How good non-fiction suits some authors. This is the case of Valeria Luiselli, about whom I have just read two works republished by Sexto Piso: The Lost Boys (An essay in forty questions) and Fake papers. Written at different times, one of them impregnated with a somewhat more urgent tone than the other, they exude beauty, intelligence, a precise exercise of the personal gaze.
In The missing child, after that title that has something of a distant fable, an echo of that terrible medieval Children’s Crusade, Luiselli addresses one of the most atrophic catastrophes that our time knew how to achieve: the continuous bleeding Central American migrants trying to reach the United States and the devastating percentage of boys and girls of all ages who are part of that desperate transit.
The chronicle of The missing child it is done in strict first person. Luiselli is, herself, a migrant. In 2014, the year in which this book began to take shape, the Mexican writer was still processing the papers that would allow her to work and reside peacefully in the United States. At that time he made a brief tour, together with his family, through the border area between the country of origin and the host country. Territory of scorching sun, where the status of “undocumented” is hardly softer than that of “illegal”, and where the desert – when not human bullets – became a permanent devourer of people (“Only in the forensic institute of Pima County, Arizona, more than 2,200 human remains have been registered since 2001, most of which remain unidentified, “Luiselli describes).
At the end of 2014, a chain of coincidences led the writer to work as an interpreter in the Federal Immigration Court of New York. It became the bilingual link between the American judicial system and undocumented children who, after passing all kinds of previous instances, retained some minimal possibility of avoiding deportation. It was not a simple translation: Luiselli had to make the cold lyrics of an immigration questionnaire understandable to the ears of boys – some really very young – who came from being separated from their families, who had lived hellish days in the desert, who had previously traveled on the train known as the beast. Luiselli also had to try to make the evasive or inevitably childish responses fit into the rigid molds of institutional jargon.
One of the most moving cases is that of two Guatemalan sisters aged five and seven. Spanish was not even her first language, because various indigenous languages are spoken in the small villages of her country. Luiselli tells how he tried to channel the questionnaire with the oldest. He asked the first mandatory question: “Why did you come to the United States?” The girl, shy and diligent, smiled and said, “I don’t know that.” He then asked how they traveled. “A man brought us.” If the lord was a coyote. “No, a sir.” And where they crossed the border. “That I don’t know.” As if at seven you could know something about the cruelty of the world.
With these stories, the pain that sustains them and the shock when making contact with them, the writing of The missing child. A careful balance between testimony, reflection, and raw information.
A similar balance presides Fake papers, a selection of texts written long before, where a visit to a map library, a bike ride or the memory of a stay in Venice are the gateway to a substantial but never solemn cultural analysis. “The walks along the readings trace the spaces that we inhabit in privacy,” he wrote in one of these short essays. Undoubtedly, the lucid filigree of this author has already entered the intimate geographies of many of us.
According to the criteria of