AMERICA: PLEASE TALK ABOUT ME, BEHIND MY BACK, TOO

American-flag-AmericaI am panicking. It’s already the middle of August, and America isn’t talking much about me. Not many news sites are talking about the me that holds an immigrant “status.”

TPS news is not going viral, which is unfortunate for thousands.

TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is not really an immigrant status.

It’s not a visa. It’s not a permanent or stable residency. In short, it holds little to no claim to citizenship. It’s a temporary program that grants legal protection from deportation for persons who immigrated to America to escape war or natural disaster.

A person doesn’t apply to TPS from their home country; it doesn’t work like a visa. A person comes through illegal means, not through ill wish, but through a need to survive. If a country is indeed inhabitable, Homeland Security adds the country to a small and selective list of TPS designated countries. Then, an individual can apply for a temporary work permit and a temporary protected residency.

A recent news piece about TPS deals with Central America and was published through NBC this past Friday. Before that, there was a similar article from Mother Jones, with an opening quote of “We don’t have a plan B” published early in August. According to NBC news research, Central American TPS holders make up 80% of the TPS population. In 2014, MigrationPolicy.org estimated that there were over 340,000 TPS beneficiaries from countries like Haiti, Syria, El Salvador, and Honduras.

TPS affects hundreds of thousands.

I have been a TPS holder since 2001. Since learning and understanding my legal condition a few years ago, I have lived with mixed guilt and relief. TPS is only renewed if the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that a country is not ready to receive its people back. TPS is then extended for 18 months. The renewal process includes a filing fee of nearly $500 dollars per person.

TPS means you will go home eventually. The thing with TPS is that in many cases, it carries on for several decades—not out of a fault in the system, though many will argue that. The thing with TPS is that its extensions reflect the global instability of third world countries. People are often scared to return “home.”

Like other TPS holders, I live in constant anxiety about the future.

I share the same sentiment with DACA recipients, and now, they share the same legal experience as me. We do not, though, share the same support. The cultural and political interest is lacking. TPS does not have age limits. The thousands of us that have it are children, students, parents, and grandparents. We aren’t just youth, as are the DACA recipients. And again, many have held TPS for decades, holding jobs and raising families: Americans without citizenship, there but overlooked.

In 2013, I volunteered with CARECEN, one of the few local organizations that works closely with the TPS community. I was not a fighter, then. I did not last long. With each failed protest, with each project’s small waves, and with each human interaction, I felt hope flee my heart.

There are days, TPS has an incredible ability to make me feel alone.

TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua expire in January 2018. For El Salvador, it’s March 2018. News of its renewal (or lack of) is released through a press statement from Homeland Security about six months before its expiration date.

Come September, I’ll be a little closer to knowing my future.

Sometimes, the lack of talk is good. It could mean that TPS is safe. It’s not an important issue. It could also mean that TPS holders are unprepared, easy targets. This is how it happened for Haitians, who are currently campaigning to stay in the U.S. longer. Their TPS status, designated in 2010, was extended for only six months, instead of the program’s usual 18 month renewal period.

I know TPS is not reliable. I know my having crossed the border as a child is a crime. Most TPS holders aren’t asking for citizenship. Like me, they ask for a permanent residency because despite our lack of legal certainty, we are Americans, permanently.

I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t known for years. I am standing on such promising and such dangerous ground. As a recent college grad, my adult life is just beginning. As a recent college graduate with TPS, I don’t know if I will be legally allowed a job in 2018.

The bigger problem is that my America doesn’t know how I fit inside—what will become of me.

Please talk about me.

1,000 miles: step 82

work-week-Reston

Statue at Wiehle-Reston East metro

I got news! I have a summer job, and I survived my first week as an office employee.

I don’t have a briefcase. I travel light. I do have a key card, office e-mail, and a cubicle. I commute taking the bus and metro.

This Friday, through a chance accident of forgetting my stop, I experienced extreme rush hour. Let me tell you–not my cup of tea. People bumping into you. No seats left. Sighing and grumpy people.

Fridays are lovely, regardless. They will be my favorite day for weeks to come. The work I do is repetitive: data entry. There’s stacks of paper, an office keyboard and desktop, office supplies, and a scanner at my desk. There’s a line of paper boats that I’ve made over the course of the week, after I learned to expect delays with the scanner and office software.

What’s most exciting is the interactions with people.

My co-workers have all kinds of backgrounds: they are parents, single ladies, bakers, actors, writers, and so much more I’ve yet to discover. Many of them have been working together for years, or they have been at the company for decades and watched it change and grow. It’s interesting to watch their faces as they reflect on years back. As an incoming employee, it’s nice feeling to get their history.

Though this week felt exceptionally long–waking up early, coming home late–it did go by with a paradoxical and retrospective speed.

This past Tuesday, I managed to host a book chat on Twitter with Booked For Review, opening the first #B4RTalks for #31DaysOfBooks. That, too, went by quickly. If you haven’t read my young adult book reviews, visit bookedforreview.com

I also squeezed in time to make final edits to a poetry submission with a due date of today. Since meeting my fundraising campaign goal, I’ve submitted to three literary venues and anticipate many more magazines and journals. There’s a lot of competition, but I genuinely believe in my poems and because of the campaign, I know other people support my work. I’m developing a Pinterest Board for published poems and can’t wait to share in the near future.

Lotus scene

A summer scene with lotus at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

My busybody self is finally occupied.

I’ve met new people and new terms. The week ended with volunteer work with local youth, who themselves are planning volunteer work. My flower-enthusiast self is satisfied; I took my first visit to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. This weekend kicked off their festival of lotus and water lilies.

Though I’ve missed some news headings, some sleep hours, and some me-time, I couldn’t be happier.

The office job has helped me open a new chapter in my life. This chapter is headed toward opportunity.

 

 

1,000 miles: step 81

The graduation glow doesn’t last forever. The pride, though, persists. I’ve framed one or two graduation pictures, and I’m still in awe at my large, vertically shaped diploma which confers me, Claudia V. Rojas, a Bachelor of Arts in English with recognition.

Now let’s get down to business and ask the real questions. Here is a recent interview I conducted with Claudia Rojas:

What’s the best part about being a college graduate?

It’s the new sense of time. I don’t have to worry about turning in an essay any time soon. I’m not stressed about grades. I have a life outside of school. I exist!

Central Park

Central Park, a wonder

I’ve actually done more travel this summer than any previous summer combined. This June, for example, I went to New York City, for the first time ever. I spent a short weekend discovering Battery Park in lower Manhattan, where I saw the Fearless Girl statue and walking around the giant forest of Central Park. Of course, I snapped tons of picture for the Instagram feed!

I’ve explored close to home, too, places I should’ve already known if it weren’t for college and my workaholic tendencies. From visiting an old favorite, Old Town, Alexandria to a new favorite, Arlington’s Crystal City which is bursting with life all summer long. Recently, I took the Silver Line to Reston, which isn’t exactly close to me, but is one of the biggest metro projects in recent DMV history, phase one of the two part project completed in 2014. Yay, history.

What’s the worst part about graduation?

Unemployment, and the fear of long-term unemployment. As a part-time student, I was able to gain work experience while in college. I figured this would make the full-time job search easier. In some ways, it does. I can speak to my work years in cover letters. I have a better sense of what companies and work setting I like and don’t like.

Of course, I figured getting a full-time job in my field, writing and editing, would be difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is my own sense of panic. There have definitely been days where I have questioned my merit as a candidate. Job applications are similar to poetry submissions–they both send rejections your way.

In true Claudia spirit, I have kept going. One of the things that I’ve tried is freelance writing. That’s right, if you ever need a freelancer, find me and hire me on Upwork! I am always on the look for small poetry projects; that’s where my heart is at, after all.

What’s been keeping me busy?

Book sculpture at Library

A library day at my local Falls Church library

Job applications: I’ve been conducting an intense search for hiring companies and researching employee reviews with said companies. At home, at the library, or on the phone, I’ve been searching for editing and writing positions. Internship opportunities. Summer work. You should see my excel spreadsheet.

Poetry: I’ve had time to work on my poetry. In the past, I was organizing poems according to forms, because I was and am in love with forms. Now that I’m out of school (and graduate school will be a few years into the future), I can look at my poems as a whole.

I’ve decided that many are ready to be organized into a collection. Since I’ve been unemployed for over a month, I haven’t been making an income. Fortunately, there’s a lot of free writing workshops in Northern Virginia and publishing webinars. More fortunately, I gained some marketing experience when I created and succeeded with a small GoFundMe campaign. I’m currently working on final edits and submitting to literary venues and contests with reading fees.

Volunteering: I’ve become a contributor with Booked for Reviews (B4R), a blog for young readers. Check out my review for Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig and Dawn Lajeunesse’s Star Catching. Can you tell that I have a soft spot for the young adult genre? Additionally, I’ve been volunteering with a junior youth program at my local library. Though I’ve stopped tutoring, I suppose kids have a way of finding me.

Anything else?

Yes! While I’ve been getting rejections from journals and magazines, I’ve also been gathering a few acceptances. Stay tuned to find out where. Next week, I also have some news, so don’t miss that.

Have a question I didn’t ask myself? Post a comment! Tweet me. Message me. I’m here.

A Beginner’s Guide to Poetry, 21st Century Edition

My college professors, as is expected, knew their stuff. They had areas of specialties, and in the English department, this meant people and time periods. I expanded my knowledge of poetry and poets by taking classes like “Forms of Poetry,” “African American Poetry,” and “Recent American Poetry.” I haven’t become an expert in poetry–that’s not what my English degree means. Instead, I know more about things I don’t know.

In hopes of bringing everyday people out of the darkness of not knowing poetry, I have compiled a list of 7 types of poetry everyone should know exist. These could come in handy.

1. Free Verse

This is a point of resistance for young children, who are confronted with the idea that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Free verse is about breaking structure: down with meter, down with rhyme scheme, and down with form. Free verse follows the internal rhythm of the poet.

I Hear America Singing” – of patriarchy, but with rhythm, Walt Whitman

Still I Rise” – a celebration of self and perseverance, the Maya Angelou way

Home Wrecker” – memory, love, and family from contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong

2. Form

Sometimes called fixed form, these types of poems follow a structure, contrary to free verse. The structure can be small or big: a poem written without one or two letters from the alphabet, the lipogram; a poem using 14 lines, rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter, the sonnet; a poem that repeats lines or words in calculated places like the pantoum, villanelle, and sestina.

My Brother at 3 A.M.” – a pantoum about addiction by Natalie Diaz

Mad Girl’s Love Song” – a villanelle about nothing other than mad love by Sylvia Plath

When I consider how my light is spent” – or Sonnet 19 on life and faith, John Milton

3. Experimental

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This category could easily be broken into subcategories to include the kind of art redefining poetry: composing a new poem using math formulas to replace words in an old poem, cutting out words from random places to create a collaged masterpiece, erasing words in a book to leave behind poetic lines. Experimental poetry is all about experimenting with words in new ways.

The Lady” – a quick little something about death, Guillaume Apollinaire

Sonnet III” – a collaged sonnet, Ted Berrigan

a leaf falls” – an initially illegible poem, e.e. cummings

4. Prose

Prose is text without lines. Novels. Short stories. News articles. Poetry uses what’s commonly known as a line or a verse. Prose poetry is what happens when poetic elements enter the prose genre. Of course, this blurs the lines of prose and poetry, and that’s just what prose poetry aims to do. Test the borders.

The Objectified Mermaid” – a mermaid tells us about the modeling industry, Matthea Harvey

Girl” – a short story about growing up girl, Jamaica Kincaid

The Prose Poem” – a poem about the landscape of the prose poem, Campbell McGrath

5. Visual

Through space on the page, photograph or cut outs, or rearranged words, visual poetry reminds us that poetry is an art.

haiku #62” – a collage mimicking the haiku form, Scott Helmes

Silence” – repetition with a message, Eugen Gomringer

Women” – a protesting and moving poem, May Swenson

6. Spoken word

Spoken word feels relatively new, but it’s only been made more accessible through video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. In the past, spoken word existed in the confines and ephemeral moment of the poetry cafe. A blending of performance, musicality, and poetry, spoken word is memorized by the poet(s) and performed instead of recited. This could mean the use of accompanying music, a short film, or the presence of a finger-snapping and encouraging audience.

When Love Arrives” – a duo about patience and love, by not-a-couple Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye

Love Drought” – poet Warsan Shire’s verse sprinkled over BeyoncĂ©’s Lemonade (2016) album

The Last Poem I’ll Ever Write” – not the last, bless their soul, a touching piece, Andrea Gibson

7. Micro-poetry

Poetry meets the internet age, from 140-character tweets to Instagram’s short verse. Micro-poetry is just that, poetry that hits the stomach or lungs with a quick punch. Instagram in particular has rejuvenated the poetry world and resurfaced the typewriter. This kind of poetry is practiced by anyone from skilled poets like Rudy Francisco or Rupi Kaur to your average Jane.

Hey, World: I Am Immigrant and I Graduated College

In the spring of 2012, I unpacked bags and sat on a bed I shared with my mother, a bed inside a room rented through a former friend in the Falls Church area. I had returned from my first year at a small liberal arts school, Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had returned to stay, with fears of having reached the end of my college years.

Months back, I had sat with my school’s financial aid officer to discuss my financial standing and immigrant status.

2013-04-10 16.05.27

2013 protest. Photo by Claudia Rojas.

Did I have a visa? No, I didn’t. What I had was a work-permit granted to Temporary Protected Status holders, people who enter the country illegally, but who are protected by the U.S. because they did so to escape from natural disaster and war. There were little hopes of attending a school with an annual $45k tuition.

I was slow to understand my scholarship search yielded no results because of my immigrant status. Whether I was a permanent resident or citizen, of which I was neither, was not something I thought about as a child.

I didn’t come into college aware I was in a financial mess; Simon’s Rock was a college for youth with ambition. I was accepted into the 2011 class with a 4.0 high school GPA and without a high school diploma. I wouldn’t need a high school diploma; I would graduate from the college and receive a Bachelor’s Degree. My plan, however, didn’t calculate my naivete about American systems.

While most immigrant students learn and come to understand their status by junior and senior year, when they meet with counselors to discuss their future, or lack of future, I didn’t have those years. I started Simon’s Rock after I had finished sophomore year.

I was impatient and eager. I had filled out paperwork on my own. My counselors and teachers were either too excited or impressed by my goals to ask me the real questions: What do you know about the college application process? What do you know about finance?

After my conversation with the financial aid officer, I spent months in distress. I had to come to terms with the idea that the world wasn’t at the palm of my hands.

Instead, I was at the mercy of my immigrant status.

On August 10th, 2012, the day I turned 18 years old, I took the GED exam. I ranked in the 99th percentile rank in the Language Arts Reading and Writing portions. I made a return visit to Northern Virginia Community College, and was finally allowed to enroll.

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Math at NOVA. Photo: Claudia Rojas

I spent many unhappy classroom hours at NOVA, but I also discovered that my assumptions about community college were unfounded. In the eyes of these college students, I saw perseverance and dreams. I saw potential, saw hope for myself. In 2013, I began a short-lived experiment with social justice, taking part and promoting immigrant protests in Washington, DC.

Before long, I was wishing to stay longer at NOVA. The year I transferred to George Mason University–after Smith College and Georgetown University had rejected my application–I was hopeless.

I had no scholarships. I lived half an hour away from campus. I had to take on a part-time student load. I had tuition bills to cover on my own, after my first year at college drained my mother’s energy and finances.

I hated the struggle my future had become.

It was 2014 and I felt incapable of finishing college. I was working and studying, and maybe I was amounting to nowhere. In the middle of tears, I contemplated dropping out; this on more than one occasion. In the spring of 2016, George Mason University awarded me with a Stay Mason Fund scholarship. I had earned it not because of my academic record, but because I was on the verge of economic despair.

I was fortunate (or misfortunate) enough to have the scholarship renewed for my final year at Mason. There were many difficult moments.

This spring, I was in a car accident–another car ran straight into traffic and hit my car. On that February day, I spent several hours not worried about my health, but about what the insurance agent had said, if a totaled, the car couldn’t be fixed. A day later, it was declared totaled.

IMG_0100.JPGI didn’t know how I would manage school, except that things have a way of working out. Through Uber, Lyft, metro, bus, friends’ cars, and wandering feet, I did it. In spite of my low spirits, in spite of the new presidential administration, I made it.

This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English. Para mami / For mother: for all the years spent in uncertainty and doubt about the college dream.

I write this to remind myself of the journey. I write this to remind myself that the struggle is not over.

This is to remind myself that I am still immigrant, but that I am strong.

1,000 miles: step 80

2017 is here, 2017 is here. I have welcomed it with reading, pleasure reading. It’s amazing how much poetry and fiction I can take when I’m not writing weekly papers or poems. I will not think about politics right now, will not mourn over the possible setbacks of a Trump term for the immigrant student, for the woman, for the lover.

2017 is a reading year. This spring semester, I’m reading twelve poetry books for one class alone. I plan on reading more Spanish poetry, now that I have an adequate appreciation of the Spanish poetry tradition.

I also want 2017 to be the year I place my foot in the publishing world’s door. In 2016, I started submitting my work to online literary magazines and journals. There were rejections–actually, the rejections are still coming in. There were minor successes, enough to keep going. The literary world must know my name, my story.

With the goal of sharing stories with a greater audience, I can now be found on Instagram, @claudiapoet. While the poetry on Instagram is not always refined, it’s giving poetry a home in this social age. Another place to share with the world the preoccupations of my poet heart.

Onward, 2017.

Panoramic view of Georgetown

Panoramic view of Georgetown

1,000 miles: step 79

The fall semester is now over.

I have submitted “finals,” known as projects to the English major. Grades are coming in. I have gaps of time–yes, time. It has all gone by so fast.  This semester I made a savvy choice, and I took all poetry classes: a small-sized workshop, a course taught in Spanish, and a course covering African American poetry from the 50s and beyond. I’m grateful for the semester; I gained exposure to an unbelievable range of poets and interesting perspectives from classmates.

At school, I ate a waffle in the library, learned a little salsa, attended a few open mics, carved a pumpkin, and started a gym routine. I didn’t plan some of these things; they just worked themselves out. I also attended two literary festivals in September: the Library of Congress National Book Festival in DC and Fall for the Book events on campus. In November, I spent three hours at the African American History and Culture Museum. Time spent well, all in all.

In the spring, I’m once again taking poetry classes. I want my final days as an undergrad to be full of poetry. When I think of the future, it is still scary, but I’m more willingly to get there.

2016 has been good to me. There have been bad days. I’m not going to lie: I spent post-election day crying–mourning to be precise. This week wasn’t entirely good either. Tuesday night I was upset with news of Aleppo. Wednesday morning I woke up further into sadness with this tweet still in my mind:

And it is because today I am alive, and yesterday I was alive, that I am thinking of everything–support, laughter, art, growth– that 2016 has offered me.

Thank you, world.

fall2016

1,000 miles: step 78

Alright. Reader, I’ll let you know what I did last summer, this past summer in fact. It’s called summer camp.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a summer like this one. It was fun and jarring every day. I have some experience with kids at the middle school classroom level, so I know that any day with kids is a recipe for an unordinary day. At camp, the odds of a hectic day are increased. Never have I ever seen so many boo-boos and running feet or heard so many laughing and shouting mouths. Imagine doing this full-time for three months. Now, see, summer camp is for the strong at heart!

The Summer Camp Experience: whoo. ah ahhhh.

I turned 22 years old at camp, too. I can’t wrap my head around that.

I picked up some new skills, and that is always a plus in my book. I can now finger-knit and sew on a machine. I can also program a moose to move–he has to be on an iPad though. I can assemble a robot and cardboard furniture. I can help resolve an argument between friends. I can dance! (Ok ok, so that last one’s quite not true, but I can dance with slightly more rhythm.)

1,000 miles: step 77

Dear reader, I’m still here.

My summer is concluding–next Monday is yet another college term, with the happy knowledge that I’m ever SO close to graduating. I keep telling myself that but 2017 is my year.

These past weeks, I’ve been writing less, reading less, which is not how my summer started. But who can write when there’s a summer camp experience to be lived and had? More on that to come.

For now, I want to leave you with scraps of poems I’ve been working on which are available through Prose.com:

Poem for the Body

&

Royalty

xo,

Claudia

 

1,000 miles: step 76

Lately, I’ve had to slow down.

The spring semester is over.  I knew a couple of the graduating seniors–thanks to (a short-lived) student writing adventure, so this was the first semester that I paid attention to graduations. Next year is also my graduating year. I started college fall 2011. Twists and turns have pushed me to George Mason, and I finally feel like it’s where I belong.

These days, I’m a lot more content, particularly when I ignore politics. I’ve had the chance to dig into reading, a hungry kind of reading that keeps me still for hours. Last week, I took a CPR and First Aid training course because why not. Summertime means possibilities.

Stay tuned–