Poetry by Kemi Bello – “Battling Silence”

Feb 26, 2013   //   afican, africa immigrants, art, awards, Blog, poetry  

Poetry by Things I’ll Never Say Contest Winner: Kemi Bello

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BATTLING SILENCE

First, I was illegal
An identity given to me
By a socio-political complex
Hell-bent on forcing me to
Reject my notion of self.Illegal is illegal, they said –
More than my age
More than my gender/sexuality
More than my humanity –
I was now this thing, an ‘it’
No longer a human being.I stay silent.

Then, I was a dreamer
An identity that built
A collective consciousness
And finally made me
Part of an ‘us.’

I was put on a giddy high
Of dreams deferred
Of “I have a dream”
Of a rainbow of caps & gowns.
For we are the dreamers,
The mighty, mighty dreamers.

Never mind those whose dreams
We are not acknowledging because
They do not match our own.
Never mind those who will not make it
Far enough to don a cap and gown.

Suddenly, a proclamation:
“But we are all dreamers,”
documented or undocumented.

I stay silent.

Then I was undocumented
An identity borne of the realization
That I am more than just legislation,
That this new piece of paper
Would not magically heal the wounds of the struggle
Wrought by lack of papers to begin with,
That to drive home the assertion that
No human being is illegal,
We must first stop referring to ourselves as such,
That dreams without concrete, effective action and empowerment
Would not serve my growth.

Again, it was said:
“But we are all undocumented,”
united in this struggle.

I stay silent.

Then I became unafraid,
Unashamed,
Unapologetic –
About my immigration status,
About refusing to bow down
to rhetoric & political punting,
about choosing a movement over a campaign,
about acknowledging the full, wide, deep and beautiful
spectrum of the undocumented experience,
and about reclaiming my voice and
demanding that it be the only vehicle
through which my story is told.

This time though,
We were not “all unafraid.”
Instead, I was being divisive,
I was being stubborn,
I was selfish, petulant,
I was Radical.

Once again labeled an “other”
In the delicate world of “Us”
I called home.

I stay silent.

At the end of the day,
Though our many struggles and experiences intersect,
And you say we are all dreamers,
My dream of existence in a society
That still views me as illegal, as an it,
Has yet to come true.

You say we are all undocumented,
Yet I am the one who has to justify,
In a court of law,
The right to call the dirt I walk on
And the air I breathe
My Home.

Can I not claim an identity of my own,
Without it being co-opted, rebranded,
Misinterpreted and censored
by those who are not affected?
Those who support, understand,
Sympathize, fight alongside,
But who are not undocumented?

If you truly support me,
You would understand
the importance of my words,
for they are one of the few weapons I own.
If you truly support me,

You would understand,
The necessity,
In a world in which
I am constantly told I have no rights,
To have an identity to call my own.

If you truly support me,
You would understand that
My struggle is not about you.

If you truly support me,
You would understand that
We both lose
When I remain silent.