New Fiction From PEN America’s DREAMing Out Loud: “Stateless: 2053”
Speculative Fiction by Juan David Gastolomendo
The following is an excerpt from a novel in development by Juan David Gastolomendo that takes place in a future where environmental and technological advances have intensified forced migration and anti-immigrant policies. The piece started as a multimedia project for DREAMing Out Loud, PEN America’s tuition-free writing workshops for young immigrant and undocumented writers, many of whom came to the US as children.
Saturday, March 15, 2053
An Open Letter to Our Communities:
It has been over forty years since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program provided limited relief to a select few migrant youths in the United States—a pitiful response to the failure of multiple attempts to pass the DREAM Act. As we embark on the second half of the twenty-first century, not a single new law or even an executive memorandum has been enacted to provide migrants with a path to citizenship. There has been nothing that makes good all the harm that the U.S. has historically encroached upon its southern neighbors. Just the opposite: the harm has been ongoing, and then there is new harm that needs to be named. Weather modification has created multiple harvesting seasons and a boon to the agricultural industry while, at the same time, stealing valuable water from the southern hemisphere, which was exacerbated by climate change. These mechanized farms have made migrant farmworkers irrelevant. While multinational corporations have privatized the potable water and detoxified air in many South American urban centers, all of this has contributed to destabilizing fragile democracies and encouraging military authoritarianism.
The sociopolitical situation in South America, which has resulted in an unprecedented wave of migrants, can be debated endlessly. However, the scientific facts of climate change and weather modification cannot be so easily overlooked. By now in the year 2053, the United States’ urban and suburban centers have benefited greatly from technologies such as carbon-neutral, autonomous transportation and integrated, high-speed mobile communications at the expense of the rest of the developing world and, within its borders, at the expense of migrants who have found their way to the U.S. despite dangerous conditions.
Now, the borders are effectively closed to all climate migrants, regardless of whether they are fleeing natural or human-made disasters, civil conflicts over valuable resources, or documented persecution. The most recent unconscionable act of the dissolution of citizenship for those who have been born to an unauthorized migrant parent in the U.S. is the last proverbial straw. This executive order is intended to plant fear in our collective soul, but instead, what the President does not know is that we have already lived in fear for most of our lives. Fear drove many of us from the places of our birth to this country. We feared for our children before this executive order; we feared for their future. U.S. Homeland Enforcement has been terrorizing our communities since its inception, but we have feared them long enough.
We’re intending on turning our fear into immediate political action, but before we do, it is important that we hear the voices of our children. We exhort you to read this public Quipu Messenger thread from a denaturalized young woman, who, like many others, has lost contact with her parents who were deported. This is only the beginning for our cause inspired by young people, and supported by the migrant communities across the United States.
El Grito Manso, Migrant Activist Collective, Chicago, IL
I’m transcribing my journey on this Quipu Messenger public group because I don’t really know how I got to this point, and I just want to put this out there. I mean, I will describe everything that has happened up to this point and also whatever happens next. I hope that this is going to help me get through it, because there’s no one to turn to right now. Maybe this might help someone else, too, I don’t know. I’m so far from home, and I can’t go back there anyway, even though I want more than anything to go back, finish the school year, and then go on to college. I just want everything to go back to normal. I want my life back. I don’t know what’s next for me. So here I am, on the side of the road, talking to myself. I might be able to figure it out after talking it out or at least make myself feel better.
My birthday was a month ago, and I know what you’re going to say. Aren’t you excited to be eighteen?! Sure, I could finally get my AV license, but I’m a real New Yorker. My parents didn’t own an autonomous vehicle. Everywhere you need to get to in the city, it’s easier, faster, and cheaper on the subway, by bus, or better yet, by bike.
At least, that’s what my Apá would say and then punctuate his feelings with, pues mija, tu comprate una de esas carcachas. I’d giggle anytime he’d say something like that, because he sounded like such a viejo who still listens to oldies like Selena. Or maybe he sounded like a deluded Luddite comparing jalopies to electric autonomous vehicles? Take your pick, he either sounded old or insane, or maybe both, and I didn’t mind telling him so. I’m not feeling like giggling right now because thinking about the “La Carcacha” song brings me back to dancing cumbia with him while Amá looks on. She was always self-conscious about dancing, but eventually, we could coax her, and then she would finally join us, and we would have the best time. I’m not going to cry. Okay, okay. I. Am. Not. Going. To. Cry. Get it together!
So you’d think it’s time for this girl to party, right? No. Not at all. Apá and Amá were deported, and I haven’t heard from them. I don’t even have a country anymore. I was supposed to start college this fall. My hard work, my future, and even my citizenship are all gone. Just like that. I can’t even talk to my friends about it because I’m angry. I know I don’t have a right to be angry at them, but I am. It’s not their fault that they didn’t lose anything or anyone, so how’re they supposed to know what I’m going through?
They certainly know me well enough to know that I’m malcontent, to put it mildly, during the best of times. I don’t think that any of my friends were surprised the day when I cut school in the schoolyard after a rare and unusually cold snowstorm. So, technically I went to school, I just didn’t go to any classes that day. Instead, on this particular morning, I got my usual hot-temp mug of coffee and a bagel with tofu cream cheese, but I snuck my hockey skates out of my house. I spent the day practicing doing the crossover, forward and backward, on a little and a somewhat flat patch of ice that formed on the grass. Friends would pass by and express concern, but ultimately they moved on after we talked about the state of the world. Somehow, I want to say that it made me feel better to express how I felt about everything that seemed like it was falling apart around me, falling apart around all of us.
I was just a physics nerd who read pirated ebooks and listened to century-old rock and underground podcasts. Call me an anti-capitalist but I won’t get my news from the social media conglomerates. There’s just too much misinfo. Maybe that’s why no one seems to care about weather-mods, climate migrants, birthright denaturalization, and missing deportees.
It was one thing for people to worry about global climate change back in the day and not do anything about it. Now, this is a whole ‘nother level. I really am a nerd and not just because I’m attending—well, I was attending Bronx Science—but I really am that kid in your class that you hate because you can’t get them to shut up. I appreciated Ms. Anker in A.P. World History for caring enough to talk about migrants. She shared a poem that I will never forget, and there was a part that really resonated with me.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
mean something more than a journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
I always talked in class, but I didn’t say a word that day. I didn’t want to share how my parents are climate migrants. I didn’t want to even think about how they fled Perú as the country was drying up and there was less to eat and more unrest. I can’t imagine how they protested and what the police did to them. Ms. Anker taught history not just from textbooks or to prepare us for the A.P. test. She felt that it was important that we make personal connections. She used to say that history is not facts and dates, it is stories and emotions. My parents were just a few years older than me when they managed to cross the border to the U.S. Amá was pregnant with the older brother that I never got to meet. I can’t wrap my head around what all that must have been like for them. Apá and Amá ended up in the very place that was responsible for the conditions back in Perú, the place that pushed them to take such dangerous measures, to survive—well, all but my brother.
One weekend, I went to the Tenement Museum, and there was this photography exhibit on the things that the U.S. Custom and Border Patrol had confiscated from undocumented migrants crossing the border from Mexico. It was just stuff being thrown into the trash. One photo looked like a mosaic made of dozens and dozens of toothbrushes and travel-sized toothpastes. Another photo was of stacks of “Tuny” brand tuna cans, which moved me more than anything Andy Warhol could have painted. Over thirty years ago, a janitor took it upon himself to take meticulous photos of these items. After doing this for over a decade, he had shot more than six hundred photographs. I can’t remember his name, but if he was alive, I would want to thank him. I wonder what it’d be like in reverse? What would deportees take with them? What would people be taking from the United States as they were being deported? I’m carrying my parents’ tacky and overly soft polyester blanket that has these geometric-shaped llamas and mountains. I was incredibly ashamed of it growing up but I can’t imagine parting with it now.
I’m also carrying a ukulele that my parents bought me for my twelfth birthday. If I could’ve, I would’ve taken the Fender Strat that I saved for over a year to buy, but the uke means a lot to me, and it’s easy to carry. Apá would say, it’s no charango but you can still play Peruvian music on it because it’s in your heart. I still wish that I had the Strat because Nirvana and Bowie just don’t sound as good on the uke. My heart’s about old classic rock, too.
My Peruvian folk and classic rock ukulele riff:
It’s enough to know that your every step is possibly being watched by Homeland Enforcement. They’re probably reading this as I transcribe, and you know what? I don’t care! What is the worst thing they can do to me? Take my parents away? Done! Take my future away? Done! Take my citizenship away? The only thing that I didn’t think could ever be taken away. Done! I have nothing left to lose. Well, I got my pride, I got hope, I got so much that I will not give up without a fight. I might be just one girl but I am going to put my words out there for all to hear. And if that’s all that is left of me, well, know this, I wasn’t scared and I didn’t back down.
So that’s it for now. I’m getting all worked up, and sleeping is hard enough for me as it is. I’m going to try to get rest and turn off the visuals on the specs. I’ll recount tomorrow how I found myself on the road, and what I’m seeing on the journey, but I just can’t do that tonight. I don’t want my head filled with these images from today as I drift off to sleep. Instead, I’m going to fill my head with music playing from my specs and look up at the stars and hope that my parents are seeing this same sky.
I’d like to dream
My troubles all away
On a bed
Of California stars
Jump up from my starbed
Make another day
My California stars
DREAMing Out Loud: Voices of Migrant Writers, Vol. 3 is available via PEN America.