Thursday, September 10, 2015
I am a big fan of the movie Well-Founded Fear. One of my favorite exercises in Immigration Law is to play a series of clips from the film that tell the story of three different Chinese migrants seeking asylum in the United States. I give my students a copy of the USCIS Fraud Referral Sheet, and I ask them to evaluate the merits of the three applications, taking into account the factors stated in the sheet. We discuss how their impressions of these migrants changed over time, what changed, and why. We talk about the role of lawyers in preparing clients and cases for the USCIS.
The story of Huang Xiang is the most moving of the three that I show. When I first watched the movie, I wasn't sure what to make of him. He seems flighty, detached from reality, not serious. And then the movie develops. And you come to understand.
Huang Xiang was a poet in China. And he was imprisoned and tortured for his writings. In the movie, he goes through all of the injuries that his body suffered. And the list is long. But he kept writing. And he fled to the United States so that he could write more.
As many times as I've watched the movie and done this exercise with students, I never thought to follow up on it, to find out what had become of this man. Until I opened the New York Times this summer to read the travelogue on 36 Hours in Pittsburgh.
The very first activity recommended is a visit to House Poem. It's a project of the City of Asylum, an organization that provides exiled writers from around the world with housing. Huang Xiang covered an entire building with giant poetry written in Chinese calligraphy. It's quite beautiful.
This segment of one of his poems seem particularly apropos in light of the Syrian crisis:
The world is an underground passage
With many exits yet without an exit
All its entrances are sealed off exits
A man died inside there long ago
And no one knew
Going from one continent to another
From one city to another
I am not a migrant nor a
Visitor nor supplicant
Yet in spite of myself I have rushed off to a strange
And enduring isolation
America’s vast sky vastly