No Ban, No Wall

I was going to publish a post today about how I was looking for a reader-inchief at the White House, but things have just gotten way too messy in the country to even focus on literature at this minute.

Source: Design Action Collective

For the past two days, I’ve been protesting Trump’s Muslim Ban executive order at San Francisco International Airport, where people from seven Muslim-majority countries are being detained. This executive order suspends the U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days with exceptions; suspends the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely; and suspends the entry of lawful permanent residents, refugees and nonimmigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. Xenophobia and Islamophobia in this country has reached new, horrendous heights and we can not idly stand by.

Instead of my usual posts about books and literature, I’m reposting a list of things to keep in mind created by Prerna Lal, a queer Indo-Fijian lawyer in the U.S.

1. If detained at a CA airport under Executive Order, call the local ACLU hotline:

SFO 415-621-2488
LAX 213-977-5245

2. A federal district judge in New York has stayed the Executive Order. The stay is temporary but effective immediately and nationwide, and is an order to CBP to not remove people under the Executive Order (and should also extend to those who are trying to enter the U.S.). If your non-citizen family or friends are traveling from countries that have been designated on the list (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen), tell them to print out a copy of the stay order and carry it on them:

If non-citizens continue to be harassed, detained, interrogated, tell them to make copious notes and get names and details of how long they waited, what happened, who they spoke to and precisely what was said. Keep demanding access to counsel and not sign anything.

Lawyers for other families who are detained can use the pleadings filed in the New York case so they do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Additional orders issued by judges:

Washington, D.C.
U.S. District Court in Massachusetts

3. Anyone who holds a passport from a designated country is considered as being “from” the designated country. This includes dual citizens who hold passports from a designated country, as well as a non-designated country.

4. For lawful permanent residents, DHS is admitting people on a case by case basis, following additional and invasive screenings. Any green card holders from designated countries should make sure not to sign the I-407/Record of abandonment of lawful permanent residence. CBP officers often coerce and deceive people into doing this as a condition of release from detention. If detained for extended periods, people should similarly, take notes, take names, ask for their lawyer, ask to speak to the Congressional representative, and demand to see an immigration judge.

5. People from designated countries, even dual nationals, should try to not travel abroad at this time, unless one absolutely must. Reports indicate that people abroad are not being allowed to board airplanes (even with visas) and even visa interviews for citizens of these countries have been canceled (with the exception of those who hold diplomatic visas).

6Contact your Congressperson:

If you know who your representative is but you are unable to contact them using their contact form, the Clerk of the House maintains addresses and phone numbers of all House members and Committees, or you may call (202) 225-3121 for the U.S. House switchboard operator.

7. For those persecuted in their home countries or fear of persecution in countries CBP would return them to, individuals should speak to their lawyers to discuss claims to asylum and demand a credible fear interview at ports of entry.

8. There are some rumors that USCIS will stop processing applications for naturalization, work permits, travel permits, green card renewals, and other immigration benefits for people from these designated countries. We are waiting for an official announcement. This is very clearly outside the scope of Presidential authority and the executive order, and will lead to many more lawsuits.

9. Media:

NY Times.  If you have been impacted by this Executive Order, willing to share your story with the media and public, the New York Times is asking for those stories to be shared with them via email to

There are many other outlets looking for stories of people who have been impacted.

10. For everyone else, see you at the airports!


The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry

His face between my hands, wet as a cut.
If we make it to shore, he says, I will name our son after this water.
I will learn to love a monster. He smiles.
— “Immigrant Haibun”

51t5rbcccgl-_sx365_bo1204203200_To be named after vast waters is an immense weight, but Ocean Vuong’s poetry in Night Sky with Exit Wounds ripples, sends waves across the body, across time.

Living at a time when queer contemporary poets are publishing their work has been life-giving. Over the past years, the work of Saeed Jones, r. erika doyle and Danez Smith have suffused harsh nights with tenderness, long days with joy.

Ocean’s poetry reminds me of Warsan Shire’s in Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth where the self is in constant rhythm with flight — of leaving and arriving, of reliving and remembering. Both poets grappled the afflictions of war throughout their writing — from Vietnam, Somalia.

In Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean carries the stories of his parents seeking refuge away from Hanoi. His father is a constant subject, navigating political and emotional terrains. I remember reading “Telemachus” with a profound longing to reach through time and understand the visceral loss of a son, entwined with his father.

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine — but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

A few months ago, I read and wrote a book review of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. What little I knew of the Vietnam War expanded as I dove deep in the sometimes hysterical, sometimes maniacal narrative of Viet’s main character, a half-French half-Vietnamese sleeper spy. While genres, voice and format differ, the Vietnam War left a significant imprint on everyone and everything it touched.

He reveals the semiotics of memory, the traces of war on the body. (To transcribe the poem in the blog would not suffice, here’s “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back” straight from the book:) Continue reading “The Inevitability of Ocean Vuong’s Poetry”

Finding Refuge

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

– HomeWarsan Shire

This poem by Somali poet Warsan Shire was what immediately came to mind when I first started hearing about the refugee crisis in Syria. I think I’ve come to associate anything that requires a deeper sense of vulnerability with her work, from For Women Who Are Difficult to Love to Grandfather’s Hands from her poetry collection Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth

I’ve always turned to poetry and literature to make sense of what happens around me, finding solace in words more than the images I see on television. And while it can be about format of delivery, it is the way that poetry and literature can reach a level of shared humanity with its reader more than any other medium can.

Some books on the stories and experiences of refugees that I’ve read in the past are those Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Dreams of a Boy Soldier, Dave Egger’s What is the What (an account of Valentino Achak Deng’s life, of whom I was fortunate enough to meet) and more recently, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (read my review of the book here). These books talked about the lives of African and Vietnamese refugees, the plight of fleeing for safety and survival that so many Syrians are currently attempting.


There are currently 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees as of March 2016, after the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011. About 6.6 million have been displaced, and most refugees have been seeking refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and in other European nations. They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, children fleeing the country they call home to save their lives, after the authoritarian government of Assad was toppled.

In 2015, countless headlines of boats capsizing and dead bodies of children floating ashore dominated the news. In an article from The New Yorker magazine, I read about how Ghaith, a 22-year old law student crossed ten borders — leaving behind his mother and wife — so he can start anew in Sweden and hopefully bring the rest of his family with him.


His journey to Sweden was marred with harrowing exchanges with smugglers, counterfeiters, border officials and other smugglers.

You reach a point when you become numb, I was standing there naked. I felt like I was not a human anymore.

Ghaith, after being harassed, slapped and strip-searched
by an Italian security official

Countless others like Muhammad, a school principal in Syria had to flee with his wife and six children hoping for reprieve from the bombs and missiles that rained on his village. After arriving at the Idomeni camp in Greece, Muhammad is still hoping for a brighter future along with other refugees.

Muhammad: “We escaped injustice and oppression and ended up in suffering and hardship.”

I think about women and children throughout all of this, knowing that they are the most vulnerable in these situations. I came across a piece from Refinery29 called Behind The Deadlines: Daughters of Paradise which featured the lives of several Syrian women refugees. Women and children are at the risk of exploitation and sexual harassment, prey to human trafficking.

While absorbing populations of Syrian refugees is being debated around the world, it is worth noting that the war was even more aggravated as countries like the U.S. and Russia joined the military fray.

At one time, the plight of Syrians for democracy inspired the whole world and put the Arab Spring in action. But at what cost? Whose lives are being sacrificed, whose lives are being ignored? And who is benefitting the most? The greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation has revealed that at our core, we are still a species driven by fear (see: Brexit) reliant on military aggression for solution.

Once again, I turn to Warsan.

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.