by Liliana Romero

I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Ever since I was young I’ve communicated with the world through letters and words. I draw and write because art has been the sweet honey of my turbulent life.

I also am a business administrator, lawyer and professor who founded an NGO to assist and educate traffic victims. I’ve written several academic books, some stories, novels, poems, and motivational essays.

I was detained upon entering the U.S. through Tijuana on October 24, 2017. I fled from the hands of death, guided by the smell of freedom and the soul of libertarian heroes into the country of immigrants. Here, in the same street, all continents are appreciated. Here, together, rest a Muslim and a Christian, a communist and a democrat, and men and women in both hetero and gay marriages. I arrived in the U.S. with a smile and folded wings but the chains of the executioner were waiting for me.

I was in the famous “cooler” for almost a week. There I learned to hate the burritos of frozen grains and to accustom my nose to the strong human smells, mine included. Use of the bathroom was a luxury.

Then I was transferred to Arizona. During the five hour journey I lost all reason after nearly suffocating in that little airless bus, chained like a wild beast. I almost died. In fact, I think I did die because I left my body and watched myself turn blue. God wanted to give me another chance and I survived.

Seven days in Arizona were enough to destroy my hope. Privacy is a reality show and modesty a joke in bad taste. Believe me, you do not want to get sick in that place, where you are taken to the doctor in chains.

The time came for another transfer that lasted fourteen hours on a bus. We looked like rabbits in cages. They said we were being taken to a better place — “almost like a hotel!” they said mockingly. And it’s the title of my next novel: Hotel Hell. We were received with screams and the threat of pepper spray. It was a place where if they hit you, they abused you, or they hurt you, you must shut your mouth because they will send you to the hole or to a violent group. I started to see suicide as an option and plan my death. I studied English with an incomplete dictionary and translated the laws to defend myself without money or lawyers or family. My drawings and poems saved my hope and I left suicide as a second course in case of deportation. I saw horrible things. But here I am turning my misfortune into art.

I defended myself and was granted asylum. I was released on May 16, 2018. Two months later I received my I94. Four months later I have a Social Security number. As I don’t have family here in the U.S. I am currently living in PATH homeless housing in Los Angeles.

Now I am looking for a job so that I may engage in society with dignity.

Here I share my poem, Lo se, Tienes miedo, inspired by the watery eyes, the expression of fear and bewilderment on the faces of all the women who arrived at detention — with a uniform, a laundry bag and all their history reduced to an alien number and a plastic bracelet. When I’m not writing I’m thinking what to write. I always write; sometimes with the pencil of graphite and other times with the pencil of the conscience.

Liliana Romero

Lo se, Tienes Miedo

Lo sé, estás ahí, ya te vi y sé que tienes miedo.

Tienes miedo porque no sabes dónde estás,

Tienes miedo porque no entiendes por qué te encierran

Tienes miedo porque otras llevan años y no han salido; Te pasará a ti?

Tienes miedo porque ayer puede ser la última vez que viste a tus hijos

Tienes miedo porque ya no puedes cambiar de parecer, es demasiado tarde…mira tus cadenas.

Tienes miedo porque huyendo de la barbarie encontraste otra y aquí no puedes correr ni escapar.

Lo sé, estás ahí, te vi llegar desconcertada. Y lloré porque no puedo ayudarte y sé lo que vivirás.

Vivirás la soledad entre mucha gente, vivirás las sombras y la risa psicótica.

Vivirás sonámbula contando los pasos hacia el teléfono. Un libro? No… no hay nada para ti, para tu sed, para tu hambre, para tu miedo.

Ellos no están, ni allá ni aquí, tu familia se ha esfumado, ya no los ves ni los oyes. Estarán bien? Te preguntarás? Y sufrirás su lejanía.

Vivirás queriendo ser rebelde, que no comerás esto o aquello, que es comida para perros dices. El agua tiene un sabor a químicos pero no tienes dinero para beber la potable. Te rehúsas, pero la sed no negocia y el hambre. El hambre, el hambre te obliga a comer lo que te sirven, y no lo ves, solo masticas y tragas. Obligaste a alguien alguna vez a comer algo que no quería? Porque yo no. Y aquí estoy compartiendo karmas.

Lo sé, estás ahí, no quieres hablar, pero escucho tus ojos y sé que tienes miedo.

Miedo de morir en algún momento, así como así, y en el anonimato.

Miedo de decir lo que quieres gritar, miedo de arañar las paredes y sacudirte el cabello de la ira, de rasgarte los labios con los dientes y triturar tu lengua. Quien te aconsejó entregarte? Al imperio donde una llave manda sobre tus muñecas, sobre tu cintura, sobre tus tobillos…sobre tu alma.

Tienes miedo al mañana, a la decisión de un Dios vestido de toga, a las palabras hirientes de un extraño que está molesto contigo por entrar sin tocar su puerta. Un cuartito de cuatro sillas y una bandera nueva y no hablas su idioma. Tu única arma es la confianza y la mirada del traductor. Qué dicen? Será cierto? Y tiemblan tus rodillas, tu cadera sucumbe al dolor y aguantas el llanto. Nadie quiere débiles.

Tienes miedo a la noche, a las noches y no duermes. Sabes que están molestos porque te gritan y te ven con odio pero no entiendes. Corriste para salvar tu vida. Créeme no es tu culpa no saber inglés.

No es tu culpa que el mundo esté loco, que el hombre sea malvado y te golpee, que haya guerras y sangre y tú… en el medio, girando tu cabeza, pidiéndole cuentas a Dios, rogando su ayuda.

No es tu culpa que corrieras y sangraran tus pies, que tus hijos lloraran por el camino pues peor es la muerte. No es tu culpa mi niña. Esto no es un castigo, nada hiciste. Esto es injusticia.

No es tu culpa te grito, no es tu culpa te lloro, no es tu culpa mi ángel. El mundo es así, terrible, sordo, mudo y ciego. No caigas, no te arrodilles, abraza a tus hijos en tu mente. Visualiza la leche de tu seno en su boca, el abrazo de tu pecho en el suyo y el arrullo de tu voz en su entraña. Canta, canta mucho, alto suave como quieras, pero hacia adentro, que no escuche el que te grita silencio. Baila, salta y da vueltas, no importa que te miren, que llamen el psicólogo no importa. Eres normal, eres un sueño y ellos solo saben de pesadillas.

Lo sé, estas ahí, ya te vi y tienes miedo

Miedo porque no sabes qué es esto

Miedo a recibir una llamada de luto

Miedo a que las canas inunden tu cabeza y…se acabe el tiempo, tu tiempo.

Lo sé, estas aquí, sé que tienes miedo, de lo que vivirás y escúchame; no tienes culpa, tu única responsabilidad es soportar, aislarte a la violencia, convertirte en su ganado pero jamás olvides que no lo eres. No eres eso que te dicen, no eres lo que comes, lo que hiciste, lo que dejaste o lo que tienes, no eres su oscuridad ni su bullicio, no eres sus silencios ni su regimiento. TU ERES YO, YO SOY TU. Y SOMOS LIBRES.

I Know You Are Afraid

I know, you’re here, I’ve seen you and I know that you’re afraid.

You’re afraid because you don’t know where you are.

You’re afraid because you don’t understand why they lock you up.

You’re afraid because others have been in there for years and they haven’t gotten out; what will happen to you?

You’re afraid because yesterday may have been the last time that you were able to see your children.

You’re afraid because now you cannot change your mind, it’s too late … look at your chains.

You’re afraid because in fleeing from the horror you encountered another horror and here you cannot run or escape.

I know, you’re here, I saw your bewildered arrival. And I cried because I can’t help you and I know what you will live through.

You will live a solitary life amongst the crowds, you will live in the shadows, listening to the psychotic laughter.

You will live as though sleepwalking, counting the steps to the telephone. A book? No, there’s nothing for you, for your thirst, your hunger, your fear.

They are not here, they are neither there nor here, your family has vanished, now you do not see them or hear them. Will they be ok, you’ll ask? And you will suffer in your distance from them.

You will live wanting to rebel, you’ll say you won’t eat this or that, that this is food for dogs, you’ll say.

The water tastes of chemicals, but you don’t have the money for the good water. You refuse the food and drink, but hunger and thirst don’t negotiate.

The hunger, the hunger forces you to eat what they serve you, and you don’t look at it, you just chew and swallow. Did you ever make someone eat what they didn’t want to? Because I haven’t. And here I am, sharing that karma

I know, you’re here, you don’t want to speak, but I hear you — through the look in your eyes — and I know you’re afraid.

Afraid of dying at any moment, just like that, in anonymity.

Afraid to say that which you want to scream, afraid of clawing the walls and tearing at your hair, afraid of gnashing your lips and biting/shredding your tongue.

Whom shall I tell you to turn to? To an empire where a key reigns over your wrists, your waist, your ankles … your soul

You’re afraid of tomorrow, of the decision of a God dressed in a judge’s robe, of the words spewed by a stranger who is bothered that you entered without knocking. A little room with four chairs and a new flag and you don’t speak their language.

Your only defense is confidence and the translator’s gaze. What will they say? Will it be true? And your knees shake, you could almost double over in pain, and you hold in the sorrow/heartache. Nobody wants weaklings.

You’re afraid of the night, of the nights, and you don’t sleep. You know that it bothers them because you yell and shout and they look at you with hate, but you don’t understand. You ran to save your life. Believe me, it is not your fault to not know English.

It’s not your fault that the world is crazy, that man is mean-spirited, and hits you when you’re down, that there are wars and blood and you … in the middle of it, turning your head, pleading to God for help, pleading for help.

It’s not your fault that you ran until your feet bled, that your children cried on the long road, at least it was better than dying. It’s not your fault my darling girl/daughter. This is not a punishment, you didn’t do anything wrong. This is an injustice.

It is not your fault, I shout to you, it’s not your fault, I cry to you. It’s not your fault, my angel. This is the way the world is, it’s terrible, deaf, dumb and blind.

Don’t fall, don’t be brought to your knees, embrace your children in your mind.

Visualize the milk from your breast in her mouth, the embrace of your chest on hers and your soothing voice within her.

Sing, sing as much as you can, something soft as you like, but sing it within, so he won’t hear you, the one who yells, “Silence!”

Dance, jump, spin around, it doesn’t matter if they look at you funny, that they call you crazy, it doesn’t matter. You are normal, you are a dream and they only know of nightmares.

I know, you’re here, I see you and you’re afraid.

Afraid because you don’t know what this is.

Afraid to receive a call of mourning.

Afraid that your head will turn completely grey in here and … time is running out, your time is running out.

I know, you’re right here, I know you’re afraid, of what you will live, and listen to me; it’s not your fault, your only responsibility is to endure, isolate yourself from the violence, convert it into your win, but never forget that you are not it —

You are not what they say of you/what they say your are, you are not what you eat, what you did, what you left behind, or what you have, you are neither your obscurity nor your clamor, you are neither your silences nor your regiment. YOU ARE ME, I AM YOU. AND WE ARE FREE.

Translated by Lucia Vigil-Francis