Associate Opinions Editor

My name is Johanna Leo and I was born and raised in Mexico City. I just moved to Hawai'i a year ago for college, so I’m currently a sophomore at UH Manoa. I am an English and Political Science major, minoring in Psychology.

Few days ago, ICE announced that international students only taking courses online will be facing deportation. As an international student, my first reaction was a feeling of uncertainty and stress, as well as anger. This places all of us at a disadvantage next to our peers who will continue to have access to facilities and opportunities we won’t, as well as forcing us to travel internationally during a pandemic, stress about housing, face a financial burden, and more.

I wrote a poem reflective of my experience, but know that no experience is universal. What is universal is this: a feeling of stress and unfairness. A lingering message that it doesn’t actually matter if we follow the law or if we work hard to get scholarships and good grades: They still don’t want us.

Poem1

Wanting a better life is not a crime

Not a Crime

“Go back to your country,” you say. 

Do you know what it’s like to walk

one eye ahead and one over your shoulder

because every news story you hear

features the body of a woman

broken-in like a pair of shoes?

To not be able to wear

a skirt or

pants or

wrap yourself in bandages

like a mummy would

because no matter what

it is you wear, those comments

two blocks down

the street will come: “mamasita,

lo que le haría a mi esposa si se viera

como tú. Lo que te haría a ti

si estuvieras

junto a mí.” (1)

And all you can do is walk faster

and clasp the pepper spray in your pocket and

look down because you don’t know if your reply

would serve as a signature

to a fate you don’t want to ever

meet, don’t even want to think about

meeting. 

Do you know what it’s like to pick

your future based on serving food

on the table? We don’t have those

humanitarian or scientific majors 

by the pound, we have to dig

to find them and when we do

they don’t feel like gold. They feel

like cold rooms and struggling

for funding and trying to feel brave

for doing what you love, but the lines

between courage and foolishness

blur a bit

too much. 

Do you know what it’s like to be murdered

because you chose to defend

the very Earth you stand on or

speak the truth

about the horrors you saw?

The Pen becomes a death wish,

passion for the land

becomes a suicide

note, and I’m sorry

but the Pen is all I own

and if I have to give it up, I might

as well give everything up

at once.

“Go back to your country,”

you say. So I ask you,

where did you leave

your empathy? When was the last time

you felt compassion

for a story different

than the one you have

to tell? The world is colored

in different shades for everyone

who sees it and mine isn’t even

the deepest grey. There is lack of

education, husbands in

holes too deep to dig,

houses made of materials

no home should ever be made

from. 

I have a roof, and I have

a family, and I am not the woman

in the news tonight, but I don’t want

to be. And I shouldn’t have a gun

held to my head because

I want something better

out of life. So ingrain it into your

head and ingrain it into your head

now: querer una mejor vida

no es un crimen. On the kindest of days,

it is a privilege. (2)

Translations

(1): "hottie, the things I would do to my wife if she looked like you. The things I would do to you if you were next to me."

(2): wanting a better life is not a crime.