I’ve always been fascinated with the immigrant experience. I live with immigrants, am engaged to an immigrant, all of my neighbors are from someplace else be it Mexico, Croatia, or Egypt (to name a few). Depending on what part of the world they come from they’ve either been welcomed with open arms or chased away be the xenophobic hordes that lack the most basic sense of history. Either way, our society is dependent on immigrants be it to do the work too degrading for “Americans” to do themselves or to simply replenish the country’s wealth of knowledge because we’re getting dumber and dumber every year.
Demetria Martinez’ Inherit the Earth / The Things they Carried speaks of a particularly dark facet of the American experience: people crossing the unforgiving US/Mexico border in search of something better. But unlike many who seek to reduce the horrors of this type of immigrant experience to a sentimental story of poor but noble and hardworking people, Martinez grabs the nuance of the story head on. “To speak of an immigrant’s plight only in terms of desperation fails to honor his or her full humanity. Of course there is desperation; everywhere it uproots and drives masses across boarders in swelling numbers.” In other words, there is a larger story: there are forces much larger than any individual at work forcing people to leave their homes to take bad jobs from a country that hates them. Everything from climate change to narco-violence to neoliberal structural adjustment policies have uprooted people and forced them here.
Too often, the immigrant experience is over- mythologized. In The Things they Carried, we’re forced to remember that individual human beings were forced into becoming nothing but statistics. Martinez’s lists of items they carried and dropped in the desert show the banality of suffering. This piece serves as a testament to a harsh reality: people are risking their lives to cross the border. We can’t forget the dead, for once we do, and we too will have lost yet another piece of our collective humanity.