The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

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NOV 2019 Issue
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On Being a Pest

I’ve spent a lot of time online trying to find out whether Stephen Miller, architect of this administration’s most inhumane immigration policies, has a dog. He’s likely behind the dehumanizing language Trump has used to describe undocumented immigrants—as animals—but to use “animal” as an insult reveals a lot about our species’ relationship to other living things—we maim, shoot, skin, and rape animals for our pleasure. I don’t know, I just kind of wanted to know if Stephen Miller had a dog.

I’ve been undocumented for most of my life, and my parents still are, and my parents have paid an extraordinary cost for my American Dream, which by all means I have, on paper. Harvard, Yale, book and TV deals. But I have an incredibly painful complex trauma from all of this which I am just beginning to process.

Soon after my psychiatrist told me my lifelong depression was resistant to antidepressants, I went to a small town in Connecticut to a private ketamine clinic where, for $500 per 40-minute session, a high dosage of ketamine was administered to me intravenously by a psychiatrist over the course of two months and when I came out on the other end, I wasn’t suicidal anymore.

The first things I noticed with the razor-colored glasses off were plants. I used to pull at leaves during my walks but now before I did that, I stopped, scared it might hurt the plant. Next I began to notice just how many birds there were in our neighborhood. And one day, we noticed a flock of about four large crows in our parking lot. (Only poets call it a “murder” of crows.) That started this whole thing.

I began leaving out shelled peanuts on the window ledge at night and by morning, they had disappeared. Sometimes I’d see some crows in the trees, avoiding eye contact, and sometimes I’d see them on the ledge, but when I approached the window, they flew away. I’d see them drop their peanuts in pools of shallow rainwater to season and soften their food, and I heard them yelling at my partner at 6 am if we forgot to put peanuts out for them. They sound like this: Caw. Caw.

They soon began leaving me gifts. A branch that looked rather like a tool. A bit of nesting. A piece of roof. A dead baby bird. A small animal organ. I accepted the non-gross things and put them in labeled Ziploc bags. I loved them. Waking up in the morning stopped taking two hours. I jumped up and ran naked to the window to see if the crows had left me something. I noticed them in the trees while I worked.

The crows brought all sorts of other bird species into our parking lot, and we decided we had to care for them too, so my partner and I went to a garden store to look for a feeder and seed. But when I got there, I was shocked by how all the feeders and seeds advertised themselves as the ones that would get the job done, the job being repelling pests like rats, squirrels, and crows. Some bird feeding websites expanded the list to grackles, blackbirds, pigeons, and doves. The same word kept coming up everywhere. Songbirds. The suburban bird feeder wants to feed colorful songbirds.

I was furious. Were birds little windup toys that flew? Or were they tiny little dinosaurs who sometimes ate other birds’ eggs? Cannibals?

What I most loved about crows is that they were the only animals aside from humans and primates who knew how to use tools, yes, but also that they had an appetite for revenge. If a human being wronged them, they never forgot their face, but neither did their children, or their children’s children, nor any crow in the entire vicinity. Scientists report being attacked by stranger crows who knew they were enemies because years prior they had captured a crow to study it. Crows never forget. And since revenge for me, for my mother and father, for all the loved ones I’ve lost in this ethnic cleansing seems impossible, all I can do is sit at my desk and write like a songbird that white people will love to have sing, then the least I can do is continue to keep the crows alive, knowing they never forget a face, and knowing that they’re my friends and allies, unwanted animals, all of us. When Trump said he wanted a moat full of gators and venomous snakes, I laughed and said I would be able to summon them to do my will.


Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is a writer based in New Haven. Her first book, Undocumented America, comes out in May.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2019

All Issues