Guest Work: A Poem From An Activist In Arkansas

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I have two pieces of guest work that I wanted to publish on Citizen Orange, but I haven't gotten around to doing it until now.

This first piece is a poem by a local activist in Arkansas, Michael Ogelsby.  I met Ogelsby through email and another important migrant rights activist, Dorinda Moreno.  Instead of introducing Michael Ogelsby, I'll just lead off with his poem, which was the first I knew of him.
Well you say the border it is broken
And we must stem the tide
And only English can be spoken
Where is my American pride?
I say the desert holds the bones of children
A thousand maybe more
And the lady with the lantern
Weeps beside the golden shore
You are so self righteous
As you set about your patriotic task
You say you represent the law abiding
Well I guess that depends upon who you ask
Were your papers all in order?
Were they stamped by the Iroquois or the Sioux?
When you came across the border
In 1492
You play soldier on the border
With your cell phones and your beer
You never hear the mothers crying
You never shed a tear
But the desert holds the bones of children
A thousand and there will be many more
And the lady with the lantern
Still weeps beside the  golden shore
Michael Ogelsby
Through various emails, this is how Michael Ogelsby described himself to me:

I am a 54 year old male. I am from Louisiana the youngest of 6 children. My mother and father are from central Louisiana. My father is from is called the Red Bone people south of Alexandria, La although I have tried to follow his folks back in time they disappear after a few generations.

There is a story in the community he is from that his Uncle was killed by the Klan in the 30's for "returning to his Indian ways and courting a white woman".  My father's brother (my uncle Jim) married into the Choctaw nation. His daughter who I grew up with is now a transgender "two spirit" warrior in the Ohio area.

Anyway I have no legal claim to mix blood but all our folks lived very close to the earth and now I live on 40 acres (a sanctuary perhaps someday) and when not working in town, grow organic vegetables. 

At 17 I met my current partner Charlie, who is a nurse and does what he can to support all oppressed people. We have been together for over 30 years. We both have the support of our birth families but interact and spend more time with our "chosen" families here in the Ozarks.

I have organized a retreat two times a year here in the country for progressive gay men that is well attended. Mostly white but as more and more migrant men are supported in "coming out" we have been able to become more representative of the communities here. How do you feel about the minority amongst the minority that is "gay" (may not be the identity immigrant men would use).

Lots of issues there for sure. As I have said, we are allies with Hispanic women here in the country who support gay/lesbian issues and also have had retreats for this part of the community. I am a working class guy but has had the privilege to travel to Mexico on several occasions. There is a progressive political couple of Mexican gay men in the Oaxaca area that I love dearly. I do speak Spanish but not fluently.

I now live in the Ozarks of NW Arkansas home of Walmart headquarters and Tyson chicken plants. This is a very beautiful area with wooded hills, wild rivers and creeks. Original home to the  Osage, Caddo and some Cherokee who were forced through the area on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Always sparsely settled and very poor, home of "hillbilly farmers". Lots of back to the land hippies in the late 60's and 70's who remain an active voice for the environment.

In the last two decades, Walmart has exploded and changed the landscape in more ways than one. Huge new airport, however stray cows and chickens sometimes still get on the runway. Tyson chicken has many huge plants that employ thousands doing hard manual work gutting chickens ets. Fayetteville is a University town, first home of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Both taught there in the early 70's. Springdale which joins Fayetteville by a "strip" of highway that could be anywhere.

Springdale has the largest population of Marshalese outside the islands themselves. There is a Marshalese consul office here. The Marshalese came to work the Chicken factories. They have been able to maintain some of their culture mostly because of sheer numbers. You can study the Compact of Free Association between the US and the RMI (republic of the Marshal Islands) to see what a strange situation these folks find themselves in. Not allowed to receive public benefits but can travel freely between the islands and Arkansas.  They do not have to worry about "legal documents" however just rude stares at Walmart.

In the early 80's, there was quite a large influx of undocumented workers from mostly Mexico (Guanajuato) and El Salvador. Most find ways of working at the chicken factories which for the most part have not been subject to raids as far as I can tell ( I would not assume to speak for these workers and I cannot claim to speak to everyone's experiences).

Some right wingers feel that Don Tyson is protecting his cheap labor force. On May Day a few years back, there was a turn out of over 5,000 workers supported by different progressive groups in this area. FAIR the reactionary racist anti immigrant organization tried to organize against the workers here but their efforts fizzled but I am sure they are lurking around. Not all is well however as the Springdale police were just given permission to check for immigration status by the government. I have noticed in the police reports more and more arrest of folks with Hispanic last names for forgery (ID) so I want to check that out.

As for me, I come from a poor family of eight. My father was a carpenter and made a living with his hands. My Aunts and Uncles all went west during and after the depression to pick fruit and work in the hop fields. My Aunt was so proud to be the first woman to drive a tractor in the fields that she worked instead of just picking.

I have been involved in different anti racist groups over the years and currently I am a hospital social worker. I work in the emergency room of a large acute care hospital in Fayetteville. I advocate for medical care for the undocumented and provide as much info as I can when I work with someone who has no recourse for medical care. I currently have a small grant to buy medication for anyone who can't afford it and especially for the undocumented. I work with undocumented pregnant women making sure they can access prenatal care. The latest challenge is the trend for hospitals to send very ill undocumented people back to Mexico doing ICE's work for them.

Thanks for all that you do Michael Ogelsby, and for your touching poem.

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yave begnet said:

Thanks, Michael, for sharing your life and work with us. There is a lot going on in your corner of Arkansas, and it's a reminder to me how fascinating every part of this country is.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on September 11, 2008 3:02 AM.

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