By Magdalena Salazar Casajus
I have not felt the pain of being forced into prostitution by people I once called friends.
I have not felt the pain of having to see my husband marry someone else and not complain.
I have not felt the pain of having to flee my home and country to protect the innocence of my children.
I have not felt the pain of working for a company for over 20 years knowing I’ll never reach the top because of my nationality.
If this isn’t pain, then I don’t know what is.
About 9 years ago, I was living in El Salvador.
I met a woman, her name was Patty.
She lived in a small hut in the middle of a huge villa.
Around a year ago, her son turned 15.
15 in El Salvador means guns, gangs, violence, death.
With no husband or voice to defend her son, Patty had no choice but to leave.
Like Ayah, the only way to escape her situation was to escape.
Ayah was taken away from the men, the friends, that forced her into prostitution, the men that destroyed her.
Patty left the rest of her children, her grandchildren, and her country to preserve innocence of her son.
The pain they must have felt is unimaginable.
About 2 years ago I talked to my dad about his job.
The conversation started off with normal talk,
But then I asked more about his job position, something he rarely talks about.
I asked him about the positions above him and made weird jokes about bosses,
But then I asked why he wasn’t up there,
And he said, with a sad smile, an Argentinean never gets up there.
In that moment, I realized that that was something he has known for a long time.
In that moment, I realized that that was something he accepted about his job without complaining.
Like Ramatoulaye when her husband married someone else and completely forgot about her, my dad didn’t complain.
The pain they felt must have been unimaginable.
I, on the other hand, have led an easy life.
I received an education without having to fight for it.
I visit my family in Argentina twice a year.
I have a car, and I have a dog too.
I’m in college, studying to get an engineering degree.
Yet I can sense inconvenience at every American airport while I hand over my Argentinean passport.
My stomach churns at the sound of people laughing at my parents’ broken English.
My heart races when I see the doubt on people’s faces when I try to enroll in a different school.
The words “American Citizens, Permanent Residents only” blind me every time I try to apply for jobs, internships, volunteering, scholarships, contests…
You can hear me, right? I sound American, but I’m not.
Listen to me speaking to my family. I sound Argentinean, but if I’m being honest, I’ve been away too long.
I’ve lived in many places and have seen so many faces.
I have led a unique life and have seen most of the world, but why do I still feel alone?
Why do I feel like the only thing that will let America ever accept me is an American passport with my face in it?
Why do I feel like the only Argentineans that accept me are my family?
Why am I constantly questioning my worth and my identity?
I think it’s safe to say that I have felt pain too.
Its’s not the pain that completely extinguished the fire that once illuminated Ayah’s eyes.
The pain that outlined the entirety of Ramatoulaye’s letter.
The pain that weighed down Patty as she fled El Salvador and illegally crossed the border.
The pain that my father has locked away inside of him because of the limitations of his nationality.
It’s not their pain, but its mine.
I know they’re all different extremes.
I know that all of these stories encapsulate extremely different people who have gone through extremely different experiences.
I know our pain is distinct,
But this pain stems from something we all share:
I have not felt their pain, but I have felt mine.
Magdalena Salazar Casajus is a Chemical Engineering major here at Georgia Tech. In the poem above, she explores how subalternity transcends generations and is among us to this day. She draws inspiration from Mariam Bâ’s So Long a Letter, Bapsi Sidwa’s Cracking India, and her own personal experiences to demonstrate how the pain of marginalization, discrimination, and a lack of voice felt by many different people make them connected.
The featured image is a picture of the wall that divides the United States and Mexico. The image can be found here.