A series of unfortunate pop culture references.
Aww You Shouldn’t Have by Ripley Le Fay
They Took the Fight out of Us
As the summer draws to a close, a friend of mine G-Chats me asking if he could stay with me for a couple days on his way from Chicago to Hampshire College, where he was scheduled to give a talk on art and migration. It’s hot and sticky and I’m an exhausted person and a terrible host but I said yes anyway.
He’s been carrying a huge duffel bag with him around the city, so I give him a smaller bag to carry his book and his wallet in when he goes all the way to Coney Island to find work for the day. I’m getting over being sick and sleep most of the day, then wake up in the middle of the night and write copy and send manic emails and try to catch up on the news, while my friend tells me about his day and all the people he met. Everybody here speaks Spanish, he says, so he asks if they’re Mexican, like him, as he offers me a bottle of pear flavored pop that he bought at a soda shop in south Brooklyn.
He and I met in 2012, at the height of Occupy when we felt like student organizing was revving up for something big. We were at the forefront, migrant kids trying to orchestrate something huge, I don’t even know what it could have been but at the time it felt like we were the immovable object. The first time we spoke, it was on the phone after being introduced through a friend and I could tell he was testing me, like activist boys tend to do, sizing me up to see if I was legit. He was like one giant litmus test that most people just failed all day long. I don’t think I made his short list until I paid for his bus ticket out of pocket to get from where he lives in Chicago to Wisconsin for a convening of students from across the country. He’s sweet because he talks about whatever’s on his mind, sings loudly in the street, makes friends with anybody and everybody he meets, and he knows that people don’t really get him and that’ll always be his experience.
That was then, and now, he’s sitting on my couch where I live with friends that I call my colleagues. He’s telling me how he’s not working right now, and went back to live with his mom. I say, I’m not doing any real organizing, at least not in the ways I used to, and that most of the work I do is done at home on the computer, which is depressing as fuck. Long after the Occupy momentum shriveled, we both bumped uglies with health crises that have left us distrustful, desperate, precarious, and hopeless that change can come about through any kind of institutional channels. It was more than that, but it definitely didn’t help matters. We both feel like young has-beens, the kind fresh-faced kids ask for direction, but we have no idea where the fuck we are going. We spend the day reading to one another and sharing music videos we love, and then take a long nap on my bed. Later, he buys me a sandwich and we drink beers on the roof and talk about our parents, the friends we have in common, and all the organizations we were a part of that made too many promises: amnesty, free tuition, debt strikes, friendship, a world without rape. Bottles are lining up and we’ve come to that it’s not that we don’t believe shit can change for the better, it might just be that small gestures and fuck yous are both more satisfying and meet our peoples’ day-to-day needs. Maybe they took the fight out of us, I think as he changes the song to Future on the laptop. It’s my bed time.
I’m setting up a little bed for him on our pull-out in the small living room. My roommate is running up and down the stairs doing laundry. He and I are humming this version of “Diamonds” by Rihanna, where migrant youth activists changed the lines to “Shine bright like a migrant”. He tells me a story I hadn’t heard before about when he first found out he didn’t have papers. He was trying to file for a library card when he was little, he came home and asked his Mom for his social security number, she told him they didn’t have one, and he said she was being stupid, that everybody has one. Folding his clothes neatly back into his bag, he laughs. I tell him about how other parents stopped talking to me and my mom after she let it slip that we were living here illegally. I ask him if he’s interested in pursuing legal status, maybe you could get married like so many people do.
He gets very serious, pushing back his hair dramatically, like he does. “Once, I was interested in being a part of a movement that could challenge borders and the immigration system as we know it.”