Monday, April 7, 2014

Poet or people smuggler?: Demetria Martinez and 'Nativity: For Two Salvadoran Women 1986-1987'

Mother, Father,  
there's no passing the cup,
I'm going to be a troublemaker
 when I grow up.
Demetria Martinez from a poem titled Troublemaker
The political activist, poet and author Demetria Martinez wrote a poem that the US Government tried to use to convict her on people smuggling charges.

In 1987, Martinez accompanied a Lutheran Minister who assisted two Salvadoran women cross the US Border, as part of the Sanctuary Movement, a movement that began in the US in the 1980's to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict that was supported, funded and fueled by the US Government.

Although she was active in the Sanctuary Movement at the time, Martinez made the journey as a journalist, to write a story on the Movement and the Salvadoran women seeking sanctuary in the US.

Martinez wrote her poem Nativity: For Two Salvadoran Women 1986-1987 as a protest against the criminalization of immigrants

 A year later, Martinez was indicted by the US Government on charges of a conspiracy to smuggle people across the border, a charge with a 25 year prison sentence and millions of dollars in fines.

The US Government attempted to use her poem Nativity: For Two Salvadoran Women 1986-1987 as evidence against her in court. Martinez was eventually acquitted of the charges.

Martinez was born in Alberque of Mexican heritage and now lives in New Mexico where she is an author of novels and poetry, and remains an activist on immigrant rights and a journalist.

Nativity for Two Salvadoran Women 1986-1987
by Demetria Martinez

Your eyes, large as Canada, welcome
this stranger.
We meet in a Juárez train station
where you sat for hours,
your offspring blooming in you
like cactus fruit,
dresses stained where breasts leak,
panties in purses tagged
"Hecho en El Salvador,"
your belts like equators,
mark north from south,
borders I cannot cross,
for I am an American reporter,
pen and notebook, the tools
of my tribe, distance us,
though in any other era I might
press a stethoscope to your wounds,
hear the symphony of the unborn,
finger forth infants to light,
wipe afterbirth, cut cords. 

It is impossible to raise a child
in that country.

Sisters, I am no saint.
Just a woman
who happens to be a reporter,
a reporter who happens
to be a woman,
squat in forest, 
peeingon pine needles,
watching you vomit morning sickness,
a sickness infinite as the war in El Salvador,
a sickness my pen and notebook will not ease,
tell me, ¿Por qué están aquí?
How did you cross over?
In my country we sing of a baby in a manger,
finance death squads,
how to write of this shame,
of the children you chose to save?
It is impossible to raise a child
in that country.

A North American reporter,
I smile, you tell me you are due
in December, we nod,
knowing what women know.
I shut my notebook,
watch your car rock
through the Gila,
a canoe hanging over the windshield
like the beak of an eagle,
babies turning in your wombs,
summoned to Belén to be born.

Demetria Martínez

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