A BOOK REVIEW BY KIAYA ROSE DILSNER-LOPEZ
Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions found its name from the curious remark of Valeria Luiselli’s daughter after hearing the stories of undocumented children from Mexico and Central America. As her family drives cross-country, they explore topics that range from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, where Mexico lost half of its territory to the United States, to the current immigration crisis affecting millions of asylum seekers across the Americas. While Luiselli road trips through these histories, she also shares stories from translating intake interviews of undocumented children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. By framing the essay with the 40 questions of the intake interview, Luiselli reflects on her own Mexican and U.S. American identities as she maps her own green card experience alongside the stories of children seeking political asylum in the United States.
It is through the stories of these children that readers can learn about La Bestia, or The Beast, the life-threatening train ride which carries half a million Central Americans every year to the United States. This reading may be the first time that U.S. American readers hear about the hielera, or the “icebox,” where children can be kept over 72-hours in a life-size refrigerator that holds people in freezing air, oftentimes without a place to lie down, little to no bathroom access, and nothing to eat but frozen sandwiches. Maybe now the public will let themselves learn of the girls who take contraception preemptively since 80% of women who cross U.S.-Mexico border are raped during their journey. This is not even taking into consideration the statistics of migrants who die from a number of other causes such as dehydration, starvation, and acts of violence along each stage of their crossing to an unknown safety.
Luiselli’s essay serves as required reading because it provides an accessible contemporary political context, allowing us to arrive at a deeper understanding of our nation’s rapid dehumanization of asylum seekers. In the essay, she explores how the Obama administration’s priority juvenile docket accelerated the deportation of undocumented children by limiting each child’s deadline in seeking political asylum to three weeks. As a consequence, the majority of children have been deported because most children do not have sufficient time to have their stories translated, legally reviewed, and then tried in court by a lawyer. Moreover, Luiselli’s analysis even goes further back to George W. Bush’s Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which states that Mexican children can be deported without any documented reasoning since “children from countries that share borders with the U.S. can be deported without formal immigration proceedings.” These laws, among other policies, still function in our society and have now built upon one another to form an increased resistance to empathetic thinking about immigrants. Today, with Trump’s zero tolerance and separation of families, the United States exhibits an information crisis that continues to normalize systemic othering in our hemispheric community.
During the Trump administration, many U.S. Americans have experienced the crisis of epistemophobia, or fear of knowledge, about his presidency and policies. We, as U.S. citizens, have been purposefully turning away from the news, often claiming that we cannot take in this information for the wellbeing of our bodies and minds. Yet, while Trump’s administration presents a dystopian reality, his administration’s work has been built upon the policies of his predecessors, particularly when it comes to U.S. immigration policy. One must wonder if we will ever agree on a point where we as a nation can open ourselves to hearing these tragedies as a way to understand and create effective action to protect asylum-seeking children. Yet as these policies accumulate exponentially, Tell Me How it Ends recognizes that the time for international action is right now.
As a call to action, Luiselli presents multinational responsibility for these children, as she exposes how international gang violence and crime is in direction relation to U.S. demands for drugs and gun trafficking. When reflecting on the responsibility of helping children asylum seekers, Luiselli writes, “No one, or almost no one, from producers to consumers, is willing to accept their role in the great theater of devastation of these children’s lives. To refer to the situation as a hemispheric war would be a step forward because it would oblige us to rethink the very language surrounding the problem and in doing so, imagine potential direction for combined policies.” In other words, Luiselli argues that we must all recognize a collective responsibility. As a consequence, it is then all of our responsibility to think critically on the sacrifices we are each willing to make in order to protect millions of children from the violence of our histories.
This may not be a typical book review. I recognize that a large majority of my writing is the reiteration of facts followed by a politicized stance, rather than an explicit recommendation of the essay. Yet, I find it important to share some of the facts that are now lodged in my consciousness in the hopes that it will help to activate a light in each of my readers as well.
It may seem hard to believe that writers and reporters must craft their stories in order to share information or even humanize the victims of horrific crimes. Nevertheless, much of this is the function of writing: providing a means by which social evils may be acknowledged fully and safely through the work of a clever storyteller. Tell Me How it Ends provides an accessible short narrative that functions as a way for the U.S. American public to take in the issues of our nation’s immigration policy. Reading this book may serve as a first step in accepting your responsibility in helping the asylum seekers of our world.