Borderlands: An Open Wound

April 6th, 2009

Field Notes #2

Posted by sewonchung in Research

When: 03/11/09
Where: Sol de Justicia in Nogales, Mexico
Who: Oscar Jimenez Lopez
I could not take any notes when he was peering into our faces and telling us intimate details of his life. I felt so helpless and ashamed—Sewon, what are you doing here—I just sat and listened and stared at my hands. I didn’t really know how else to react. Was I supposed to reassure him or promise him something? Everyone seems so sure. I just feel overwhelmed.
→10 years in jail + 5 years and 2 months in jail (original sentence was for 6 years). “I learned English there,” he says.
→He was born in Chiapas, left home very young—age 12—to the U.S. by himself. But after all these years, he doesn’t even have a life in the U.S. Wonders why they stole all these years of his life and let him out without a cent. If they gave him some money, he could at least go back to Chiapas. He’s stuck in Nogales. He has no friends or family here.
→I try to react back and say, “Well, I really hope you can save enough to go back home to Chiapas.” He shakes his head and searches my eyes and says, “No, no, it’s not like that. I left home when I was 12. 15 years I was in jail. I don’t even know if my family lives there or if they are alive at all. And I have no money to find out anyway.” I think of a conversation I had earlier with Kate. She asked me about Korea and asked me if I was returning there after college. Return where? Why? I am American and my family lives in Northern Virginia. What do I have in Korea to go back to? Maybe Oscar and I have more in common than I realize but I know I have the privilege of mobility.
→ Oscar blames judges, blames lawyers. Tells us this is racial discrimination. Says it’s not the skin color because sometimes Mexican Americans are the worst. They are the first to call immigration. He says he doesn’t want to go to Texas. The only reason he would go is for the money but they keep putting him in jail, what is the point. Texas is not a home. Arkansas is where he’s been all these years but that’s prison.
→In Nogales there are jobs but it’s impossible to save any money. He pulls out his hands and says, “Look, look at my hands. Look at the cuts and the scars.” He carries rocks all day long and earns just enough to eat.
→“My name is Oscar Jimenez Lopez,” he says again and again. “I was scared so I gave them a different name and I never go to be Oscar Jimenez Lopez in America.”
→”Is there anything you can do for me?” he asks now that we know of the unjust way his youth and his life was taken from him. We have nothing to say. I wish we said something empowering. Instead we pointed out the Sol de Justicia church leader and said that he would be able to help. Hmm.
→He peers into my face and asks, “What’s your name?” I tell him and he says, “You are Korean, right? There was lots of Korean in Texas. Japanese, too, but they are different people.” I think we forget that people can see us when we are so busy “studying” them.

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