Dear Committee for the Socialization of Illegal Aliens,
About the Writer
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. Her poetry chapbook, Objects In Vases, was published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. She aims for an ontology which would satisfy Hannah Arendt, Norman Manea, and Tom Waits. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com.
I received your letter two months after marrying Mike. The letter was printed in blue Courier font and the graphics were abysmal.
To get a sense of the writer, I checked the signature. I do that with books as well— Google the author before reading the book. This is largely to keep from over-empathizing with pedophiles and CEOs. I don’t let myself read books by pedophiles and CEOs because I get sucked into anything with a heart.
The letter was signed “The Committee for Socialization of Illegals” but there was no signature above the name. There was no single individual willing to take credit for this letter. It was like a lottery ticket in that way.
Beneath the unsigned committee signature, there was the following sentence:
We pride ourselves on being the friendly arm of your national security apparatus.
Both the signature and sentence were preceded by the word “Sincerely.”
In Romania, no honest person uses "sincere.” It is a political word bandied by bigwig communist officials and their capitalist successors. Your willingness to use such a loaded, dishonest word discouraged me.
I didn’t want to read the letter unless it asked me to fill out another form in which case I had no problem filling out forms and paperwork. But I didn’t want to read the letter.
After boiling a pot of skullcap tea, my nerves were soothed, and I was ready.
This short guide is intended to help you build a brighter, better self in accordance with current regulations and expectations regarding citizenship.
This sudden outburst of optimism lifted my spirits. Had I misjudged you? Had I presumed covert action where there was mid-afternoon sunlight?
The acrid aroma of barbeque wafted in through an open window. I recalled that tender first day of school in America, how the fifth-grade faces lit the room with welcome. I was the new student whose parents had fled a communist country, flush with American dreams.
Obviously, you want to become an American because everyone on the planet either 1) wants to become an American or 2) is in the process of being Americanized by our markets and soft displays of military prowess.
The above-quoted paragraph suggested the existence of a template-- at least a measurable process known as Americanization. I Googled various combinations of your words and came up with commercials. It's hard to know what you want if it's left abstract:
Can I be an American like Harriet Tubman rather than Abigail Adams? More woodsy than parlor type. More wild than billboard-tamed.
What I like about becoming an American is the hope of being myself. This self includes another language, a native tongue, in which cabbage is boiled on the stove and adults gather together in kitchens to drink home-brewed plum brandy and tell foreign stories. In these stories, there are no winners or shiny new Toyota SUVs. In these stories, integrity is a word used to describe those who spent time in jail, and courage bears no relation to Iron Bowls or police uniforms. Courage is a word reserved for refuseniks.
As for soft displays of passive-aggression, I felt that prowess did not deserve mention. I felt that prowess was a personal problem best left to licensed therapists.
At this point, I drank an energy drink and practiced deep, cleansing breaths in the kitchen before reading the rest of the letter.
We take this as an assumption, and we hope that you appreciate the time and dedication applied by our panel of experts to the creation and propagation of this nation-loving pamphlet.
I admire your assumption. Governments socialize children into these assumptions during a class called History. I've never met a government that didn't.
In Romania, we read the founding fathers, including Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Ceausescu. I've never met a government with founding mothers. Females tend to be limited by the demands of their mammary glands.
I remember reading an article in which Lenin waxed poetic about Taylorism and the rise of mechanized factories. Like your capitalists, Lenin loved industrialization. He loved forcing women into the workplace to maximize production quotas.
If women complained, Lenin said freedom was not for everyone. Give a woman a job and she'll whine about the bread lines. Give a woman freedom and she'll demand a leadership position.
My parents whispered about Lenin. They took his words as permission to emigrate to the capitalist West.
In America, I learned that Lenin was a communist who could not resemble a capitalist given what was described as the Cold War. Communists and capitalists were opponents in this war. My body was divided between two sides of propaganda: consumer-topia and commie-heaven. In the years when all my t-shirts pledged allegiance to Coney Island, I sought refuge in an imagined heaven of freaks, geeks, and mermaids.
In high school, my P.E. coach and A.P. Government teacher used me as a textbook example of why communism fails. If communism was perfect, why had my parents defected? If communists were such great gymnasts, why couldn't I serve a volleyball?
In this sense, I was an exemplary American. A heavy piece of ammo to lob leftwards.
We encourage you to read these short lessons aloud with your family and discuss the appropriate “teaching fables” included in each section. Possible discussion topics include how characters behave in an appropriate or inappropriate manner, and what would be the American thing to do in given circumstances.
But your envelope did not include the alleged pamphlet so it is impossible to discuss missing teaching fables.
I should add that Mike and I don't have children. We have no plans which include children since I have yet to meet a nonparasitic baby.
Given my utter distaste for reproduced humans, I am surprised by your family values, values which force baby-hating females like myself to give birth. Since abortion has become more difficult to procure-- and since my birth control stops working when mixed with antibiotics-- I plan to handle my next pregnancy cheaply. If the line shows up blue, I will procure pain medicines and/or crack cocaine and proceed to consume copious amounts. In this way, the child I am forced to bear will be taken away from me.
This child perhaps will be a crack baby. I've heard good things about crack babies. My sister-in-law is a yoga instructor and a former crack baby. My husband might have been a crack baby if they'd tested him. I have nothing against crack babies or the countless junkies who chase butterflies in the park.
The American thing to do is wait for my pamphlet. In high school, the American thing to do was bubblegum-flavored lip gloss and Noxema. The pimple on my nose confirmed my classmates' suspicions. American girls grow up, but aliens only grow into bigger, less palatable aliens.
After watching late night crime shows, I realize there are multiple ways to kill a variety of innocent humans. Given such diversity in the killing arena, it strikes me as strange that there's only one way to be a true American, and that involves being born in the United States. If late night crime shows and murders remain more creative than your Committee, I foresee a dull future for the corpus Americanus.
I wonder how long I will wait for my alien pamphlet. I wonder how many parades will pass by before I purchase a pair of bobby socks.
In a democracy, such discussions are critical in allowing others to form opinions and viewpoints. At the end of the day, however, there is only one right answer — and only one way to do things the American way. We hope you enjoy your journey as an illegal alien. And we wish you a glorious and legal future here in the United States of America.
Other than a tiny flag sticker, the letter was a single piece of paper in an envelope. There was no phone number I might call to inquire about the vaunted pamphlet.
Some mornings I wake up wondering if the mail-person will deliver a pamphlet from The Committee for Socialization of Illegals. But most mornings I am realistic about the inefficiency of committees and go about my day as planned.
As for the tiny flag sticker, I wasn't sure where to put it. I gave it to Mike because his native-born Americanism has been raised knowing what to do with cheap stuff.
Dear Committee, Dear Readers and Note-takers for Said Committee, Dear Historians Attached to the Committee for the Socialization of Illegal Aliens, Dearest Human Being Wearing a Flag on Your Lapel,
I need to be honest about something.
After the 1989 revolution, Romanians shared scissors to cut the communist insignia from the red yellow and blue national flag. My parents made us watch on TV. Hundreds and thousands of Escus. Perhaps I was scarred by the sight. The only flag I can wave is one with a hole carved in its center, a holy flag, a few colored stripes of fabric with the face of a single person peeking out.
A hyphenated girl from Alabama who can't wait to 1) read that pamphlet and 2) watch the demise of fracking