By Marina Manoukian
This anthology, for all its occasional sadness, is optimistic about the future of immigration to America.
Far From Their Eyes, Ohio Migration Anthology (Vol 1), edited by Lynn Tramonte and Awa Harouna. Anacaona LLC, 150 pages, $ 31.
Anthologies can be classified in different ways: by author, by subject, by form. But there is always room for a new twist: in this case, a set of stories chosen according to the eventual destination of its subjects. Directed by Lynn Tramonte, director of Ohio Immigrant Alliance, and Awa Harouna, whose father’s near-expulsion was examined in the film Living without papers, Far From Their Eyes: Ohio Migration Anthology, Volume I brings together the stories of migrants, immigrants, refugees, and their descendants, who somehow ended up in Ohio.
In another world, these stories may not have found their place among each other. One of the contributors, Houleye Thiam, president and founder of Youth and Hope Inc, points out another truth: migration is not always a choice for some. Far From Their Eyes, Vol 1 is an ambitious collection that delves into the complex drama of migration through time and space. “The Life and Story of My Grandfather” by Skye Nguyen was written when the author was in fifth grade. Michele Rudolph’s “Cleveland, The New Promised Land” tells a story inspired by his father, his way of honoring him “and the six million other African Americans who were part of the Great Migration”. Thiam’s poems affirm the omnipresence of accents and proclaim how “This accent is a poet and a storyteller. This focus is the seed of endless possibilities. / Yes, that accent is me, all of me, and I’m a work in progress.
Eldris Rodriguez-Baez’s paintings, dotted throughout the anthology, offer a poignant respite from the verbal. With each illustration, a reader can catch their breath as they simultaneously get caught in the throat. A fish stares impassively like a hook and who knows how long the paper boat will float – but then there’s the fungus, the involvement of an invisible network. Mycelium connectivity when one person branches off to another.
The anthology, of which Tramonte hopes to be only the first volume, includes seven poems, two short stories, two interviews, six short essays and seven paintings. There are 15 contributors in total, including five residents of central Ohio. Contributors vary in terms of age, race and place of origin, with some coming from Argentina, Cuba, Guinea, Haiti, Mauritania, Mexico, Romania, Sierra Leone, South Sudan. South and Vietnam.
Not all the stories in Far From Their Eyes, Vol 1 come from those who were able to find the freedom they were looking for. Some of the writers, like Saidu Sow, were deported to countries from which they fled as adults. Others, like Mory Keita, are brought back to countries they left as children. Of course, the stories here only scratch the surface, given the challenges the United States government presents to those seeking freedom. As Harouna said The Columbus Dispatch, “There are different factors and different stories, and every story that has its own voice has a level of trauma and a level of hope.”
What emerges from reading these experiences? What emerges from knowing the different things people go through when they are from one place to another? Reading about the movement of others is not about preparing for the inevitable, it is about finding the intersections that inevitably remake us all. An anthology is responsible for bringing things together, and what is remarkable about this volume is that the stories were already together. The authors and their stories came to Ohio before being compiled in the anthology, although they are neither the first nor the last.
In Living without papersHarouna points out that “you can watch a documentary (and) you can say, ‘Well, that’s a shame.’ But at the end of the day, it’s just something you watch on TV. And you can turn that off and get on with your life. The same will happen when the reader finishes Far from their eyes. Once the last page has been turned, the reader is out of the stories. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the story is over, for the writer or the reader.
It is estimated that the ECI is detain people in more than 200 prisons and prisons for immigrants in the United States and in nine days in September 2021, the Biden administration deported nearly 4,000 Haitians who came to the United States to seek asylum. Reading the pieces in the anthology won’t change the reality of immigration to the United States, but what’s the point in pretending there aren’t countless stories to know? Having these creations available is an advantage – these are American narratives that we ignore at our moral and political peril. “We only see what we choose to see, but we can choose differently,” says Harouna. These stories invite readers to broaden their perception.
Personally, as a reader, I can’t really distinguish how much my enjoyment for the anthology comes from the fact that as an immigrant my own story falls into a different but identical likeness. When i finished reading Far from their eyes I was grateful that a text like this was written and that these authors and their voices had the chance to be heard. It is a privilege to know these stories.
Note: “Proceeds from the sale of books will be distributed among contributors, with a portion going to the Ohio Center for Strategic Immigration Litigation & Outreach (OCCSILiO) and the Cleveland Association of Black Storytellers (CABS). “
Marina Manoukian is an Armenian diaspora writer. A reader, writer and collage artist, she currently resides in Berlin, Germany. His writings have been published with Yes Poetry, Grunge, and Full stop review, among others. Find more of his work on marinamanoukian.com or on Twitter / Instagram at @crimeiscommon