for accountability. She told us about her friend the Bosnian-Serbian novelist Lana Bastašić (I read her award-winning novel CATCH THE RABBIT recently and was very impressed) who has been subject to this harsh discipline. This week I saw Lana’s principled and humane statement on Instagram, which was then published on LitHub.
 
It is clear that we need to be fighting on two fronts—and excuse me for using military metaphors, but this really does feel like a struggle for survival. We must redouble our calls for a ceasefire and our efforts to push the Biden Administration to stop arming, funding, and providing diplomatic cover for a genocide in Gaza. On the same day that the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa had presented a plausible case of genocide against Israel, the U.S. government announced it was “pausing” its support for UNRWA, the largest and most effective aid agency on the ground in Gaza, increasing the threat of more deaths by hunger and disease. You can donate to UNRWA’s life-saving work here. And at the same time that we take action to stop a genocide, we must also push back against the silencing of advocacy for Palestinian freedom. 
 




Antidote to Despair

Words from Mariame Kaba

I don’t need to enumerate the newspaper headlines that make the world feel like a dark and calamitous place right now. Everyone I know is struggling to keep from sinking under the weight of so much cruelty and venality. One case in point is the leaked draft decision indicating that the Supreme Court is on the verge of overturning Roe v Wade, which would undo 50 years of legal precedent and allow the banning of abortion by any state government with the will to do it. Alito’s draft decision states that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” so if the all white, all male drafters of the constitution hadn’t intended it at the time, we are afforded no protections by the document. If that isn’t scary enough, some legal analysts say that Alito’s draft opinion, by referring to fetuses as human beings, grants them rights that could give momentum to efforts to enact a federal ban on abortion. And to be clear, that is the stated goal of the forces behind this decision.

An interesting piece in The Lever shines a light on anti-abortion zealot Leo Leonard who has been working for many years to undermine Roe. His Judicial Crisis Network and its anonymous donors have toiled long and hard to build an ultra-conservative majority in the Supreme Court that could now rule for decades. The piece goes on to detail the dithering of the Democrats that allowed this to happen, but then offers strategies for what that party might yet do to protect reproductive freedom. One promising tactic is federal protection for and expanding the reach of medication abortion.

In this week’s Special Edition of the At Liberty Podcast Brigitte Amiri, the Deputy Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, recommended that each of us connect with our local reproductive health, right, and justice organizations, as well as practical community support groups and abortion funds. She further suggested that now is the time to contact our elected officials to let them know where we stand on this issue. While I will certainly support electoral organizing to put progressive and leftist candidates into office, much of my attention will be focused on radical grassroots groups such as New York City for Abortion and mutual aid efforts such as the New York Abortion Access Fund and the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. On The Cut, Bridget Read and Claire Lampen put together a helpful annotated list of abortion funds in states with the most restrictive abortion laws.

Yesterday I read a beautiful and scary piece by Grace Paley about what life was like before Roe. Paley wrote, “I think women died all the time when abortions were illegal. The horrible abortions were one way; the other was the refusal of institutions—medical, church, and state—to care for you, their willingness to let you die.” The upcoming Supreme Court ruling will not outlaw abortions altogether throughout the entire country at this time. Access to this essential medical care will be determined by where you live and how much money you have, which is already the case in many places, and on our battle to maintain and even expand this access. As Melissa Gira Grant points out in this excellent piece The Real Fight for Abortion Rights Is Not in the Courts or Congress, even before the court strikes down Roe 89% of U.S. counties do not currently have a clinic that provides abortions.

Melissa Gira Grant concludes her piece with this paragraph:

As true as it might be to say, “If they come for Roe tonight, they’re coming for marriage equality tomorrow,” there are plenty of people they have come for already, from trans kids seeking health care to people giving birth in jails to sex workers sharing harm-reduction information to criminalized survivors of intimate partner violence. If you are today feeling for this first time like the government is demanding control over your gender and sexuality and bodily autonomy, you are, sadly, in numerous company. But that also means that there are countless people around you who already know that freedom, certainly now and maybe always, will not come solely from what the law can recognize. Either the law must be pushed to recognize those rights, or those rights must be won despite the law.

Abortion rights were won in this country because tens of thousands of people took to the streets and millions of others were organized to support the cause. We must continue the fight because as Angela Davis put it, “Freedom is a constant struggle.” But our organizing can’t be narrowly focused on abortion—it must include all those vulnerable to concerted right-wing assaults on autonomy and dignity. As Reverend Jacqui Lewis put it, “Liberation is collective. We only get free when we fight for all of us.”

I recently listened to a podcast interview with geographer and prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore in which she said, “And while I think a feeling of despair in this day and age is not difficult to understand, I also feel that, as my grandparents taught me, that despair was a luxury that I didn’t get to sport.” Let’s shrug off the coat of mourning and get to work.

Nancy Kricorian

New York City


Armenian Artists Respond to the Pandemic

A few weeks ago I received a request from a friend at Agos Armenian Weekly in Istanbul. They were soliciting responses from Armenian artists to the following questions: How has being quarantined/isolated influenced your creative process? How do you foresee the future of your art and creativity once the current situation of isolation fades away?

This was my response:

For the first several weeks of our confinement I was unable to focus on reading or writing. My spouse was sick with the virus, and we were quarantined from the world and from each other in our home. We slept in separate rooms, washed our hands dozens of times a day, wiped down doorknobs, handles, and counters, and sat twelve feet apart at the kitchen table and in the living room. We were lucky: his case was “mild” and I didn’t get sick. It took four weeks for his energy, as well as his sense of taste and smell, to return. Once he was better, wearing masks, we were able to go outside for short walks. The trees were flowering and the birds were building their nests.

In the past few weeks, finally able to concentrate for an hour or two a day, I have returned to work on my latest novel. The book has three sections: the story opens in New York City on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, the second part is set is in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, and the final section is a folk tale set in Hadjin on the eve of the Armenian Genocide. The novel is about generations of trauma and resiliency in one Armenian family, and the fear and stress of the present moment are permeating the descriptions I’m writing about those other difficult times.

There is so much suffering around us as people continue to be sickened by this illness that has taken so many lives in New York, and around the world. Prisoners are in crowded cells without soap to wash their hands. Millions have lost their jobs; so many are worried about how they will pay the rent, and how they will feed themselves and their children. Immigrant families without papers are not eligible for the meager assistance the government is providing.

Even as we are isolated in our homes, we are finding ways to support each other through mutual aid projects in our neighborhoods, through car protests outside detention centers, and through online organizing to create collective power. My creative life has always been entwined with my activist work, and as I continue writing, I will join friends and comrades in our struggle for a kinder, more equitable, and greener future.

Nancy Kricorian

New York

May 2020

You may read the other artists’ statements on the Agos site.


Advice for the Longest Year

Detail of Liza Lou’s Kitchen (1991-1996)

Yesterday when I started drafting this blog post, I ended up spending two hours writing about the December 11th killing of Barnard Freshman Tess Majors in Morningside Park and the subsequent NYPD Security Theater outside my kitchen window. I realized there was nothing edifying, informative, or helpful in what I had written, although it was cathartic for me, and so I put it in the failed drafts folder.

We made it through a turbulent 2019, and we’re now into a new year that started with an illegal and provocative assassination of an Iranian General and, if anxiety and incertitude are a measure of length, this very long year will continue with the longest Presidential election cycle in human history. So herewith is my “listicle” of ways to maintain sanity and equilibrium in 2020, which was composed in part in the middle of the night as I turned in my bed like a rotisserie chicken.

1. ORGANIZE: Housing is a Human Right

Read about #Moms4Housing in Oakland, and how community organizing turned a violent eviction into a big win. This is an inspiring story, and something to build upon.

2. ORGANIZE AGAIN: Why We Need A Green New Deal

Listen to The Dig Podcast Episode “Planet to Win,” a detailed and hopeful discussion about how the Green New Deal might change America for the better.

3. WATCH A GOOD FILM

Go see Kitty Green’s The Assistant, a brilliant and dark film about one day in the life of the junior assistant of an abusive boss. It’s not just about predation—it’s also gimlet-eyed view on capitalist exploitation of young people. The film is poised to become part of a movement to change the culture of Hollywood. Watch the trailer here. Opening in NYC and LA on January 31, theaters and show times may be found here.

4. MAKE COMFORT FOOD

Order a copy of Lavash: The Bread That Launched 1,000 Meals, Plus Salads, Stews, and Other Recipes From Armenia, and cook an Armenian meal for your loved ones. You can read more about the book and try sample recipes here and here.

5. ORGANIZE SOME MORE: #NotMeUS

Read this Jacobin piece about why Bernie Sanders is the candidate who can beat Trump, watch this moving campaign video, and join the #NotMeUs movement.

6. LAUGH

In response to the New York Times’ ridiculous double endorsement of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren for president, read Alexandra Petri’s hilarious takedown, “In a Break From Tradition, I am Endorsing All 12 Democratic Candidates.”

7. LISTEN TO MUSIC

Onnik Dinkjian’s many decades of performing Armenian folk music is covered in this piece from Houshamadyan, and it includes recordings of some of Dinkjian’s most beloved songs.

8. SEEK OUT WISDOM

Listen to Grace Paley read her short story “Traveling”, and read Walter Mosley’s loving remembrance of Toni Morrison. Read also these beautiful poems from Kurdistan.

9.  LEARN SOMETHING NEW

American linguists have recently voted the singular “they” as the word of the decade. And Ivan Coyote’s 2014 piece “Fear and Loathing in Public Bathrooms” helped expand my thinking about the tyranny of the gender binary.

10. LOOK FOR BEAUTY

Last week I went to the Whitney Museum to see Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019. There were a lot of great pieces in the show, but I was absolutely bowled over by Liza Lou’s KITCHEN, a life-sized beaded room filled with furniture, appliances, pots, pans, cereal boxes, and more that took the artist five years to produce. The show is up through January 2021, and a new show of Mexican muralists will be opening at the Whitney in February so you could take in both.

11. GO FOR A WALK IN THE WOODS

I’ve been reading out-of-print books by naturalist and writer Alan Devoe, who lived down the road from our house in the country from the 1930’s to the mid-50’s. In the middle of World War II, which was a time of destruction, violence, and despair on a global scale, Devoe wrote, “It is good, for instance, just to shut off the radio for a while, throw away the newspaper, and go out into the warm darkness of a country night and listen to the frogs.” He also recommended listening to the wrens singing, and said, “They are singing directly into our aboriginal ears, an information that all the pessimists and pedants are mistaken, and the life adventure is a greater and gladder thing than mere learnedness might ever surmise.”

Nancy Kricorian


No Friends But The Mountains

Armenian tent camp at Ras al-Ain circa 1916
Armenian tent camp at Ras al-Ain circa 1916

The past few days I’ve been saddened and appalled by the Turkish invasion of the Kurdish region of northeastern Syria. When I see in the news the name Ras al-Ain, a place that was bombed by Turkey yesterday, my heart clenches. Ras al-Ain was where my grandmother ended up in a tent camp, along with eight thousand other Armenian orphans, after the death marches of 1915. This most recent U.S. betrayal of the Kurds is seemingly the result of an impetuous decision by Trump on a phone call with Turkey’s president. I thought of the Kurdish proverb, “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” The Turkish assault will likely bring an end to the Rojava experiment in democracy, and could well result in the resurgence of the Islamic State in the area. When I read that Armenian-inhabited areas of Syria had come under attack, I thought of the Armenian proverb, “Land of Armenians, land of sorrows.” By the end of Thursday, it was reported that most of the Armenian families had relocated from the conflict areas.

Many, including Republican U.S. Senators, the Armenian government, The European Union, and others, have denounced the Turkish incursion, recognizing it as an attempt to drive out the Kurds and repopulate the area with Syrian Arab refugees, who are increasingly unpopular in Turkey. When questioned about the Turkish offensive, euphemistically dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” and the heavy losses the Kurdish people will likely suffer, Trump said that the Kurds had never helped us in World War II, “they didn’t help us in Normandy,” therefore he wasn’t worried about it.

In response to widespread denunciation, Turkish President Erdogan lashed out at his EU critics, threatening to allow millions of Syrian refugees to “flood Europe.” As Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of The Tribune in the UK, pointed out on Twitter, “The EU has no moral high ground on this issue—it did a grubby refugee deal with Erdogan, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in his camps. Now he can use them to threaten us, and deliver talking points for the Far-Right in the process. Reap what you sow.”

The whole thing is gutting and infuriating, and with the garbage mountain of cruelty piling up around us on all sides and with regard to so many issues and causes, it’s hard to know what to do but sputter with helplessness and rage. But there are things to do—demonstrations to organize and attend, electoral campaigns to work on, and ways to help those in our communities targeted for harm. There’s another Armenian proverb I like to remember: “The voice of the people is louder than the roar of the cannon.”

Nancy Kricorian


Friends and Neighbors

Each day there is some new racist anti-immigrant policy announced by Trump and the cartoon villains who are running our country. As is by now apparent, with the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and practices, cruelty is the point. Their theater of cruelty is meant to rally their so-called base and to send a message to immigrants and would-be immigrants that they aren’t wanted in this country, unless they can, as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services Ken Cuccinelli put it, “stand on their own two feet,” by which he means unless they are wealthy, able-bodied, and preferably white.

Last week when ICE raided workplaces in Mississippi, arresting 680 people, the videos, photographs, and news reports about distraught children whose parents had been detained, leaving many kids without family care, were terrible. One little girl, who sobbed on camera begging for the release of her father, was particularly heartbreaking.

That night, I had nightmares about the three little Albanian girls whose family I have worked with through the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) for 18 months and two little Honduran girls whose mother I had helped fill out an asylum application in early June at the NSC Pro Se Legal Clinic. In my dreams, the little girls were crying for their parents the way the kids in the Mississippi videos had done. But I actually know these kids. I have heard in great detail about the violence their parents had fled, and I have learned about the dire conditions in the countries from which they come. I also know about how fearful their parents are about the possibility of being detained and deported.

As part of her asylum application, J., the Honduran mom, wrote about the domestic violence she had suffered, and her reluctance to go to the police to report the abuse, which meant she didn’t have documentary evidence to support her claim. She said, “In countries like ours the only record of these violent events is in our memory. Unfortunately in my family there was a lot of domestic violence. I saw that my aunts were often beaten by their partners, and if they called the police, the abusers would go to jail for maybe one night. Unfortunately, in my country the police only believe you once you are put into a box and buried in a hole.”

Last Monday, as part of a NSC accompaniment, I went to immigration court with J. and her two girls, aged eight and six. The girls were hungry and bored because of the long wait outside the courtroom. People with attorneys are seen first, and those without lawyers can wait several hours or more for their turn. No food is allowed in the waiting area or in the courtroom, so I offered to take the girls to the cafeteria in the federal building while their mother awaited her turn before the immigration judge. The so-called cafeteria sold only chips, candy bars, cookies, and soft drinks, so they selected chocolate and chips. As we sat at the table eating and talking, the older girl said, “Would you be our grandma?” The little one said, “Can you also be our auntie?” I laughed. They laughed. But we were now friends.

The only way I can keep from descending into despair is by taking action, whether it is by helping people fill out asylum applications, by accompanying friends to immigration court, or by working with groups organizing against the cruelty. In New York City on August 10, over 100 people, among them members of the NYC DSA Immigrant Justice Working Group (to which I belong) were arrested in a #CloseTheCamps action that shut down the West Side Highway near an ICE field office on 26th Street. The next day, a coalition of #JewsAgainstICE protestors, including Never Again is Now and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, occupied an Amazon store in Manhattan to demand that Amazon cancel its contracts with ICE. In upstate New York, the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement has a rapid response network that sends out texts when ICE agents are spotted in town so people can drive to the location, offering support to their targeted neighbors, and often preventing detentions. This is the time to mobilize radical kindness and militant refusal in the face of their relentless cruelty.

Nancy Kricorian, New York City 2019


Under the Shadow of the Wall

My daughter Djuna, her friend Hannah, and I recently spent a week at the U.S. southern border between San Diego and Tijuana as part of a large network of solidarity and support responding to the humanitarian crisisthere and organized by, among others, the New Sanctuary Coalition(NSC) and its Sanctuary CaravanAl Otro Lado, and the San Diego Rapid Response Network. Here follow some impressions from that week. 

Each morning at El Chaparral Plaza in Tijuana, some men set up a small red pop-up canopy tent, and other members of the Central American Exodus and other asylum seekers gather around. There is a table, a megaphone, and a battered notebook that contains numbers associated with the names of people who are on a list of those waiting for a chance to present themselves at the U.S. border to request asylum. Each number represents ten people. By law—both U.S. and international—people should be able to go to any port of entry to request asylum, but the current administration has enacted a “metering” systemwhere only a specified number of people is allowed to cross each port on any given day. Since there is a huge backlog of people waiting—at this point the wait can be up to two months—the asylum seekers have self-organized, and a family or a group of men who have been on the list for a while take charge of the notebook. In addition to calling out two batches of names—one in the early morning and one an hour or so later—they give out new numbers every day until noon. When it is their turn to cross, they pass the notebook along to people who are lower down on the list.

Each morning a member of Grupos Beta, a service of the Mexican National Institute of Migration, relays from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to the notebook keepers the total number of asylum seekers who will be allowed to cross that day. The total might be 80, or it might be none. It is important to understand that this entire system is illegal, and has arisen out of desperation. A member of the notebook team will use a megaphone to read out the names of people whose numbers have come up. People must keep track of their numbers and when they are likely to be called. Many of them are living in shelters and encampments far from Chaparral, and have to get themselves to the plaza or risk losing their chance to cross. There is an informal grace period of two days, so if your number is called and you miss it, if you can get there within two days, you might still go across. The mornings that I was at Chaparral I saw lots of young mothers with small kids, toddlers, and even infants. In addition to members of the Central American Exodus, many of them from Honduras, there were single men from Haiti and West Africa.

After the names are called—and they often have to call two hundred names to assemble a desired 20 people—people line up along one side of the plaza to wait for the shuttle vans driven by Grupos Beta. The vans take people to the other San Ysidro checkpoint where they cross the border to face the bureaucratic nightmare created by the CPB—detention in the Ice Box, separation of fathers from their wives and children, the “credible fear interview,” and so on. The San Diego detention facilities are over capacity, and before we arrived people were being released from detention in the middle of the night, just dropped off at a bus stationor in a public park. The San Diego Rapid Response Network organized shuttle buses to drive around after midnight looking for people who had been dumped, and taking them to shelters. Because of bad publicity, this practice of “dumping” has apparently been suspended.

The Sanctuary Caravan has two programs running concurrently. One is the Pro Se Clinic where volunteers fill out intake forms with people who are scheduled to cross the border and help them prep for their credible fear interviews, which is the first step in the asylum process. The Pro Se Clinic’s borrowed storefront has turned into a de facto community center where families hang out and volunteers play with the kids while their parents are interviewed. Volunteers also go to the El Barretal refugee camp, twenty minutes out of Tijuana, to let people know about available services and to do intake.

The Accompaniment Program in Tijuana is in some ways more extensive than its counterpart in New York City. In addition to waiting with friends at Chaparral until they board the Grupos Beta shuttles, Sanctuary Caravan also keeps track of friends’ numbers, and has a van that picks people up from El Barretal each morning to take them to the plaza where the names are called. 

Because Djuna, Hannah, and I don’t speak Spanish, we had a hard time in the beginning figuring out how to plug into the work that was going on. We were cursing ourselves for having chosen French as our second language. Our first afternoon I was called to the clinic to translate for some Haitians, but when I got there it turned out they were Creole speakers and my French was still useless.

Djuna and Hannah ended up working with the World Central Kitchen, an organization of chefs addressing hunger and poverty, where they didn’t need Spanish to scrub pots and chop vegetables. I joined them a couple of afternoons and was wildly impressed by the work that was going on. In Tijuana, the World Central Kitchen prepares and delivers three thousand meals a day—feeding 1,500 people at lunch and dinner. The food is fresh, inventive, and made with love. One evening Djuna and Hannah went to deliver dinner to El Barretal, where they saw a thousand people living in tents. Hannah said, “They get meals, UNICEF is there, and Doctors Without Borders, but it’s still no way to live.” If it rains, they get wet. If it’s cold, they are cold. Djuna reported that women and children are fed first, and that everyone pitches in to help out with serving the meals.

Meanwhile, back at the volunteer hub, I was assigned to work as a “Story Steward,” which was a data entry and clerical gig supporting the Pro Se Clinic. One afternoon I spent a few hours prepping a large stack of intake files with all the needed forms and materials.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to Faro Playas de Tijuana, a beachfront recreation area, for a religious service that usually occurs on both sides of the hideous and immoralborder wall, which traverses the land, travels down across the sand, and continues into the ocean. Only the gulls could move freely from one side to the other. Of late, because of ‘security concerns,’ CBP has closed access to the International Friendship Parkthat connects both sides of the border and has created a no-go zone on the U.S. side of the fence, so the service occurred only on the Mexican side that day.  Through the steel slats, razor wire, and cyclone fencing on the U.S. side, we saw at a distance CBP agents blocking access to the border, and beyond them we made out some of our Sanctuary Caravan colleagues, including NSC Executive Director Ravi Ragbir, who was visiting from NYC. On the Mexican side, there were cafes, restaurants and benches. Couples strolled, families picnicked, and children played in the surf under the shadow of the wall. 

When we landed in New York City, Djuna and I discussed how it would take a while for us to process all that we had seen and experienced. We had been moved by the dignity and perseverance of the members of the Exodus. We had admired the dedication, humor, and intelligence of the Sanctuary Caravan’s volunteer coordinators. We had been disgusted by the violence, both physical and bureaucratic, of our government’s policies and agents.

Two days after we got back from the border, I picked up my work here in New York with NSC, and found out that my local Congressman, who had requested deferred action of removal for my Albanian friends (basically asking that they not be deported), had heard back from U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). The request was denied, and USCIS told the parents that they have thirty-three days to leave the country that they have called home for fourteen years. Brooklyn is the only home their three young daughters, two of them U.S. citizens and one with DACA, have known. I sat in a cafe with my Albanian friend and the Congressman’s caseworker as we fought back tears and plotted our next moves. The struggle continues. 

Nancy Kricorian



Sanctuary

 

 

 

My heart has been heavy this past week, pained by the violence and cruelty unleashed by the vile rhetoric of the people who are running our country. But just yesterday afternoon I had some good news. I heard that the regional director of USCIS has agreed to consider a Congressman’s request for deferred action on behalf of two of his constituents, my Albanian friends, whom I will call Rovena and Altin.

 

In August, an ICE officer told Rovena and Altin that they had 90 days to leave the country. Their stay of removal had been turned down, and they would have to take their three young daughters back to Albania. The girls speak no Albanian, and have known no other home than Brooklyn, where the family has lived for thirteen years. The threat of imminent deportation was terrifying and heartbreaking for the parents, the kids, and for everyone who loves them, including me.

 

I first met my Albanian friends through the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) Accompaniment Program in March, and had been at their monthly ICE check-ins during the spring and summer. I had also worked with them at the NSC Pro Se Immigration Legal Clinic through the summer, consulting with volunteer attorneys and with NSC staff about their options.

 

Rovena and I met with a dedicated and passionate immigration caseworker in a Congressman’s office, and we three put together an appeal to the regional director of ICE and his counterpart at USCIS. The request was that, in consideration of the possibly irreparable harm deportation would cause the three girls, their parents be granted discretionary deferred action. The Congressman wrote a letter, and we assembled binders including a family psychological evaluation, a declaration of country conditions from an expert on Albania, along with photos of and school reports for each of the girls, plus dozens of letters from the family’s employers, teachers, neighbors, and relatives attesting to their importance in the community.

 

Yesterday’s news does not mean that they are safe—but it’s a small victory. It means that the dossiers will be read, the ICE deportation clock is stopped, and that there is a chance that they will be allowed to stay.

 

With all the anti-immigrant rhetoric and racist policies being generated daily, so many families and individuals are at risk. There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. There are thousands of Central American asylum seekers making an exodus through Mexico hoping to find safety in our communities, and in response the current administration is sending thousands of U.S. troops to the border and whipping up white supremacist terror in the hopes of swaying the mid-term elections.

 

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor put it in a recent public FB post: “Instead of parroting the calculated fear mongering of this administration, our side needs sobriety, an analysis, and a strategy centered on building solidarity with the most targeted communities while placing an urgent emphasis on direct action and movement building and mobilization.”

 

To that end, I invite you all to support the SANCTUARY CARAVAN: “We are resolved to form a U.S. Caravan of supporters who will meet the Central American Caravan in Mexico, witness their movement, and accompany them into the U.S. At the border, we will assist those seeking entry with their demands to enter the US without losing their liberty.”

 

If the Democrats don’t manage to take control of the House next week, it will be grim. But even if they do, we can’t count on the politicians to save us. Choose your lane, find your people, and let’s start building the world we want to see.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

1 November 2018

New York City

 

 

 


Solace

In Central Park last week, on a bird walk in the North Woods led by an Audubon Society naturalist, we saw a Cooper’s Hawk perched regally in a tree, an immature Great Blue Heron fishing in the Loch, four Northern Flickers, and a half dozen species of warblers that were passing through on their way south, in addition to the abundant Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, European Starlings, and American Robins that call the park home. The fall wildflowers—Canada Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, White Snakeroot, Spotted Jewelweed, and several varieties of Aster—were in bloom. When the cruel and venal doings of human animals are cause for despair, I take solace in the natural world.

 

I was considering delaying this post until after the Kavanagh “situation” had resolved itself one way or the other, assuming that we will be flattened by despair when the Republicans steamroller the Democrats and the rest of us. It has been almost eviscerating to watch the hearings and then follow the sham FBI probe, and the change in tack by the Republicans to undermine and insult the women who came forward with accusations. I have been “triggered” by Kavanagh’s words, his gestures, his petulance, and his arrogance. I wasn’t alone—tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women were angry, distraught, and horrified by the spectacle of ruling class white male privilege and power that played out in the Senate hearings and in the political maneuvering that followed.

 

Each day there is a new assault on our values and the most vulnerable among us—migrant children warehoused in a tent camp in Texas, gay diplomats’ partners denied visas, the planned weakening of mercury regulations, and revisions to the Department of Justice web site reflecting a harsher stance on kids who are accused of crimes, to name just a few.

 

But we can’t let them beat us down into apathy and hopelessness. We have to remember the great Soviet Jewish writer Vasily Grossman’s admonition: “In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.” Grossman lived through World War II, he was a journalist traveling with Russian troops as they liberated Treblinka, his mother was murdered during the massacre at Berdichev, and he survived Stalin’s purges, although his masterwork, the incredible World War II novel Life and Fate, was “arrested” by the Soviets and was not published until after his death.

 

As Grossman put it: “Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.” I am not so sanguine as to think that individual acts of kindness are enough in the face of the systemic violence and the cruel policies that we are confronting, many of which are just harsher and unapologetic versions of policies that were put in place during previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic. But while we do all that we can through making irate phone calls to elected officials, joining in strategic electoral organizing, supporting grassroots campaigns run by unions and groups on the front lines, and volunteering with local organizations advocating for the most vulnerable people, creatures, landscapes, and institutions, we can also try to make the world a little less dismal by being kind.

 

Charles Aznavour, French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and philanthropist, died this week, and I leave you with an old blog post about his family’s small role in the French Resistance and a video of a classic performance of his song “La Bohème.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Find the Helpers

Last week 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District in what TIME Magazine called the biggest political upset of 2018. Ocasio-Cortez had the support of the Democratic Socialists of America, the Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and The Intercept (cited by a CNN commentator as a decisive factor!). In an otherwise DISMAL political scene this is a HUGE victory. She ran on a platform calling for Medicare for All, the abolition of ICE, and she denounced the killings of protesters in Gaza as a massacre. I’m awestruck. I also loved reading about the revolutionary posters designed for her campaign.

 

If you’re looking for a natural pick-me-up, watch Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video, or watch CNN’s clip from election night when she realizes that she has won! “We met the [Queens Democratic] machine with a MOVEMENT!” she said. (Note the dude right behind her wearing a Democratic Socialists of America T-shirt.) Or watch her answer Stephen Colbert’s question, “What is Democratic Socialism?” I think I’ve watched that last video six times—whenever I’m in despair about the state of the world, I just watch it again.

 

In response to Ocasio-Cortez’s victory and those of other young progressives, Michelle Goldberg, in a piece entitled The Millennial Socialists Are Coming, opined, “These young socialists see themselves as building the world they want to live in decades in the future rather than just scrambling to avert catastrophe in the present.”

 

And while the political situation in this country is growing grimmer by the minute, I’m not going to remind you of the details right now as I’m making a concerted effort to do what Mr. Rogers’s mother told him, “Look for the helpers.” (As an aside here, I haven’t yet seen the Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but it’s on the top of my movie going list.)

 

While I’ve read at least forty articles about the traumatic, criminal, and unconscionable (there are no adjectives dire enough for what they’re doing!) consequences of our government’s “zero-tolerance policy” at the border, resulting in the abduction of thousands of migrant children, the article I will highlight is about a courageous Honduran woman who is organizing mothers inside an ICE detention center in El Paso, Texas. While the U.S. has a long history of child snatching, I was inspired by this story about librarians and academics who used their library science skills to map the locations of the facilities where separated migrant kids are possibly being held as a way to help parents find their children. I also aspire to have the courage this woman did when Border Patrol Agents boarded the Greyhound Bus she was on. She realized that because they were not within 100 miles of the U.S. border, the agents did not have the right to question everyone on the bus about their immigration status. She stood up and started shouting, “You don’t have to show them sh*t!” She then used Google translate to find out how to say it in Spanish.

 

People are standing up to the Trump Administration’s cruelties. Members of The United Methodist Church have charged Methodist Jeff Sessions with child abuse over the family separation policy. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America DC Metro Chapter protested the Secretary of Homeland Security while she was dining in a Mexican restaurant. “If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace,” the protesters shouted. Nearly 600 women were arrested in D.C. last week during protests against Trump’s immigration policies. The protesters chanted “Abolish ICE” and their hashtag was #WomenDisobey.

 

This is a time to be disobedient, fierce, loud, and as creative as these young Palestinian dancers in Gaza. We’re heading to the Socialism 2018 Conference in Chicago this coming weekend to meet up with several thousand people who feel the same way. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

P.S. This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival in D.C. turns a spotlight on Armenia. Check out the Feasting schedule, as well as my friend Liana Aghajanian’s piece about Armenian food.

 

 

Nancy Kricorian

New York City 2018