The Migrants That Don’t Matter [Spanish]

In anticipation of reviving this blog, I’m going to publish a few near-complete drafts that were sitting in my queue. Hence, for “recently”, please read: four damn years ago. The context around immigration to the US has, obviously, worsened considerably.

NPR’s Alt.Latino recently released an interview with Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez, whose book, Los migrantes que no importan, has recently been translated to English as The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. It is the product of eight journeys on “The Beast”:  the network of trains by which Central American immigrants make their way across Mexico in appalling – and appallingly risky – conditions.

The entire interview is fascinating and heartbreaking, and can be heard here [in Spanish], but one thing really stood out to me. Martínez says that the idea of the ‘American Dream’ as a driving force for migration is long dead: Central American immigrants riding the Beast know the journey is dangerous, and that on arrival in the US they will work inhumane hours for miniscule wages – first to pay off the debts owed to coyotes, then to send an average monthly remittance of $70 to their families. They know their life in the US will be precarious; they feel deeply the separation from family. They don’t keep making this trip because of mere hunger. Hunger can be abated by begging on the streets. They do it because of a deep sense that if they work hard enough there may be some hope for a more dignified existence, for some progress. That elusive American dream.

And these immigrant – the sort of driving, hopeful, ambitious people so important to capitalist thought – fall through the cracks. Martínez’ book documents the rapes*, robberies, human trafficking, corruption, violence, loneliness, and hunger they will deal with on their journey to the US. It’s out on Kindle.

* It is estimated that 60% of Central American women travelling through Mexico to the US will be raped. This is based on reported cases, so you can round that up considerably.

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I have a black dog


A little more than two years ago I was officially diagnosed with chronic major depression and social anxiety disorder. I’d been keeping fairly quiet about my problems – the emptiness, the panic attacks, the days of hiding in my room or even in my bed – for some two years before that. The people I was close to were aware I’d had some bad experiences while I was living in Peru, and that the escape to Argentina was only partially driven by a desire to step down from the backpackers’ I was running and take up an exciting internship in Buenos Aires.

Nobody knew the extent to which I was self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.

Nobody knew I had been date-raped on a night out in Cuzco. Nobody knew I was raped again while travelling through Chile.

Nobody knew that throughout my year in Buenos Aires I would lie in my studio apartment for days on end, eating my feelings – this is a city where you can have ice cream delivered to your door – and staring at the walls.

Things got pretty bad eighteen months ago, and that’s when I began to seek help. It’s been a rough ride since then: I dragged myself across the finishing line of my Honours in Economics, then got two months into my PhD before collapsing into a quivering mess of unprocessed trauma, social isolation, and self-loathing. I was speaking to a psychologist and taking antidepressants, but I was also downing a couple of bottles of wine a day: I didn’t want to see any of my friends, but nor did I want to spend time with myself. That kinda limits one’s options. I stopped running. I stopped finding any joy in books or music or cooking. I stopped looking at Facebook, writing, or planning dream backpacking expeditions. If somebody had asked me what I liked doing, I would have been utterly baffled by the question.

And then things got really bad six weeks ago, and that’s when I picked up the phone and called my mother in Brisbane. “Come get me.” She did. We packed up my Melbourne apartment and my one-year-old cat, and installed me in a flat some five doors down from the unit she shares with my stepfather in Brisbane.

I went to a psychiatrist, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, placed on a cocktail of sedatives and antidepressants and anti-craving pills to replace the alcohol and sleepers and prolonged release sleepers and plenty of talking therapy.

All the while things were spilling out of me. The secrets I had held on to, because I blamed myself, hated myself, thought myself weak and deserving of the things that had happened to me.

But my mother and stepfather were my rocks; my father, although he lives abroad, sent enough puzzles to keep a semi-bed-bound (and very sedated) patient busy for months, and offered much moral and financial support; my not-so-little-anymore brother sent flowers. I arranged them where I would see them each morning when I opened my eyes, and along the windowsill I placed pictures of the friends I miss so much.

I’m home again now, after seventeen days in hospital. I still go in a couple of days a week: group cognitive behavioural therapy (GCBT) twice a week, tailored therapy discussion groups once a week, fortnightly appointments with both psychiatrist and psychologist. Basically there are a shit-ton of professionals combing through my brain right now, which is actually pretty reassuring.

But the biggest difference, I think, has come from honesty. All those fragmented, painful memories I had been pushing down, down, down for year after year after year are out. My parents and friends know, and have cried with me and for me. I feel better, lighter; even if I do still have the odd bad hour, afternoon, or day.

The internet now knows, too. I wanted to write this post because there are so many of us – 3 million of us in Australia live with depression or anxiety – locking our secrets inside, drowning them in booze or sex or drugs or food. Pretending that if we don’t look at the bad stuff, it’ll go away on its own.

It won’t.

Links and Resources (Australia):

Telling people:

One of the hardest things I ever did was to tell the people close to me how I was feeling. It can be hard to explain depression to people who have never experienced it, and often their attempts to commiserate by comparing your situation to times when they’ve “felt a bit down” just make you feel weak for succumbing to depression when others have had it as bad or worse. This is an illness. You are sick. Help others to understand how best to support you using resources like the video at the start of the post, those listed immediately above, or the incomparable Allie Brosh‘s work on the subject:

From Brosh's 'Adventures in Depression'
From Brosh’s ‘Adventures in Depression
From Brosh's 'Depression Part 2'
From Brosh’s ‘Depression Part 2

So, that’s what I wanted you, denizens of the internet, to know. This isn’t going to turn into a mental illness blog; largely it will remain a sporadically-updated journal of my political rants and so forth. But the facts that I was raped, that I suffer from mental illness, aren’t things to be kept secret or to be ashamed of. It’s a tiny fraction of who I am, and it’s time to integrate that part of myself and keep on living.

Eighteen months later…

It’s been quite a while, for reasons I will expand upon in another post, in a few more days. Meanwhile, though, some exciting news:

I’ve created a small business, providing editing and proofreading services. I specialise in academic editing in the social sciences, but have also been dipping my toes into short stories, novellas, and poetry. It’s been great fun and a wonderful boost to my own writing.

So come visit me at Marginalia: Words and Edits by Camden Luxford, or follow me @EditsMarginalia for language geekiness and shameless self promotion. I’ll still be tweeting politics, develMarginalia Edits business cardsopment, and social justice @camdenluxford, although at, perhaps, a less frantic pace than I was before the eighteen-month hiatus.

My business cards came yesterday and are so beautiful I just have to share them with you, so a big thanks to MOO for providing such creative and fun templates.

See you all in a few days!

 

 

Links I Liked – 9 March 2014

Samuel Farber’s Trotsky in Cuba looks at art and dissent in authoritarian societies, through the lens of Cuban writer Leonardo Padura and his ‘The Man Who Loved Dogs’.

***

What’s the Point if We Can’t Have Fun by David Graeber is wonderful:

Once you reduce all living beings to the equivalent of market actors, rational calculating machines trying to propagate their genetic code, you accept that not only the cells that make up our bodies, but whatever beings are our immediate ancestors, lacked anything even remotely like self-consciousness, freedom, or moral life—which makes it hard to understand how or why consciousness (a mind, a soul) could ever have evolved in the first place.

Graeber celebrates freedom and play – the expenditure of energy for the sheer joy of it – and wonders about play at an elemental level.

***

Mary Beard’s The Public Voice of Women was brought to my attention at last week’s IWDA Half the Sky event. Beard takes a historical view of the denial of women’s voices from Homer through Ovid to Henry James and Twitter:

But the more I have looked at the threats and insults that women have received, the more I have found that they fit into the old patterns I’ve been talking about. For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It’s not what you say that prompts it, it’s the fact you’re saying it. And that matches the detail of the threats themselves. They include a fairly predictable menu of rape, bombing, murder and so forth (I may sound very relaxed about it now; that doesn’t mean it’s not scary when it comes late at night). But a significant subsection is directed at silencing the woman – ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain. Or it promises to remove the capacity of the woman to speak. ‘I’m going to cut off your head and rape it’ was one tweet I got. ‘Headlessfemalepig’ was the Twitter name chosen by someone threatening an American journalist. ‘You should have your tongue ripped out’ was tweeted to another journalist. In its crude, aggressive way, this is about keeping, or getting, women out of man’s talk. 

What Can Possibly Be Wrong with Ethical Consumption?

Francisco Toro at the Campaign for Boring Development takes issue with the Guardian’s Valentine’s Day Ethics: How Green is your Red Rose? which advocates for ethical consumption of cut flowers and chocolate based on murky working conditions and environmental standards in producing countries. Toro writes:

The notion that you can somehow improve the lives of the world’s poorest people by cutting off the few, tenuous economic links normal people in the west have with them is – how to put this politely? – totally insane.

Somehow “being ethical” has become a luxury good. Because let’s face it, normal people on normal salaries cannot afford to pay 50 pounds (fifty quid!!) for a dozen roses. What we’re left with is a mindset where “social responsibility” just another item to be conspicuously consumed…

I think it’s important to recognise that free trade has not always (or even mostly) had positive development outcomes for the poor – mostly because so-called “free” trade is heavily distorted by rich world subsidies for domestic agricultural goods. Nevertheless, I agree with Toro’s rejection of consumer activism and ethical consumption as the best response to labour market and environmental issues in the Global South. As I argue in my paper, from Gift to Right, the rhetoric of corporate social responsibility is inherently flawed. The idea that consumers and shareholders in the Global North can and should be the parties holding transnational capital accountable for business activities and development outcomes in the South does nothing to challenge existing power structures or to establish ongoing accountability relationships between big business and local communities.

Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t reflect upon the way our lifestyles impact upon the poor in other countries, but rather that we should step away from this idea that switching to fair trade chocolate means we’ve discharged our responsibilities to the world. Because it doesn’t.