01 August 2010

America, The Continent

Several years ago, I wrote a poem, ostensibly about immigration, called America, The Continent.

America, The Continent is a poem about something we all seek:
a better life
I am often compelled to write after seeing vintage black and white photographs of historical events.

One photograph I could not let go of, depicted a border station where migrant workers were given a de-lousing bath of kerosene and vinegar before entering the US. I had been listening to hauntingly beautiful tune Matamoros Banks by Bruce Springsteen.

Borders often follow geologic features like rivers, but frequently they are anthropomorphic (and imaginary).

David Dorado Romo tells the story behind the image that inspired my poem:
All immigrants from the interior of Mexico, and those whom U.S. Customs officials deemed "second-class" residents of Juarez, were required to strip completely, turn in their clothes to be sterilized in a steam dryer and fumigated with hydrocyanic acid, and stand naked before a Customs inspector who would check his or her "hairy parts" -- scalp, armpits, chest, genital area -- for lice. Those found to have lice would be required to shave their heads and body hair with clippers and bathe with kerosene and vinegar.

My great-aunt, Adela Dorado, would tell our family about the humiliation of having to go through the delousing every eight days just to clean American homes in El Paso. She recalled how on one occasion the U.S. Customs officials put her clothes and shoes through the steam dryer and her shoes melted.

~David Dorado Romo, from Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, 1893-1923
The poem America, The Continent (below) appears in my new online book Hope Begins.

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