Reading Migrant Literature

A painting of a travelling man with a backpack and luggage
The Long Road Ahead by migrant artist Jasmin Orosa

A very warm hello to you! I am Dexter, the newest marketing intern. I’m incredibly excited to shower our new projects with love and watch them be released into the world like a dandelion’s seeds riding off with the wind.

It has been hard to stay on top of the news lately. The current headlines feel as if we are coursing through the highway to the end of the earth. During these times, I can’t help but also worry about the migrant worker community. How are they coping? Have their living conditions improved since the major Covid-19 outbreak in the dormitories last year? More importantly, are we letting our migrants have a platform where their voices are being heard?

A year ago, I had the opportunity to write a feature article exploring the migrant workers’ welfare issue. The many months of research and interviews introduced me to the fascinating and emerging subgenre of migrant literature.

One poem from this literary genre that hit close to home was "Execution" by Belal Hassan, a Bangladeshi migrant poet who currently works at a manufacturing factory. This poem was published in Call and Response 2: A Migrant Anthology, which is a collection of pieces from migrant and local writers who wrote and responded to each other’s intimate stories.

Execution by Belal Hassan (Excerpts)

I’m hanging from the gallows
an adorable failure
the prayer of death
I’m hanging with the first sun of the morning

I’m not alive,
not even dead;
but in the crime of survival
I’m hanging from the gallows
I’m just waiting for instructions.

Hassan’s piece speaks strongly about the suffocation of a migrant worker; the stringent restrictions on their movement and congregation leaves him a helpless man who has lost all sense of freedom and mobility.

I read this piece with a heavy heart. I simply cannot fathom living a life defined by regulations and instructions from an authority who strips us of our individuality and freedom. And yet, this is the reality for many in the migrant worker community.

My research and exploration of this literary genre has taught me that while themes like loneliness and longing commonly surfaced, there are also recurring themes of hope, love and finding solace in the creative arts. Their voices truly bring a new set of lived experiences and lessons that form a distinct voice in our literary scene.

If you would like to support our local migrant writers scene, do check out the Migrant Writers of Singapore Facebook group which hosts regular open mics and literary events to bring together wonderful migrant talents, and the Birds Migrant Theatre formed by a group of migrant workers hailing from Indonesia, Bangladesh, and The Philippines.

I hope that just like me, you too will be deeply moved by the works of our migrant writers.

Stay safe and take care,

(From July 31, 2021)

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