Sally Merry, professor of anthropology, professor of law and society, New York University

Panelist Presentations:
The Lost Girls: Whose Story is This?
Aduei Riak, Sudanese refugee and advocate, Brandeis University

Water Dropping from My Eyes
Deirdre Giblin, asylum lawyer, International Institute of Boston

Strange Fruit Hanging from the Tree of Life
Kevin Sipp, artist, Atlanta, Georgia

Discussant Responses:
Marjorie Agosin, Wellesley College, visiting professor of Latin American studies, Brandeis University

Mark Auslander, conference co-organizer, assistant professor of anthropology, Brandeis University

Audience Q&A

Introduction - Sally Merry

I would like to welcome you to the second panel today, called "Struggles over Voice." I am delighted to be here as moderator and part of the Greater Boston Anthropology Consortium as part of the anthropology voice.

Our first speaker is Aduei Riak, who is from the Sudan and a student at Brandeis University. Our second speaker is Deirdre Giblin. She's an asylum lawyer, she works for the International Institute of Boston. Our third speaker, Kevin Sipp, is an artist from Atlanta, Georgia. Some of you have already seen his work I assume, and others may have the chance later today.  Welcome.

Panelist Presentations

The Lost Girls: Whose Story is This?

Aduei Riak discusses the "Lost Boys" label that was applied to the thousands of Sudanese refugees who as children fled their country's civil war, eventually being granted entry into the United States in 2001.

I'm going to talk about the power of naming. I'm not an expert; I'm just a student and I'm just going to speak on my perspective and what I feel, and maybe there are some other people that share the same view with me. I'm just going to walk you through some pictures and then we can talk about it later.

[Riak shows photo slideshow to audience]

The reason I showed you the pictures is to see the power of naming the Lost Boys. This name is derived from the Peter Pan adventure. Peter Pan's story is not true; it's fantasy. It's an imaginary world. It's a world that doesn't exist. Somehow these names were given to young Sudanese men. I call them young Sudanese men, but in American view they are the Lost Boys of the Sudan. What did the name do to them? Why are they called the Lost Boys?

They were called the Lost Boys because of the pictures that you saw. Young people wandering, no parents, no guardian, no anything, and they were actually lost. They came to America and the media labeled them the Lost Boys of the Sudan. T he label did do a lot of great things. It opened opportunities for these young men to get access to education. Countless volunteers across America tutored and mentored them, teaching them what they needed to know about life in America. Colleges, universities, opening their doors and giving them financial aid, here at Brandeis and many other institutions.

However, the name shattered other things. That silver star is behind those lost young men. They are real people just like you and I, and what did that name do? The name didn't really include a person like me. I just met a person who said, "I met a young Sudanese Lost Boy." When I said, "I'm part of them," she responded in surprise because the name doesn't say anything about the young women, and the struggles of young women. The message is, "We're together, we're the brothers." The question is, "Where are the moms, where are the sisters?" The society couldn't be made of only young men only could it? It wouldn't exist. The American public and the media failed to ask that question. As a human rights activist, how can you tell a story of another person? Can you document it right and tell it the way it occurred? In this case they did a lot of good, but that's not the way the story happened. There's a lot to be told. In the pictures I showed you, you have to talk to each individual that will tell you their own story. It's very hard to take an individual story and make it a collective story without making a mistake.

Will little Peter Pan ever grow up? Those young men are not boys anymore, and I'm not a girl anymore. Those young men are 24, 25 years old, and are in the real world. They could be in the corporate world, teaching, making laws, but they are still perceived as boys. Is that a fantasy? If you are a human rights activist telling another person's story, you have to ask yourself, "Is this story reality?" When will the fantasy end? Do we hear much about them right now? Is it dying? Is the problem over? I continue to talk to some people back in the refugee camp, and they are still in the same situation. Nothing changes. There's only 3,400 to 4,000 people brought into America. These are the questions that we have to ask ourselves when we tell other peoples' stories. I am my own story to tell, and you have your own story to tell, but how can we come together and bring the collective story into one big picture and tell it in a way that will represent people that have the story to be told?

NOTE: On June 5, 2004, Aduei Riak participated in a panel discussion at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston at which she shared her memories of Sudan and her experiences in America after leaving her sisters behind. The MFA and the Sudanese Education Fund also co-presented a showing of “Finding the Lost Girls,” a short film produced by Tufts University students Ashley Umbro, Kristyn Daley, Colleen MacKay, and Lauren Sinatra. The film explores the experience of orphaned Sudanese girls – who are outnumbered 30 to 1 by Sudanese boys – in finding placements in American homes.

Water Dropping from My Eyes

Deirdre Giblin discusses the legal, cultural, and linguistic challenges faced by refugees who have fled their home countries and hope to gain asylum in the United States.

It's very hard to be on a panel with Aduei, because I think the refugee voice is the most powerful voice. The more I practice refugee law, the less I have to say. I find my clients are the ones who speak, and the more clients I interact with the less I feel I have to say. But I will try and convey some of what I find in my own practice.

I want to backtrack to the last panel. We saw the video from the Women's Commission of these two young girls, and I'm sure we could ask Aduei right now how many times has she given her story. How many times has she spoken individually and publicly? I spoke with another person here and I said, "Those girls in that video, my guess would be they've told their story many more times than around that one circle." She said, "Probably five times." I would guess more like 500 times.  The refugees in these camps, and even when they come to the United States, are inundated with different people wanting their story. One of the speakers up here talked about how many NGOs there are. There are a lot of little NGOs, local ones, national ones, and on a weekly basis, as an asylum attorney in Boston, I can get a phone call from "20/20," the Boston Globe, two graduate students, an undergraduate working on their senior thesis, and a couple lawyers in town who are meeting with the governor on an immigrant issue and they all want a story of a refugee. When it's the Sudan being resettled, they want to know your Sudanese client. Recently, women and human trafficking has been a very popular issue. So I think the other perspective is how often these stories are told. Someone said the stories are obviously being told with the hope that action will be taken for it. Listening to the prior speakers, many of the statements ended with a question. The only questions I get to ask on a daily basis are of my clients. But my job is to speak affirmatively, and I do not have a lot of time to wonder about how to responsibly bring forth stories.

The legal term that I use everyday is "credibility." I represent refugees who are not resettled here and who are also not part of populations, such as the Kosovars or the Sudanese, recognized by the international community and invited to different countries to resettle. I represent individual refugees who are not part of those groups, who flee here individually and seek asylum in the United States. They go through our court system. We appear before the Department of Homeland Security, either in an affirmative way, or before a judge if they are apprehended upon entry in the country or at some point in the future. The law says they must be judged to be credible in order to get their protection here. The challenge for me as a lawyer is to help the voices that come forward from the refugees to be shaped into what would be viewed as credible. The statistics show that about one quarter of refugees are successful in getting asylum here. That means one in four can potentially get asylum, although in many areas of the country it's less than that, closer to 11 or 14 percent. However, with an attorney representing them, they are three times more likely to get asylum; the success rate jumps into the 70s. After practicing this for a while now, I believe it's really about shaping the story. Helping the client give you their story, helping the client know what the standards of the law are that will qualify their story for asylum (whose standards are very complex and very detailed), and at the same time helping them maintain the originality of their story such that credibility is deemed believable.

So often times, especially in this field, I'm up here, and I stand out as being a white American woman. The only advantage about being a white woman in this field, dealing with people from all over the world, from different countries and looking very different from me, is that most of the judges we go before are white men and some white women, and they're American. My job is to bring someone who comes from a completely different country, environment, and experience and put them before an American (who probably won't be able to locate that person's country on a map or a globe, never mind understand their accent, the nuance of their language) and help make their story be understood. The time that you get before a judge is very limited, and I'm used to just getting out my brief snippets quickly. So there's the crux; presenting a voice that is genuine, keeping the client's voice, but at the same time trying to encapsulate all these legal requirements to show that you were harmed in your country because of a reason.

Somebody else raised the question of what constitutes a human rights violation. There's a reason for the violation, defined in our law under your race, your religion, your ethnicity, your political beliefs, or your social group. You have to translate all of that. The reason I came up with my title, Water Falling from my Eyes, is that at the end of the day, no matter how much you work with your client, their voice does ring true – or I should say rings through. Not necessary true as an adjudicator. Obviously, the success rate is fairly low; but no matter how much you work with a client, at the end of the day words will come out of clients' mouth that are different from what you've ever heard before. When I started in this field and met an esteemed litigator at one of these American Immigration Lawyers Association conferences, she said, "Well what kind of immigration do you do?" I said, "I specialize in asylum refugee law." She said, "I don't know how you do it. I can't take asylum cases. You prepare, you prepare, you go before the judge and your client sits up there and under oath and testimony all of a sudden you hear a completely different story." She seemed put-off and exhausted by that. For me, it's a constant testament to the fact that everyone does have their own voice, they have their own story, and no matter how much you try and impose your point of view, their story ultimately is going to come out and hopefully at the end of the day that will win their case for them.

In August, I had two trials. One of them was a man from Ghana, from which this presentation's title comes. We had worked with him a long time to get his claim out. He had entered through the airport, right away told the inspector, "I'm here." He said, "I plead with the United States to save my life," and that is what the Department of Homeland Security documented as his credible fear. By the time we met him he was already in proceedings, already scheduled with the judge and we talked a lot to try to get him to understand where we were going to fit his claim into the asylum framework. As the judge listened to this client, at times he looked puzzled. The client was soft-spoken, had a thick accent, and often used words that I had encouraged him not to use. Words would come out of his mouth that the judge didn't really understand. Now, as a lawyer what you try to do at that point is to ask a leading question and repeat what your client said. "You said that your family forced you to go to a fetish priest down near the river Nu, which you define as the River of the Spirits," the very answer that your client just gave that the judge didn't catch any of. But there's only so many times you can do a leading question before you're objected and the judge gets annoyed at you. Maybe every four answers you really get a chance to repeat what your client said in an American accent, very clearly. The judge barely looks at the client, but when you start speaking, he sort of registers what you said.

This client, as articulate as he was, had been on the stand for over an hour. Of course his accent is getting much thicker, his articulation is decreasing and he's really slipping into his own language. The time the co-council that I was working with asked him "How do you feel when you have to tell this story again?" trying to really emphasize to the judge the mental trauma, the secondary trauma that this client suffers every time he has to retell the story, which has been at least two or three times before the judge when he came into the airport and at least 10 to 15 times with me to try to get the affidavit, the application filed, prepare him for testimony, and at least three or four times with our psychiatrist who's going to examine him and really put forth a medical opinion that he suffered what he said he suffered. He said, "Every time I talk about it, water falls from my eyes." I had never heard him say that before. He had never used those words. The lawyer next to me sort of looked at me, and I wrote her a quick note, "Ask in a different way." Get it out that this is a very strong African man admitting that he cries every time he talks about this. He hadn't yet cried on the stand, he probably wouldn't. He needed to tell the judge that this is what happens when he really is in privacy and not on the hot seat. She asked it again and he said, "I have told my story and I talk about it, when I think about what happened, water falls from my eyes." I knew in that minute that the judge had not heard it, twice; he didn't understand what it was. This was just an interpretation of saying that he was very traumatized by it. He cried.

Ultimately, as much as you work on it, the voice comes through in the end. I don't have a great ending for this story. We don't have a verdict yet, but hopefully that will come through in the end.

Legally, credibility is the crux of the claim. Post-9/11 we've had the Patriot Act and the more recent Real ID act, which is really taking aim at asylum seekers. After 9/11, refugee resettlement was limited, understandably. They were trying to work on security breeches in the refugee camps and the interviews. But asylum seekers go through a very vetted process, which I'm often asked about. People think, "Oh, all you have to do is say you're afraid to go back and you get asylum," but of course it's never that easy. It's a very, very long process with a very high standard of proof, but at least our court system – apart from our government, and the Department of Homeland Security – has recognized over the years that credibility can be established by a refugee's own testimony. Refugees do not arrive in the United States armed with affidavits in their hand. They don't have arrest records. They don't have release from prison records. They don't have particular documents that will prove their case. They really need to tell their story in a credible way. The Real ID act has specifically targeted that credibility by saying that testimony alone is not enough, it should be corroborated. The courts used to say "where corroboration is reasonable," but reasonable is not asking a refugee to ask their government, their persecutor, to give corroboration of what they say is true. They would have to go to their government and say, "Can you give me a record that you arrested me?" Although we laugh, that is truly what we face in this court system to get asylum. The Real ID act has said you should get corroboration. It doesn't have a reasonable standard. It doesn't take into account whether it's easily subject to verification standard. Congress has put mandatory corroboration requirements for these asylum seekers. Because of this I would say that the larger struggle over voice right now, at least in this legal field, is certainly a question to be seen as we work in this new era of doubt being shed on an individual's voice.

Strange Fruit Hanging from the Tree of Life

For the past ten years, Kevin Sipp has been the curator at the Hammons House museum in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of the Atlanta College of Art, he has exhibited around the country and abroad.

I'll speak about my work and the title of the piece that I have up. For those have not seen the piece, it is entitled "Strange Fruits Hanging from the Tree of Life." It's a meditation. I have to talk about the piece by talking about what led up to the piece. My mother was a Civil Rights activist, and she taught me at an early age to love reading and to love knowledge. She was a bit of what one would call a "new age practitioner," and because of that she would bring home books talking about various religious symbols, various religious groups, various traditions, and I would always inherit her books. Because of this, I also inherited a sense that there was a broader world than my African American experience and what I was going through as a young black man in America. I'm always thankful to her for that.

As I was growing up as a young artist, my mother was a singer and activist, and also a social worker. She placed foster kids in home and I came in contact with a lot of those children.  My grandmother was a seamstress and a hell-raiser (as I put it), and my grandfather was a World War II veteran, a mason, and an African American man (as he put it) who fought for the country and didn't get the rights he fought for. Very early on, I began to kind of create artwork that grandmother still talks about. I was always interested in how visual symbols migrated from one culture to another because of the books I inherited from my mother. I was interested in how certain symbols resonated across time and across cultures, and how they spoke to a deeper history that the official history often didn't speak to. Those deeper histories were discounted, and usually the people holding onto these visual, often mystical, symbols were people who were marginalized. They were often people trying to seek a deeper mystical connection that went beyond the official church, the official mosque, the official synagogue, and traditional healing practices. They were trying to create a kind of global community that stepped beyond all the official b.s. A lot of my artwork was influenced by this.

I initially went to art school to become a graphic designer because I wanted to learn how to make books, the very type of books that inspired me when I was young – the various books of symbols, alchemical books with images that referenced the connections between different religions. But then I went into the printmaking room and I saw a man creating a lithograph. I had always wanted make lithographs, because many of the ancient symbols and the alchemical diagrams that I loved as a child were lithographs. So that very day I learned how to make a lithograph, I dropped my major in graphic design, and became a printmaker.

My teacher, Wayne Klein, loved my drafting ability, but in my early prints I was always doing symbols, always these alchemical symbols. My first year of college is when I came across the Muslim poet, Jalaluddin Rumi. I was also a big fan of San Juan de la Cruz, and began to do research into the Muslim and Hebrew traditions in Spain. Many of those who were Muslims and Hebrews converted to Catholicism and became this kind of new Catholic, which was an international Catholic that had Hebrew and Islamic cultural traditions. I focused on San Juan de la Cruz because he was considered one of the greatest poets and mystics of the Catholic tradition and church, yet no one talked about his family history. His father came from a prominent Spanish family and his mother came from a family that was either converted Muslims or converted Jews. The poetry he created was based on this Islamic-Hebrew cultural tradition. I started creating artworks about Rumi and San Juan de la Cruz and began research into the mystical traditions of the middle ages, particularly sacred geometry and the Kabala. I started integrating these traditions with my own studies into the African traditions of the Congo. I connected Vai Vai with the Kabala, and with the images of Masonic traditions in alchemy, and started creating my own symbolic language and narrative.

Over time, I created this body of linkages, which I called the internet pre-technology with these symbols. I began to create a series of works dealing with the marginalized philosophers, the marginalized mystics, and that's when I came up with the title, "Strange Fruits Hanging from the Tree of Life." I never did anything with it because I was always transforming it from the initial sketch of the Kabala Tree of Life. One day, I was doing research into the legacy of lynching in the African American tradition; while I was reading the book "The Tree of Life," I drew a little hangman at the bottom of the tree. I looked at this symbol and said, "Whoa." I realized I could do something with this as an artist, because I was struggling through my art with giving myself in service to the broader community, to a broader humanity. In my early years of art school, people thought artists couldn't be political. The feeling was, "Our art is pure; it's beyond these types of things." There has always been political art but there was a time when teachers were teaching us art was beyond politics, that it couldn't dirty itself with protest art. I never gave in to that. I always felt that, as an artist, it was a way that you could present a message and show that you cared about humanity. If I can create a work of art that broadens the dialogue between myself and another human being, then I have done something worth doing. I can't get into the aesthetic force without feeling that I have to do something more with that aesthetic force, or it's just art for art's sake. I've never believed in art for art's sake.

So I began to do a series of works based on the legacy of lynching – but not just lynching in the African American tradition; in the history of the world. I started doing research on the witch trials of the Middle Ages, and how women were being demonized and lynched by the church. I started doing research into the legacy of, as some people will see in the piece, this one Renaissance mystic, Giordano Bruno, and how he was lynched by the church. What I wanted to show was that this idea of the human shadow has always been battled by a human light, and how we must constantly understand that if we are going to change the world, we have to step beyond our own borders, our own experience.

This whole idea of empathy is very important, because I think that's the root of the problem. How do you not give a damn about the world and want the world to give a damn about you? How can you expect the world to care if you don't care for them? How do you illustrate that in a work of art? I wanted to start utilizing my works of art to give that message to the world. I began to move on from printmaking to doing assemblage art, and painting, and instillation, because I was able to create a whole world that would bring a person into the experience. I was doing research into carnival; carnival in the deeper sense, not the wanton party, but the idea that carnival was a communal art form where there was no separation between the person creating the art and the audience participating in the art. That became a part of shamanistic ritual as well. There was no separation, because I always saw the artist as a kind of shaman figure; someone who's going to basically illustrate the dreams and illustrate the nightmares of a people. You could keep those dreams and nightmares to yourself and never share them with the world, but then no dialogue gets accomplished. If you share your dreams and share your nightmares, you will usually find out that somebody else had those dreams and had those nightmares. In that, you can jump across borders, because no matter where you are in the world, despite your religion, despite your traditions, that heart beats the same. The metal cuts the flesh the same. You bleed the same.

The piece I have on display in the art show is entitled "Strange Fruits Hanging from the Tree of Life," and it's a meditation of the witch trials of the Middle Ages, the suppression of free thought in the figure of Giordano Bruno, the lynchings of African Americans, the lynching of peoples in the world, and how we find a way to give voice to those bodies that have been dismembered, disfigured – and as it was said yesterday, disappeared. I've always been interested in giving voice or resurrecting the voices of those disappeared. In this piece that's on display I was very honored that the students of Mark Auslander would give their voices to the piece. That was important to me. I usually will create a sound component with the piece, so that it will basically emanate. I thought it was an opportunity to let other people meditate on their issues and give voice to their prayers, and then once again it becomes a communal piece. So for me, as an artist, I think there is an aesthetic responsibility in the human rights arena. What is often left behind in times of trauma are certain artifacts. How do you use those artifacts to illustrate a broader question? It's therapeutic on one hand. Often times, when people go through trauma, they can't speak but they will try to illustrate their trauma. We've seen it in many art forms in the past with children. How do you take to illustrating the trauma but using that to heal it as well? I've been dealing recently of course with the aftermath of what's going on in New Orleans, and I have many artist friends who got out, some who may have lost family members, and as I talk to them they've talked to me about the idea of they can't wait to create art to heal their community because what they remember most about New Orleans was this vibrant aesthetic community that was often ignored and often denied. I know a lot of us haven't spoken about it specifically, but that has been the shadow overhanging a lot of the questions I heard in this conference today and yesterday. We talk about these human rights violations around the world, but I'm processing in my mind how I am going to aesthetically deal with the human rights violations that took place here in the deliberate mismanagement of my government. How they basically compounded a natural disaster and turned it into a deliberate tragedy for certain political gains, for certain economic gains. I'm curious to see how that's going to be presented through my art, but also just through the human rights dialogue. So thank you.

Discussant Responses

Marjorie Agosin

This is the first time I've heard the presentations, and I want to comment about how deep they are, how powerful and at the same time how overwhelming. Like Deirdre Giblin said, I find myself lost for the right words. I find that the idea of language is very compelling when we speak about human rights, as Deirdre's example about an accent becoming thicker with trauma shows. Sometimes people forget that in situations of great trauma, you forget your acquired language and go back to your mother tongue. I think that the idea of language is the idea of identity, and identity is power. Not to have a language is really not to have a sense of oneself. I don't know how to solve this issue, but really to bring to everyone's attention in a way to the sacredness of being able to speak your own language. Again, because I'm a poet, this is what really interests me.

Language is also tied to the idea of censorship, to the idea of having your tongue literally cut off – and we can move beyond that and speak about torture. When you are tortured, you have no language, you have almost a scream – no words. So I think the idea of language becomes very, very important, and I think as we're speaking how difficult it is to represent pain, to speak about horror with imaginable language. I think that sometimes we use the resources of photographs because the image is... I don't know if it's easier, but you can feel it, you can grasp it more than language. At the same time, language has to do so much with the imagination, with an ethical imagination, and then how do you find the words not only to tell a story but to listen to the story? The idea of empathy becomes of incredible transcendence, not only as a witness of the story but as the receiver of the story.

Another point that I was very struck by was the possibility of healing through the arts. We have seen that in yesterday's presentations and in today's. I also feel how impoverished this society is, the United States, when it comes to the arts. For example, look at what happened with 9/11. There was very little poetry written about it. There was poetry, but not enough. How sad it is that we are so moved by the suffering of others, but not moved enough by the suffering of what's happening in our own country. New Orleans is an example of how we create, out of poverty, shadows of invisible people. Poverty is also related to the whole concept of disappearances; when you disappear you become a shadow. You are not there, you don't occupy space, and you have no physical territory. You are remembered by those that tell the story of the ones that are gone. You are remembered by language and you are remembered by memory. The point I would like to make is that without art to represent pain, you almost live in a society that is devoid of a voice, and this is why I find your comments so important about the artists from New Orleans who are going to come back and reconstruct this voice. The great challenge is to incorporate this voice, to hear the voice, and not to have this voice kept only in one's community. If you look at the mainstream art, in many western societies it is very confessional, very personal, and is devoid of politics. With the death of public intellectuals like Susan Sontag, who speaks? Who has a platform in the United States to speak about this? It is so common to have images of people looting instead of people addressing poverty. What I'm trying to say is that within human rights, the presence of artists is going to be fundamental. It is already fundamental almost everywhere in the world: Palestine, Israel, the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Eastern Europe, it's everywhere. I think that the greatest challenge is to make art a tangible reality in the United States.

Mark Auslander

As all three of you were speaking, I was thinking about fantasy, and language and fantasy. Not only in the sense that we colloquially use it – as something that is manifestly false – but as a profoundly human capacity to take a sense of the fantastical, that which we can only resolve in our own psyches and our own social context. It is expressed in language and also, as Marjorie pointed out, we take it to that horizon where language seems to fall apart, where we need to move to other media, to find our way back to language, to the rebuilding of the world. I would suggest that fantasy in its fullest sense is, or should be, at the heart of the practice of human rights discourses in their manifolds and natures. Fantasy is obviously very dangerous, and we saw that certainly in the film that we saw in the previous session in which the Victorian colonial fantasies of European women discovering the dark continent and speaking largely for young African women in a film put many of those young women, ironically, at risk. And yet, fantasy is so central.  One thinks of the iconographic history of human rights practice. One of the images most associated with Amnesty International is the matchbox. The single match from the matchbox, which has a whole story that goes with it, is a fantasy. It may well be grounded in a historical fact, but in the way that it lives it's a fantasy in the notion of a matchbox that's passed to a prisoner who at least knows that a single light can be lit against the darkness. For those of you who've looked at the cover of the program, Leigh Swigart and I and the committee ended up bringing in the important Nigerian and now American artist Victor Ekpuk. It's an image well worth contemplating. Victor produced it when he was an editorial cartoonist having constant run-ins in an opposition newspaper with the former Nigerian military regime, and this is in reference specifically to a precise story of how the person who legitimately won the presidential election died in prison. It was a very important image at a particular moment in Nigerian history, and it speaks to us still because it reminds us of an absolute necessity of fantasy in its broadest sense. It gets more complicated, as Deirdre reminds us, when we go into the courtroom, a space that in principal is devoid of fantasy. What you described for us very beautifully is a sort of complex choreography in which everybody needs to be recruited into the claim that this is not a ritual space. This is a place where truth takes place. But it is an intensely ritual space in which all sorts of fantasies and narratives are being produced. I think we're all becoming more sensitive to the inescapability of that fact.

Questions, Comments, and Responses

Sally Merry: This emphasis on both fantasy and imagination, which are in some ways two sides of the same issue, is really important, because we see both the power of the imagination and the story and also the downsides of building on existing fantasies. I was particularly intrigued, as a person who studies the legal system, to think about what happens when you move into legal arenas with these kinds of stories, and how in fact it may be necessary to tell a story that violates the asylee's own experiences in order to get the legal system to respond. This is a very painful and difficult process, which may in fact be characteristic of other situations as well. I think it's possible that the Lost Boys frame, which of course builds on colonial notions of boys as well as the notion of Peter Pan, in some ways facilitated the American public accepting this population. What do we do with that very difficult dilemma? Clearly, these violations of people's stories in order to fit into fantasy are also violations of the authenticity of their own experiences. There's no easy answer to this problem, but I think violating the authenticity of people's experiences is clearly problematic.

Marjorie Agosin: I'm interested in Tinkerbell and Peter Pan. I think Tinkerbell is able to perform miracles and magic when people believe in her; the idea of faith and belief is very important in our work. Belief is also part of the imagination. So even though Peter Pan doesn't grow up, I think that Tinkerbell is a very powerful symbol for us now, when we think of faith. Tinkerbell is quite courageous, but only when others allow her to be. So that's empathy.

Ellen Schattschneider, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies, Brandeis University: I have a question for Deirdre, in light of this conversation on fantasy of credibility. What you spoke to – which was corroboration, a level of proof that on the one hand seems common-sensical – it's about pieces of paper, it's about dates in a book. There's a sense of materiality to that proof. On the other hand, it's simply other people's stories; the victim is telling a story. Why is that any different, legally speaking, from the further ripples of appeals to proof? It's a question from a layperson, and I'm not thinking directly about legal language specifically.

Deirdre Giblin: We have a psychiatrist who will do an evaluation. We do that because, as I tell my clients, as a lawyer in the courtroom, I have no credibility, really. What we will do is also get a medical professional in the room because doctors are still given a measure of credibility, because they do have all these standards. In that sense, why are their stories different from when you peel back the layers? It's because at some core level, the clients themselves are not believed. The clients can tell their stories, but as long as the psychiatrist or the physician says, "I've examined these scars. They are consistent with the story of being whipped with electrical wires." "I've met with this person three or four times and their discussions and their headaches and their crying and their sleeplessness are consistent with having suffered the trauma of rape that they talk about." It is very discouraging on an individual basis for clients that they really are not believed, but we are going to garner also the anthropologists in the room. My hat's off to you, because anthropologists are really some of our best experts in these cases. They were able to go into the jungle and really meet and find out what was going on in a particular country. As a refugee lawyer, as a refugee agency, we have the world coming to us. I really rely on experts to help me understand a claim, to help me recognize validity. When I first meet with a client, it's really a gut feeling that what they're telling me rings true and can establish a claim. From there I start peeling back the onion, and it's certainly with the help of experts who've done years and years of research in any country. So perhaps that can answer the difference.

When I moved from civil private practice as a litigator into the asylum, the immigration court, I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. The court system is so completely different from a criminal system or a civil system. If you go into a family court, you have a family court judge who wants what's best for the issue. You always have two sides fighting it out, and the judge is the arbitrator who is going to hopefully at the end of the day make everything fair and come up with a good decision. In the immigration court, what I found is that most of the judges were political appointees and former Immigration and Naturalization Service prosecutors. I would go into a courtroom and it really felt like two against one. So what I tell my client is that my role is to be the one kicked. They are going to kick me and my role is to protect the client, because the questions are going to come at them in a very disbelieving, harsh, skeptical manner. So the fantasy analogy is actually so much more relevant than I ever thought it would be when you first spoke the word.

The other thing that's interesting is when you bring a client onto the stand, you normally try to ease them into it. You start with questions like, "Where are you from," and "Tell me about your family" in a normal court. For a refugee, those questions often are the crux of their claim, and there are really almost no easy questions to start with. You're often dealing with cultures where clocks and dates and calendars are not a very relevant situation. One of my cases in August involved a woman from Liberia whose home was invaded in the middle of the night by men looking for her husband, and she and her sister were brutalized and raped. She was pressed to say when this happened, was it night or day, is that 11 pm, is it 2 am, etc. She said "1 am," and then by the time she put that in her affidavit and came to testimony, she said, "Was it 3:00? Yeah, around 3 am." The court listed that as being "inconsistent." It's Liberia in the middle of a war with no electricity, no clocks, no flashlights. You don't look over and see a digital clock. It's just surreal, really, some of the encounters.

 Max Perlitsh, Class of 1952, Brandeis University: I'd like to bring up the question that ended the last panel, using Kevin to respond primarily where he did comment on what was happening in Louisiana and what he senses has been a conspiracy of our government in some way to obstruct and lead to problems in the proper administration of just services to everybody in Louisiana. My question, framed within the broader scope of this wonderful conference dealing with speaking truth to power, is: Are we all really doing everything we can to expose what that power is and where it fails to really respond? Are we really looking at the perpetrators of some of these abuses and really confronting government, church, and whoever else may be failing to hear the cry that's coming from a panel such? How do we get them to hear more effectively?

Kevin Sipp: I wrote down last week that I thought the characters of Kafka's novels were running FEMA in the sense of the castle, in the sense of the bureaucracy, in the sense of if you spread accountability across a broad enough field it reaches the point where nobody is accountable. That's what I often see happening. On the previous panel, they talked about agency and accountability, and you looked at what was going on. I was saying to myself, "What's going to happen is it's going to spread so thin that it gets blamed on an anonymous bureaucrat. Some cog in the system who you can't ever really name and find." In this sense they did have the gentleman resign, Brown, who was running FEMA, but you know he'll be taken care of somewhere else. How do we jump into action? As an artist I get to be frustrated with the art world at times, because I say to myself "I can paint a picture about it, I can create a work of art about it, but I need to do something more tangible." How do I get that message out in a more tangible manner that makes people act? I have to start within my personal sphere. I did do some relief work before coming up here this week. I'm just building up to say that I think it's very important to collect the data. We talk about fantasy, but I'll also bring in the term "myth." We create these mythic stories, and in the past these mythic stories were used to mobilize entire cultures. They were not just fantasy. They were national psychic portraits of a people, and through those mythic stories people were able to form some type of structure where they could respond in a certain way. In this culture, what I've seen happen over the last few years is we have dismantled some mythic structures that helped us move forward, and we have re-integrated some past hateful mythic structures that destabilize the country. When you look at the language of conservative politicians talking about Iraq and the language they use, "insurgents," "barbarism," they often tend to forget that they at one point were insurgents in the South here in America. There were barbarians in the South, there were terrorists in the South, and in the North and the East and the West. You realize that people create these fantasy narratives about their own history to make themselves not act. They can feel comfortable with not acting because they are the good guys who did not commit any type of atrocities in the past, and they are coming to bring light to the rest of the world. What happens, unfortunately, is they have to lie and create their own fantasy of what the American story is. They have to create their own fantasies and myths about what the American story is to make themselves feel elite and feel good, and it damages the language, it damages the dialogue. When you look at the way people were reporting the tragedies that were happening in New Orleans, some people were described as looters, some people were described as very resourceful people trying to find food for their families. There were looters, there were rapists, but there were also a lot of heroes. Then you watch the news and you see that New Orleans was two-thirds African American, but are the voices that are being talked to on the media two-thirds African American? No. The media will find other families to speak about how they got out, and the very people who were victimized the most will get sound bytes. There is no one bringing them to a news media room, sitting them down and asking them to tell their full story about what trauma they went through.

Florence Graves, Director, Brandeis Institute for Investigative Journalism: Aduei, you talked about the Lost Boys of Sudan, and obviously you were beneath that. Is your concern that the media were not addressing the Lost Girls of Sudan? I wish you could talk about that and the impact that it may have had on the girls – including the girls who are still in refugee camps. Is it that the story has been done and so the media have moved onto something else and are not addressing continuing problems?

Allison Taylor, Graduate Student in Anthropology, Brandeis University: I'm a clinical social worker with a lot of experience working with trauma. One of the themes of this conference is ethics, and one of the things I keep hearing over and over again on this particular panel is the experience of telling one's story and how it can be re-traumatizing to actually do the telling of the story. I also noticed Aduei chose not to tell her story today. One of the things I hope that people would talk about and think about is the sense of agency in choosing, when, how, and where to tell one's story, and the ethical issues around safety and around re-traumatization in that process.

Elizabeth Goldberg, Assistant Professor of English, Babson College: I was struck in listening to the panel and the previous panel by how crucial gender is – the women and girls in the story that Aduei told, and then listening to Deidre and thinking about asylum seekers who are imprisoned upon entering the United States, and the female genital mutilation piece. How do we talk about gender, and cover that in some way as a legitimate claim by which persecution might be made? What is the difference between the Ghanaian man who announces coming off the plane, "I am here to plead for my life," and ends up in your office, Deirdre, and someone who ends up imprisoned for months, years? I think there's a deep connection here between the race of the stories of girls that Aduei brings so powerfully to our attention and this issue of asylum and what happens to asylum seekers.

Aduei Riak: Two questions that were asked, maybe three, were on the story of the Lost Boys. What effect does it have on young women, and when does one choose to tell their own story? I guess I can just combine the two. I will begin with the story of the Lost Boys and how young women come into play. Statistically, there are 4,000 young Sudanese people across America. Out of 4,000, there are only 89 girls, and I can tell you how they made it to America. The way they came was because they either had a male cousin who was involved in the process or they had a brother who was involved in the process, and that's how they got here. I happen to be very lucky because I have a male cousin, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you guys. Basically, when we came to this country the media said, "the Lost Boys," and then no one thought, "These boys, do they have moms? Do they have sisters?" No one ever asked that question. People magazine, Time magazine, TV shows, "7th Heaven," no one ever asked. Are there girls? Are there women involved in the civil war? That is the big question. The power of naming the Lost Boys, the fantasy, the whole thing clouded the name. You see the Lost Boys, you relate to Peter Pan, because everybody knows it. That touches everybody's heart, because you see these young men struggling to survive, and the next thing you do is something to help them integrate into American society. Now that the name is not seen in the news, they are at a loss. They were at a loss when they came to America. There was an article by a freelancer in Phoenix, and she did research about how well the Lost Boys were doing in this country. It turned out that a lot of them are alcoholic, because that's the only way that they can find comfort. It's a totally different culture. English is a problem. The job and high hopes that you were looking for are not here, so it's totally a different place. Now that they're not being talked about in the news, they are left in the dark, and they are even lost. So, actually, they were using the name "lost" at the wrong time. It should be used right now, because this is the time that they are completely lost.

On the question of when does one choose to tell the story, that's a very tough question, because I have a story to tell. When Deirdre talked about people collapsing or crying and not wanting to talk about what they went through, I can truly relate to that because what happened in my life is very strange. Having to go through it and talk about it over and over again hurts. People believe that seeing a psychiatrist and talking about issues heals. It might not be the case in other cultures. Cultures are different; practices are different. Apparently in Western view, if you have a deep problem you have to talk about it and that's how you get over it. In other people's minds, that's not the way it works. The more you talk about it, the more it hurts and the more it becomes bigger and bigger. So, some people choose not to talk about it. I am open about my story. I can tell it, but there are some times that I just get sick and tired of it, and that's normal. There's nothing wrong with it.

Deirdre Giblin: The Sudanese resettlement was one of the more difficult resettlements that people categorized in the last few years, and it certainly did not go as smoothly as a lot of people had hoped. In general, there is a bit of that fantasy that we are saving people: we're inviting them to come here, we're giving them a better life, they'll be grateful. The reality isn't that, usually. For instance, in this particular population, a lot of the young men were under the understanding that they would come here and receive school and education and get on their feet. Basically, our resettlement program gives you three months to find a job with agencies like ourselves that help you with ESL, help you with literacy, help you form a resume, and go out to interviews. But it's tough out there, and so a lot of these young men ended up in low-skill jobs that they weren't very happy with, housed in housing that is not stellar. Any student in this room knows how difficult the Boston housing market is. So there are a lot of realities there. By the way, our agency right from the get-go did not use the term "Lost Boys." We certainly received a lot of cultural training about how that was not an appropriate use of the title. A lot of the young Sudanese men that we've resettled and who have been resettled across the nation are starting to return home in order to get married. That is what they're finding, and so that is sort of one of the topics that we haven't touched upon is that all these young girls who did get left behind are now having an opportunity to come here again. You want to look at some gender issues; they're being married off to come to America because our immigration is based on family. The majority of people who immigrate here come as family members, and a spouse certainly qualifies. These young men are taking money home and trying to pay dowries, and the cultural issues are just enormous when you talk about resettlement.

Just to follow up on gender in asylum: when I mentioned that there's the legal standard, the basis for asylum here is you're showing you have a well founded fear of returning to your country because of past persecution or fear of future persecution. It really is on the basis of five grounds. Some people call it political asylum, because traditionally it's been based on politics, but really that's not the title. Politics is one of five reasons, along with religion, your ethnic background, your race, and then social group is sort of where we've been pushing the boundaries for the last decade or so, and gender has been part of that boundary-pushing.

When you talk about gender, the courts feel more comfortable saying "Well, we're not going to open up the door for all women in this position," and they love to hang their hat on religion. Let's say a young Muslim woman from Morocco claims that she was harmed when she went outdoors without a male escort, or when she chose to wear something that was not approved by her society or not cover her head. The way that the courts have really seen that is as a religious issue. It's because that's Muslim and she's not following Muslim customs. It's not a gender issue for her country. That really is the fantasy; when we go into court, we do hang our hat on something different, something more acceptable, something that's already been precedential.