What does an illegal immigrant look like?

Filed under: Creative Writing,Featured |

A poem by Christy NaMee Eriksen

An illegal immigrant
Looks like a nickel
Tails up
On the sidewalk
Fallen out of someone’s pocket.

She looks like pressed bleached sheets
On cheap beds
Tucked tight
A hundred of them
Twelve stories high.

I saw one like a mango
Peeled and sprinkled with chili powder
On a stick like America
Layers cut diagonally,
A flower on Lake Street.

She looks like an amethyst grape
Plucked by the millions
Stains like bruises
But she’s sorry and she loves you.

He looks like that kid
I don’t know his name
But he sits over there and his lunch stinks.

She looks like a street of harajuku
Straight cut bang and bangles
Heavy print and bright colors
-oh my bad -
That’s Gwen Stefani!
(she might be legal)

An illegal immigrant looks like
Chinese exclusion 1882
Asian exclusion 1924
Executive order 9066
Patriot act 2001
SB1070 five days ago

Looks like an angel made of bunk beds and cells
Where Chinese men write poems into the wooden wall like it could weather the wait
Looks like a store sign in 1922
“Absolutely no dogs or Filipinos allowed”
Like 1942 spam
Rolled up like an enemy
Internment camp sushi

He is a community tree in the 1930s
Or the 1940s or the 1960s
Who has seen too many
Dead people to climb on

He is a boat
In 1492
Sailing the ocean blue


He looks like a hill
Made of bodies
Covered in grass
And a playground

Like a scar
On the bottom of my feet,
Still growing

He looks like Joseph Ileto who looked like Vincent Chin who looked like Fong Lee who looked like
Your neighborhood postman,
Like a good husband,
Like a boy on a maddening threatening five deviled bicycle
Looked like a good target, like a bad seed, like the wrong crowd, like a jap mother f**ker who stole “our” jobs
So one by one by a hundred they
Killed them


Because if you look
Like the law
You look legal.

And the rest of us are just wire cages
And a magic trick away
From knowing who’s turn it is
To be the sacrificial pigeon

And it’s showtime
All the time
So you need to know the difference.

Christy NaMee Eriksen is a Korean adoptee poet who holds a B.A. in Social Justice, concentrating in Resistance and Racial Justice. She has performed in the Twin Cities at Patrick’s Cabaret, Intermedia Arts, Hamline University, Pillsbury House Theatre, and Equilibrium’s spoken word series at The Loft Literary Center. She is a featured artist on the 2009 Minnesota Spoken Word Album of the Year, “¿Nation of Immigrants?” produced by The Loft Literary Center. She has shared the stage with Ishle Park, Mayda del Valle, Bao Phi, the Good Asian Drivers and other really cool people. She lives in Juneau and is a proud mother.


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

2 Responses to What does an illegal immigrant look like?

  1. What a powerful, elegant piece! We must respond to institutionalized racism in all media and fora. Here is the link for another place to engage:

    “William Mitchell College of Law launched Law Raza Journal on April 23, 2010, the same day that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. This law authorizes police officers to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand proof of citizenship. We would like to use this space as a place where the public can ask questions and legal experts can decode the language in this controversial law. Here is a synopsis provided by Emma Ruby Sachs, who studied law at the University of Toronto and the University of Chicago. She practices criminal and constitutional law. Please send in questions and/or comments.”


    May 3, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  2. Achingly beautiful. If there were an emoticon for my right hand gently patting my heart – in recognition, acknowledgement and solidarity – I would post it here.

    May 3, 2010 at 9:17 pm

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