The Otay Mesa Detention Center troubles me. I walk there everyday from the Otay Mesa Port of Entry as part of my 40-day pilgrimage. Guards slowly circle the Detention Center in vans. They stare at me. I meet their gaze. They tell me that I have to remain on the sidewalk. The large private prison company that owns and operates the Detention Center, CoreCivic, maintains the dirt pathway that surrounds it. I cannot film, or even stand, on this pathway—or on the very large parking lot where the multitude of Detention Center employees park their cars.
I stand on the sidewalk and bear witness. I toss a ball, repetitively and meditatively, contemplating the expanse of concrete “pods” holding the detainees. Three layers of barbed wire and electric fencing separate me from the people locked inside. I cannot see them. I cannot talk with them or play catch with them. I cannot offer food or other forms of direct aid.
I try to imagine what it must be like for the detainees—especially those who are forced to remain in the Detention Center for years on end. Refugees. Dreamers. Most have no criminal records whatsoever. Treated like prisoners. In jumpsuits. Living in concrete cages. Breathing in terrible air from the power plant across the street. Suffering, according to multiple reports, from physical and sexual abuse. Medical neglect. Contaminated and insufficient food. Forced labor.
I toss the ball and I think about how my paternal grandparents survived the Holocaust. How my grandfather’s brother died in a labor camp. How I am a descendant of immigrants who came to this country because they believed, like I do, that it is a welcoming place that values people from all ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs. A compassionate country that finds homes for refugees, that cares for those that need help.
I’m still shocked by the march in Charlottesville, so close to where I live with my wife and two young boys. Klansmen without hoods, shouting openly about killing Jews and African Americans. I’m frightened by the rise of racist rhetoric and the rise of hate crimes. And I’m terrified by white nationalism. But, I have hope nonetheless. I continue to believe in our country. I’m confident that we will rediscover our values. So, I toss a ball and declare:
Walk with me along the border. Play catch with me in front of the wall. Share some hot dogs and salsa. I don’t care what part of the world you’re from. Let’s root, root, root for teamwork. If we don’t find some, it’s a shame. For it’s one, two, three strikes, we’re out at the old ball game.
On Thanksgiving, a guard stops his van and tells me that he sees me everyday. We discuss the Detention Center, the Border, the Wall. The value of compassion. A friend who has walked with me that day adds his thoughts. Then the guard asks: “we need this place, right?” I thank him for asking such an important question. He thanks me. Then the guard resumes circling the Detention Center in his van. And I start walking back to the Port of Entry with my friend, as the conversation circles over and over again in my mind.
DECEMBER 18, IMPEACHMENT DAY
by Rosanna Albertini
Only as an invisible fairy I walked with Joel Tauber. Hot dogs and salsa not the best for me. But this online presence allows me to send my contribution: an immigration story to the artist who is at home by now, with his children and wife. Christmas is certain, the future not so much. Whatever happens with this presidency, it’s useful to remember that history is not a ballroom. American fears are the same as in every other country in the world. Maybe the eagle has lost some feathers, maybe the country has “unbuttoned his waistcoat and offered a morsel of his liver to the bird.” Take a look! “Come, come now! ! It’s nothing but a conscience, at the very most.” (André Gide, Prometheus Misbound, 1953)
My grandmother was fourteen when a big ship brought her from Northern Italy to the land of hope. She traveled alone. An uncle had a drugstore in Pittsburgh and needed family workers, which probably means unpaid. The winter was so nasty the girl got chilblains in her feet, which were only protected by rubber boots. Business was bad, the girl was sent back after one year. On the verge of WWI in her village poverty was endemic. For a while the family sent her to Switzerland to become a baby sitter. She only had to cross the lake. 1915. Once the war exploded, fears made people irrational, ignorant of Switzerland’s neutrality. The girl was called back to the village. To work was then even more inevitable for the lack of men, all soldiers. The girl found a night job in a factory nearby, the Cucirini Cantoni, to produce thread for sewing. Big machines, long nocturnal turns: a second of distraction; the four fingers of her right hand were gone, completely cut off. The thumb remained. She was seventeen. The fearless creature inside her body didn’t flinch. She trained the left hand to do everything needed, married a painter, became his studio manager, after his death organized exhibitions with other artists’ widows. Had two boys and a daughter who died before birth. I have her name.
ROSA MASERATI ALBERTINI with her father and one of the little sisters.
The only photograph in which she has two perfect hands. Around 1911-1912.