February 22, 2017
Francisco Juárez is being deported to his homeland of Mexico as I write this, after 13 generous and productive years in Kentucky. His last phone call to me was from an ICE contracted jail in New Orleans where he had been transferred from an ICE jail in Chicago, and before that from a jail in Polansky, Indiana and before that from the Boone County jail in Burlington, Kentucky where he spent a miserable month locked up like a criminal. The inhumane machinery of criminalization, warehousing and deportation of immigrants is all paid for by US taxpayers to the tune of approximately $130 per detainee per day.
Not long before Francisco was turned over to ICE for lacking legal documentation, he did a wonderful thing for our community. This past fall Francisco taught 20 mostly latino youth and children the basics of drama over a 10-week period, culminating in a wonderful performance of a play entitled “In Sophie’s Patio.” The play was about how the community finally drew a little girl, Sophie, out of the bubble world of her iPhone, having tried many colorful strategems to break her addiction to the little screen.
We still have not told those children about Francisco’s deportation, given the panic already seizing the immigrant community in Kentucky and across the US. We don’t want to add to their fear or their sadness at the loss of others from the community.
Francisco was one of those persons people consider a gift to the community. He co-founded with Haydee Canovas the Tercera Llamada (or Third Call) drama troupe (a name Francisco coined), one of two Spanish language troupes in Louisville, Kentucky that focused on dramas with compelling social and cultural content. He volunteered regularly for years leading public educational activities organized by the Iroquois public library. He produced a weekly radio show delving into cultural and civic topics of interest to the community. His drama achievements alone were impressive. Like most actors, he complimented his income by moonlighting, in his case painting houses. He wrote, adapted, directed and acted in plays whenever time allowed.
Francisco Juárez on left in Los Emigrados with Carlos Manuel, staged in Louisville, KY in May 2014
Photo credit: Luis de Leon
One of his best roles was in the play Los Emigrados an adaptation of a Polish drama by Slawomir Mrozek about the immigrant experience, adapted to the situation of latino immigrants to the US. Francisco and Carlos Manuel drew laughs and made theater goers think about and feel for immigrants throughout their performance.
The inhuman deportation machine built by George Bush, Barack Obama and the US Congress that under Obama deported nearly 3 million people, is now in the hands of Donald Trump, who, with his openly white supremacist and racist cabinet and senior advisors, has taken the gloves off completely and put the machine into overdrive. Will we come to consider Francisco among the lucky ones, to have been deported to his native Mexico before experiencing the Trump-style ¨deportation force¨ round ups with no due process whatsoever for millions of hard working migrants living among us? The silver lining, not for us but for Mexico and Central America, is that many of its most creative and courageous citizens may soon be returned to them once more, albeit against their will and at a huge loss to the economies of all countries involved. Despite the violence and economic marginalization of the home communities they fled, we can only hope that our loss could eventually be their gain. But how many more immigrant families will be torn apart in the process? And, thinking ahead a few months, who is going to keep us fed, our children cared for, our houses and buildings built and maintained, our bodies sheltered under roofs that do not leak, etc. etc. here in the US? Who will teach our children and edify and culturally enrich us the way a down-to -earth intellectual who paints houses like my friend Francisco did? Will France have to ask for the Statue of Liberty back?