Nelson Pinos' Battle: The Story of a Survivor


Light shies away from the sky and a crowd gathers outside a courthouse on 450 Main Street. The ground is damp because rain poured from morning till noon. Though the cold can devour your ungloved hands, you persist because this crowd has been here on worse days. Days when it snowed so much you would not be able to make your way out of your house; days when it rained and stormed so bad you wanted to cuddle yourself with a book in bed. To wonder about where else you could be — right now, right here, in this moment, on this day— is a luxury; a thing you have been afforded because your journey out of the place you call home is not on fire.

This crowd, outside this courthouse, wants Nelson Pinos back in his New Haven home with his children whom he had not shared moments with for a year. The last time he slept on his bed, the last time his children saw his face in the morning, the last time his partner gazed at him with eyes full of warmth, has long passed. That time rests at the back of their minds possibly where they recreate birthday and anniversaries and holiday memories. And they are here, outside this building on Main Street whose glass doors determine who belongs and does not belong in this country; outside this building maintained by tax payers’ money —  contributions from those who are said to be illegal.

Nelson has been at a sanctuary for a year and four days because ICE wants to deport him to Ecuador, a place he left twenty-six years ago.

Light flickers from street lights and news reporters documenting this day. A  white man in a black jacket embossed with “ICE” on his back stands behind the crowd. A police patrol car and two white police officers sit on the bonnet of the car, studying the crowd. There’s a calmness about this crowd, about the way they are protesting — their voices are not high; their feet are not stomping the ground. It makes you ponder: they must be careful on court grounds, lest something happens to them. Even if something were to happen to them, most of them would make it out of the system — they would be lauded for that. The crowd isn’t what you are expecting — Brown and Black. Instead, it’s Brown and White and you become a Black body in a swamp of  Brown and White bodies. This is what solidarity looks like, few liberal white folk and a marginalized group; Black and White on issues of police brutality and mass incarceration but Brown and White when it comes to issues of immigration.

One of the organizers, Karla Cornejo, wearing a thick brown sweat top and has a wrapper around her waist, begins to relay the demands. Her face is blank, as though it is unsure of the emotions to convey on this day. But you conclude that it is anger that is on her face, that a Brown woman cannot present ambivalence on issues ripping her community to shreds. Her eyes stare into the crowd like the person she’s addressing is gawking at her. She later tells the crowd that this is the first time she’s speaking at a rally of this nature, as if she wants to explain the terror and small tremors in her voice. But even when her voice breaks, her demands are thorough and her anger is passionate. Karla tells the crowd that she’s documented but her family isn’t. She does not say this to gasconade.

“[Nelson Pinos’ daughters] have dreams to go to college; dreams to be actresses. Dreams to be YouTube stars. These are all-American girls and this is an all-American family. And they are being punished because they are the embodiment of the true American spirit. They say immigrants are – ” her voice breaks, as though her chest tightened and a lump forced itself in her throat. “Sorry,” Karla  apologizes to the crowd, “this is my first time,” she continues, in a way a teenage girl sinks into herself when the world makes her unsure of herself. But Karla is not a teenage girl, she’s a writer and a PhD candidate in American Studies at Yale University.

As Karla’s voice breaks and she makes an apology for things she does not have to apologize for, the crowd breaks into ooohs! – as encouragement – helping her to stomach the thing around her neck. The protesters break into noise that mixes with the cold air in solidarity – presenting the claim that even if Karla forgets her rehearsed poetic message, they will listen to her because that’s what solidarity means; because protests in solidarity with those who are subjected to state sanctioned violence, forced to live in fear and made to carry terror and trauma in their bones, has nothing to do with great oratory skills. Protest demands are not shows where you listen to Brown people who wrestle with Spanish and English on their tongues and having English win — they are about truth telling and championing justice.

Her voice filled with valor, she continues “Do you want to know who we are? We are the birds who live in the branches of the tallest trees, in the tallest jungles and we should be loved. We should be respected for all our survival. Nelson is a survivor. Nelson is a hero. We are here to tell him that we love him. That we will not give up as long as he does give up!”

But what if he has given up? In the face of injustice, what does a man do but not contend with hopelessness and powerlessness? In the face of injustice, what does a man who became a man in this country have but not the freedom to feel (hopeless)? What if all the immigrants in him are tired? What if his bones are tired of fighting, tired of trying to convince the state about his humanity, about his Americanness? But it is freedom that he wants, freedom to be unchained from the ICE ankle bracelet placed on him.

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