by Paolo Bicchieri
Promo art from the Steven Universe episode “Stranded” by Joe Johnston, Cartoon Network.
That’s how many families feel while journeying across the blistering hot and terrifyingly cold Jacumba Desert. It might be a persistent thought as they confront the countless dangers laying like traps in the night. And stranded they feel once they make it to the United States.
The isolation of the American Immigrant Crisis.
One cartoon is capturing the uniqueness of our cultural moment, our tragic pain and shame as a nation. Steven Universe, Cartoon Network’s first female and non-binary led cartoon, is giving viewers instructions on how to love. It is teaching audiences that nontraditional families from different places are heroic.
In the middle of a blistering June, I sat sandwiched on a bench with forty other mostly white American middle and high schoolers in the belly of the largest enclosed tropical botanical garden in southern China. Although the greenery surrounding us was very much real, the giant “tree” that made up the walls of our dining space was fake, carefully molded to look like the bark of a real hundred foot tree. Chinese caterers bustled around us, talking to each other in rapid Cantonese while they pulled white box after white box of prepackaged lunch out from large plastic trash bags.
Your mother has been repeating the story of your natural birth to you for years. The most important details: she kept perming her hair after her water broke because she didn’t want to disturb the doc’s 4th of July. You were a n-a-t-u-r-a-l birth, because holding you > pain. And she couldn’t be bothered with all that hollering during labor like women she’d encountered while working rotations in the hospital as a student. Maybe you entered the world via a mechanical, silent birth. You can’t imagine your mother wincing in pain, as even that acknowledgement would be too emotional. The act of opening her legs for your exit—forget about it.
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