- L to R: Kim Sousa, Malcolm Friend, Adriana Ramírez. and Tanya Shirazi of Writers for Migrant Justice Pittsburgh
“I, of course, immediately jumped on the chance to enlist Pittsburgh in the series,” says Sousa, whose work has appeared in publications like Poet Lore,
Rogue Agent, Apogee, Blunderbuss, and Glass: Poets Resist.
Pittsburgh will join over 45 other participating U.S. cities in Writers for Migrant Justice, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston, as well as nearby Columbus and Cleveland.
Organized by immigrant poets Javier Zamora, Jan-Henry Gray, Christopher Soto, and Anni Liu, the event will serve as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Immigrant Families Together, which helps pay bails set for detained migrants and to reunite separated migrant families. Currently, the goal is to raise $500 per city.
Writers for Migrant Justice will also accept donations through a GoFundMe up through the day of the event. So far, the campaign has raised over $1,500 of its $5,000 goal.
Besides Sousa, the Pittsburgh Writers for Migrant Justice event will include readings by Malcolm Friend, an award-winning poet and member of the Black Plantains Afro-Caribbean poetry collective; Tanya Shirazi, an MFA candidate in Fiction at the University of Pittsburgh; and Mexican-Colombian writer, critic, and performance poet, Adriana Ramírez.
Sousa says the lineup collectively represents the diaspora from Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.
Sousa hopes the event will lead to more opportunities for local Latinx writers to build a community in Pittsburgh, a city she found difficult to adjust to when she moved here five years ago from Texas.
“Growing up in Texas, I wasn’t necessarily surrounded by other Brazilian people, but it is a much more Latinx-populated state than Pennsylvania — a simple fact of geography,” says Sousa, adding that Pittsburgh was a “culture shock” because she wasn’t surrounded by people like her.
The event also hits close to home for Sousa, who was born in Goiânia, Goiás in Brazil and immigrated to the United States as a child in the early 1990s with her Brazilian father, American mother, and Brazilian-American sister. She recalls how her father looked for work and housing when they settled in Austin, Texas, expressing amazement at the lengths he went in order to build a life for his family in the U.S.
“You will never find someone who loves and idealizes this country more than an immigrant father, which is a great source of rage for me, now, watching so many fathers just like mine vilified and put into cages by this regime,” says Sousa.
She felt a “call to arms” after witnessing the various human rights violations being committed against migrants under the Trump administration, including the aggressive targeting of Latinx migrants by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). As a result, she says her father “no longer feels it is safe in this country,” and he and her mother are moving back to Brazil.
While Sousa understands the privilege awarded to her as a “white-passing Latinx person, and as a dual citizen without a discernible accent,” she still remains fearful and hyper-vigilant.
“I carry my U.S. passport on me at all times,” says Sousa. “The president has already announced that — if left unchecked — he would revoke my ‘birthright’ citizenship. ICE and CBP are already deporting US citizens simply because they fit a certain ethnic profile — one that has become racialized, subjected to racism."
This is especially telling in Pennsylvania, a state recently regarded as having the most ICE arrests in the country, according to a report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In response, this week Governor Tom Wolf called on ICE to cease separating and detaining children in the commonwealth after their parents are arrested.
Even as she feels overwhelmed, Sousa tries to remain hopeful and finds strength in her work. Besides organizing the Writers for Migrant Justice event, she says she is currently co-editing an anthology of immigrant and first-generation poetry with Carla Ferreira and Marina Carreira, both Portuguese immigrants. All proceeds from sales of the anthology will go to the migrant advocacy and legal defense network, RAICES Texas.
She looks forward to being part of Writers for Migrant Justice, not only as an opportunity to raise money for Immigrant Families Together, but to ensure Pittsburgh Latinx writers have a voice in a nationwide protest.
“We want to push the national conversation forward so that migrant detention does not continue,” says Sousa. “We cannot be in this fight alone – we need our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers to be with us. We need to be as loud as possible as we insist migration is not a crime.”
Writers for Migrant Justice at White Whale Bookstore. Sat., Sept. 4. 7-9 p.m. 4754 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. Donations accepted. whitewhalebookstore.com