back in november, my doctor prescribed an mri exam for lower back pain that used to be occasional and has now become persistent. the medical term for this kind of pain is “chronic”. conventional x-rays revealed bone spurs in my lumbar vertebrae that were protruding into my spinal column so he ordered the mri exam to get a better understanding of exactly how the spurs were impacting the nerves in my spine.
i had seen pictures of mri machines and had the notion the experience might feel like being confined into a space the size of a small closet or phone booth. but once i entered the examination room, i was totally unprepared for the narrow tube (about 24” in diameter) into which my 6', 240 lb. body was to be stuffed.
the lab technician provided ear plugs to protect my hearing from the loud clicking sounds generated by the machine's powerful magnets. she told me that she would not be able to hear my cries if i needed her assistance so my lifeline to the outside world became the small plastic bulb she placed in my right hand. “the exam will take about 15 or 20 minutes but you can squeeze this bulb if you need anything,” she said.
unable to move my arms in any direction, i stared at the roof of the machine just a few inches above my head and for the first time in my life, i suffered a full-blown panic attack. i tried to scoot my body backwards toward the tube's opening without success. then i tried to lift my arms so i could pull myself out of the machine but they were firmly pinned against the walls of the mri tunnel. my only hope for escape was the bulb in my hand, which i commenced to squeeze with all my might.
30 seconds later, i was out of the machine and apologizing profusely. in addition to the anxiety which was slowly ebbing from my mind, i felt a profound sense of shame that my mind was unable to control thoughts which were clearly irrational in origin.
one week later i returned for the procedure wearing a sleep mask and sedated by anti-anxiety medication (xanax). i was able to complete the procedure only by imagining that i was lying inside the dome of a galactic spaceport with a view of the universe stretching all the way out to the big bang and beyond.
i describe my mri ordeal in detail because i suspect it may also describe the feelings experienced by many undocumented immigrants living in this country today. of course, the big difference is that my fears were imaginary while theirs are all too real.
the phrase “living in the shadows” doesn't begin to describe the fear and anxiety experienced by those whose only crime, in most cases, was a willingness to remove themselves and family members from places which, for all intents and purposes, had become unlivable. every time they leave their new homes here, they face the very real threat of detection and deportation- something especially unjust for those who were brought here as children.
we are all aware of the drug wars and social chaos occurring in mexico today. life is cheap in many parts of that country and getting cheaper all the time. but you don't hear as much about other parts of latin america wtare the circumstances of daily life are equally dire.
take guatemala for instance. catherine rendón, a native of that country, and a regular contributor to la voz latina reports that country is infected with many of the same social ills that have made mexico such as hazardous place to live today. she and a couple of young journalist friends living in guatemala bring us updates in this issue.
also be sure and check out the story about the magnificent painting of the virgin of guadalupe that was created here in savannah last summer.
finally, i thought it appropriate to begin this, our ninth year of publication, with a few words of advice to fellow anglos on things i've learned since we published our first issue back in 2002:
1) if you really wish to display your ignorance, refer to everyone you see with brown skin and a spanish accent as “mexican”. the truth is that the united states is home to latinos from every country in latin america and, in spite of the circumstances that led them to emigrate, most of them have just as much pride in their birthplace as you do.
2) treat everyone you meet with the same respect that you desire. never forget that many of the immigrants you meet today have advanced educational degrees and/or professional training from their home countries and have begun their lives anew in this country. and whether they are dishwashers or doctors, virtually all of them have probably endured hardships you have never dreamed of.
oh...and happy new year!