Walidah had a short story “Unafraid” published in The New Inquiry for their fan fiction issue October 2017.
By Walidah Imarisha
THIS is a story about Superman, the first mainstream superhero. I have taken concrete real-world conditions and reenvisioned how Superman might interact with them if he truly embodied the principles he professes. But really this is a story about the courage, determination, and resilience of the undocumented/immigrant justice movement, often led by young people. Many of those leaders are queer undocumented youth who epitomize why movements for justice must center the leadership of folks living at the intersection of identities.
Specifically for this piece, I found inspiration for Lois Lane in reporter Jose Antonio Vargas. Some of the dialogue is directly inspired by a video made by Jaime Limon-Guzman. Guzman is a northwestern undocumented community organizer and leader who recorded a video message for his daughter before he was arrested in 2011 protesting an Alabama anti-immigrant law.
“WE will no longer be pushed into the shadows! We will not be silent!!” The young man’s voice blared through the loudspeaker, full of passion. He stood in a crowd of 15 other young brown folks, all wearing black T-shirts with the words “Undocumented and Unafraid” emblazoned boldly in white across the chests.
A bold move to come out as undocumented, especially on the steps of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, Lois thought to herself as she scribbled notes furiously.
The youth had gathered to protest new legislation to build a wall on the Mexican border. Actually there already is a wall on the border, Lois thought. This bill would weaponize it. The plans called for border agents that sounded more like storm troopers patrolling the Death Star.
Lois couldn’t believe it when she saw the Daily Planet’s editorial that morning endorsing the Wall Bill. It shouldn’t have surprised her; the corporate bigwigs who recently bought the Planet made it their first act to fire Perry White. The best damn editor that place has ever seen, she thought. They had the nerve to replace him with J. Jonah Jameson, a despicable man whose ability to dig his claws into any money around him remained surpassed only by his ability to appeal to people’s basest fears and prejudices.
Lois pushed aside her disgust to focus on the young man with the bullhorn. He paused and gulped, gathering his courage. “I first came out three years ago when I told my parents I was queer. My name is Celestino, I’m 19 years old, and I’m coming out again—this time as undocumented! And unafraid!”
From the audience, a child, around 5 years old, broke through the crowd and up to Celestino, pigtails and laughter streaming behind her. Must be his little sister, Lois thought.
“Papa!” the little girl screamed as Celestino scooped her up with his free arm, and playfully nuzzled her cheek.
Uh, or I’m completely wrong. Lois ruefully shook her head.
“This is my daughter, Victoria. She is the best thing that ever happened to me, and she is the reason I am here today, why I’m here every day, because . . .”
Victoria interrupted him, whispered while grabbing at the bullhorn.
“Are you sure, baby?” Lois heard him ask softly.
Victoria nodded her head emphatically, yes. Celestino held the bullhorn steady in front of her small, determined face.
“My name is Victoria, and my papa is great. He is really busy and we go to a lot of meetings—A LOT,” she emphasized, “and they are really boring sometimes.” She rolled her eyes dramatically, and a wave of chuckles swept the crowd.
“But my papa is really good. He is the best. I mean, he’s better than . . . than . . . Superman!” she finished. “So you should help him.”
Celestino moved to put the girl down.
“Wait!” she pulled the bullhorn back to her. “My name is Victoria. My papa always says, ‘Do you know why your name is Victoria?’ And I say no—even though I know why. Then he says, ‘Because we will have victory. And you are my victory already.’”
“Ok, I’m done now,” Victoria finished decisively.
“Yeah . . . that was . . . amazing. Just . . . wow.” Celstino’s voice threatened to crack with emotion.
“So please join us as we continue to struggle against this wall, this bill, for the rights of all people. Ningún ser humano es ilegal!”
The crowd broke into wild applause. Tears filled Lois’s eyes. She thought about the life she had built, the cabinet full of journalistic awards she was damn proud to display in her living room. She thought of herself when she was Victoria’s age, before the world as she knew it changed forever.
Lois thought about her father’s hands, scarred and creased from a lifetime of farmwork and manual labor, up before dawn, back most days after she was already in bed. Lois hadn’t spoken of him to anyone in her “new” life. Even when he died two years ago, she kept that pain to herself.
She shoved her reporter’s notebook and ballpoint pen into her purse, and marched up to Celestino, who was again holding Victoria in his arms.
“I’d like one of those T-shirts,” Lois said, holding out her hand.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said apologetically and a little surprised. “They’re only for the undocumented folks who are coming out today as undocumented and unafraid.”
“Yes, I realize that,” she said, her hand still out. “That’s why I want one.”
The silence stretched out between them.
“Wait . . . are you saying that you . . . I mean, that you don’t have . . .”
“Papa, you’re being silly!” Victoria’s little voice piped through. “She’s saying she’s like you!”
Lois took a deep breath. “Yes. I’m like you. I am undocumented.”
THE press conference to protest Lois’s firing was outside of the Daily Planet. She had been fired the day after photos of her on the protest stage with the youth, wearing her new “Undocumented and Unafraid” T-shirt ran on the front page of every paper—including the Planet.
In addition to sacking her, Jamison wrote a virulent editorial attacking her character, claiming she had lied not only to him but to the readers for all those years. Because of her extreme lack of morality, Jamison ranted, it is was his duty as a newspaperman and as an American to make sure she wasn’t allowed to spread her propaganda, not only through his paper but also through any other news source. For the good of the nation.
So she called a press conference here, on the steps she had walked up every day for the past 10 years. Clark always joked Lois would die in the newsroom at the age of 90, collapse at her desk on top of her typewriter—but not before making deadline.
Clark. Lois hadn’t heard from him at all. Everything had moved so quickly. And to be honest, she was terrified to reach out to him. She teased him mercilessly, but she had grown to respect Smallville’s opinion, his strict code of right and wrong. What if Clark told Lois that what she and the youth were doing was wrong—how would she live with that?
Lois felt sick. She was risking everything. She had already thrown away the career she had wanted and worked for all her life. She risked rendering the sacrifices her parents made when they brought her to this country for a better life meaningless. She risked being deported to a country she had left when she was five, that she had only traveled to as an adult on assignment.
What have I done? she thought. Panic began to take root.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked back and saw Celestino smiling at her encouragingly. All the other students grinned or gave her the thumbs-up. From the day Lois put that shirt on, they had embraced her completely. They came out today to support her. They risked everything as well, and they had so much more to lose.
Lois looked down into the crowd of almost a thousand people. She saw Black and brown faces, faces worn with work but etched with support and hope. She saw Victoria laughing with two dolls at her grandfather’s feet—Celestino’s whole family had come out to support them. She saw the pride in the eyes of Celestino’s father as he stared at his son on stage.
Perhaps, if my father could have been here, he’d have that same look on his face.
Lois felt determination surge through her body. She could do this. She would do this.
She stepped forward to the microphone purposefully. The flashing bulbs intensified.
“I want to be clear why we are here today, or, more to the point, why we are not. I am not holding this press conference today to beg for my job back. I wouldn’t go back to that rabidly racist paper if they etched my name into the side of the building.” The affirmations from the young folks behind her urged her on.
“I am not here to clear my name. Because I have nothing to atone for. We,” Lois gestured with both hands to take in the entire stage, “have nothing to atone for. Nor do our parents. Not our brothers and sisters laboring in the fields, or locked up in prison cells. I have been to prisons, from Arkham to Eddleton Women’s Penitentiary to Iron Heights. I have seen that most of the people in prisons are not supervillains. They are people who have been charged with the heinous crime of survival.
“I am also not here to clear my name, because this isn’t about me. This is about finally being brave enough to do what I should have done years ago.”
Lois took a deep breath. “I am undocumented. My parents left their home country, came here risking their lives on an arduous and harrowing journey that lasted almost a year. They didn’t want to leave. But they had to. There were no opportunities, no way to support themselves, let alone their family.
“I have had the opportunity to tour the world and see firsthand the devastation globalization has wrought. But I knew this destruction from the time I was six years old. We entered this country because it was the only possibility my family had for work. The only chance we had to eat.
“I once interviewed a young rapper, Olmeca, who had a song with these lyrics:
No one crosses a desert because they want to
It’s necessity a sacrifice for the family
You don’t call them illegals
You call them economic refugees.
“I couldn’t have an emotional reaction when he shared this with me, even though I saw my parents, my family, my people in it, and I wanted to cry my heart out.” Lois’s voice was thick with emotion. “I couldn’t react, because I was terrified of being found out.
“But these young people up here with me today have shown me that I no longer have to be afraid.” She glanced back, and Celestino gave her a power fist salute at chest level.
“Today, I am here for all of those people who don’t make front-page news because of who they are.” Lois eyed a few of the reporters she knew. They looked down at their notepads sheepishly.
“This is for . . .” Lois stopped abruptly as she saw chaos break out toward the back of the crowd. She heard screams, yelling.
Then Lois caught a glimpse of the back of a jacket embroidered with an American flag surrounded by a brick wall.
Shit, it’s the Sons of a Free America, she thought. These were the anti-immigrant thugs who had thrown their weight behind the wall. Though the conservative politicians officially denied any connection with them, they served as on-the-ground shock troops for these reactionary policies.
“America for Americans,” she could hear them shouting. “Keep America legal!”
They had pushed close enough to make eye contact with her. The lead Son yelled, “There she is,” and the entire group surged forward.
It’s my fault they are here right now, she thought grimly as she leapt from the stage and sprinted toward the melee. I have to do everything I can to protect these people here. Besides, she joked grimly, maybe all those self-defense lessons will finally pay off.
She was only a few feet from the mayhem when she felt a giant whoosh of air. The ground shook violently, like a boulder had been dropped.
Superman suddenly stood in the middle of the crowd, one of the Sons dangling from his finger like he weighed nothing.
“Are you all ready to settle down now?” Superman’s voice was soft but deliberate, like steel wrapped in velvet.
The rest of the Sons threw up their hands, and began backing away. Messing with “illegals” and their commie supporters was one thing, but they sure as hell weren’t going to tangle with the Man of Steel. They weren’t getting paid enough for that.
Superman trained his unblinking eyes on the Sons as they slunk away like dogs.
The press started lobbing questions at Superman the moment they had left.
“Do you think Lois Lane should be deported for being an illegal alien?”
“Are you going to go after these border crossers, who are clearly breaking the law?”
“Do you support the Wall Bill, Superman?”
Lois’s immense relief at seeing Superman gave way to sadness. He wouldn’t hang around; she knew this from years of covering him for the paper. The minute the press started pestering him, he took off like a speeding bullet.
So Lois’s jaw dropped as Superman instead walked on stage and shook hands with every youth. He stepped to the podium, leaning down to speak into the microphone.
“There is only one alien up here on this platform. As far as I know, in this city.” Superman’s voice boomed like thunder.
The crowd was silent.
“And as far as illegal . . .” Superman paused, and his eyes looked up into the sky.
“I have circled Earth countless times from space. I have watched it glow like a blue gem in the cosmos.
“But you know what I have never seen in all that time looking at this planet from space?”
Superman’s gaze came back to earth, and took in the entire crowd.
Lois’s heart swelled in her chest. The looks of astonishment on the faces of the youth behind him morphed into pure joy.
A new more hostile barrage of questions came at Superman. It was epitomized by the television reporter with the conservative RAT News, whose motto “Reasonable and Unbiased” fooled few: “Don’t you think talk like that is un-American? How can you say you support ‘the American way’ saying things like that?”
Superman paused for a moment. Lois panicked. What if he takes it back?
“If the definition of American is to break apart families and communities, to steal people in the dead of the night, to make survival a crime, to tear apart the very ideals I thought this country was built on . . .” Superman paused. Pain painted his face, but also grim determination.
“Then I guess I myself am un-American from now on.”
The collective gasp from the crowd was almost as strong as Superman’s powerful breath.
“If this is what you have decided America is,” Superman’s voice picked up speed, “I will have no part of it.
“So from now on, my new motto in my life will be, ‘Truth, Justice, and the Principled Way,’ and that is what I will dedicate my life and my powers in service of.”
The crowd of supporters burst into deafening applause.
Superman was about to step away from the podium, but looked down in surprise. Victoria had broken away from her grandfather and ran onto stage to poke Superman in his calf. She then raised her arms up toward him in the universal child sign for “pick me up.” Superman, bemused, capitulated to the demand.
“Thank you for stopping them from hurting me and my daddy and my friends,” she said, her large brown eyes close to Superman’s piercing blue ones.
“But I hafta tell you something,” she said as she put out her tiny hand to pat his cheek.
“I still think my daddy is a better superhero.”
Celestino moved forward, embarrassment written all over his face, mouth open ready to apologize.
Superman threw his head back, and his laughter rustled the leaves in the trees nearby.
“I have to tell you something, too,” he said as he gently patted Victoria’s cheek back.
“I couldn’t agree with you more.”
“NOT going to happen today, my friend,” Superman boomed out over the joint contingent of county sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Behind him, a crowd of migrant workers poured out of the tenement building. They didn’t know the raid would happen, but they had a good enough security system in place that when the first ICE van pulled up, they were ready in a matter of minutes. Some prepared to run, others ready to fight back and take the consequences.
That was when Superman swooped down, arms crossed. Lois could almost see the collective groan through the ranks of law enforcement. This was the 15th raid Superman had thwarted across the country. He never injured anyone, but he made sure no one was arrested. In Tucson, they fired bullets for one hour straight, until they ran out of ammo; Superman blocked or caught every single one.
Lois heard the closest sheriff turn to another and say with exasperation, “How did he know we were going to be here? I didn’t even know where we were going when we loaded in!”
Lois smiled to herself. She heard about the raid from one of her sources. That’s what happens when you treat cleaning staff like part of the furniture.
She circled the scene, scribbling in her reporter’s notebook, and almost ran into a herd of ICE agents.
“Lois Lane? What are you doing here?” one of them sneered. “You writing in your diary? ’Cause I heard no newspaper would hire you.”
Lois tossed her head. “I found something better.”
She turned her back, and dialed her cell.
As the other line picked up, she said, “I got the story, you’re going to love it. It’ll be posted on The Principled Way by midnight for your approval.”
“Sounds great,” Celestino’s voice glowed. “The site’s visitor numbers are up to 200,000 a month. Can you believe it? With the new web partnerships, I think we could double that in a few months!
“See, didn’t I tell you you’d make a great managing editor?” Lois teased. “This is why everyone should always listen to me.”
Celestino’s voice sobered. “Your guidance has been invaluable in launching this publication, where the voices of undocumented folks can speak for ourselves and cover the issues of the day from our perspective. And even though you are one of us, you wouldn’t hear of being editor, and you nominated me instead.”
“I just want to do what I’m good at. Which is reporting. And because, all jokes aside, you are one of the best editors I’ve ever had.”
“So,” Lois said, switching the topic to something she was more comfortable with, “What else you got for me?”
Celestino understood and got down to business. “Right. We just heard a group of Black and brown youth in DC have locked themselves in the headquarters of Bells Dakota, the bank owning controlling stock in private prisons, which are being used as jails as well as detention centers. The youth are demanding the business divest from prisons.
“Can you make it down there tonight? I know it means driving all night.” Celestino’s voice was apologetic.
“No problem, chief,” Lois smiled broadly, “I’m on it.”
original link: https://thenewinquiry.com/unafraid/