Reflections from creative writer helping asylum seekers in Chittenden

By | April 7, 2023

CASCAN is the Chittenden Asylum Seekers Assistance Network. Its mission is to assist people in Chittenden County who are in the legal process of seeking asylum. CASAN’s main funding drive for 2023 will be an April event ~ Arts for Asylum Seekers ~ that brings together the arts and social justice to assist people who are seeking asylum in our community by recruiting artists to share their creative work in April (

I signed up to receive essays from a creative writer, Katherine Maynard. She is currently traveling in Memphis TN and I have, with her permission, provided an excerpt as it helped me reflect and understand what “exile,” whether forced removal from a country or banishment within it, means:

…this week, other momentous events caught my attention, both in Tennessee:

  • Tuesday, April 4 – 55 years ago the Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis
  • Yesterday, April 6, the Tennessee Legislature shamefully expelled two young black members, Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, for taking a vocal stance against gun violence. Significantly they did NOT expel the sole white woman, Gloria Johnson for the same “offense.” She rightly explained the reason she “survived” the ouster was due to her skin color, calling out the blatant racism of her colleagues.

Following the thread of “exile” for this CASAN creative project, prompted by the juxtaposition of these events, past and present, I revisited the meaning of the word “exile”. The etymology of the world goes back to c. 1300, meaning “forced removal from one’s country,” from Old French exilessil (12c.), from Latin exilium “banishment; place of exile”. *

“Forced Removal from One’s Country”.

Usually when I’ve considered exile, I’ve pictured people forced to flee their country’s borders, expelled by tragedy, violence, persecution, war, political unrest, or environmental disaster, i.e. External exile.

However, clearly there are ways to forcibly remove someone from their country from within a nations’ borders. When people are removed from their lives, homes, deprived of civil liberties and due process within their country, whenever citizens are barred from full and free participation in their nation’s life: this is Internal exile. It is frequently done through nefarious means, especially through the passing of unjust laws, or the systematic failure to enforce the laws that exist. The goal of authorities is always to silence people’s voices, to marginalize their concerns, to dilute their influence. They also often seek to avail themselves of coveted resources which the targeted population possess or seek to share. The purpose is also to warn there’s a price to pay for speaking up against injustice, corruption, and social evil. Internal exile can be equally brutal – and is actually more common. It can, of course, mean shipping dissidents to harsh faraway places within a country, such as sending them to the Siberian Gulag, or crowding people into inhumane “camps”, such as has been done to the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the Uyghurs in China.

But other methods can be just as effective. Besides assassination, here’s how this has occurred in the US:

  • We imprisoned and exploited millions of enslaved African Americans for over 250 years, robbing them of liberty, dignity, rights, and legal recourse from abuse. We trapped them in our cotton fields, hounded them with slave catchers if they tried to break free, brutalized their bodies through beatings, rape. We refused/refuse them citizenship and its protections, subjecting them to the ongoing violence of lynching and the terror of Jim Crow codes, segregation, and police brutality.
  • We enslaved and massacred indigenous communities, stole their lands, sent pestilence among them, forced them on death marches such as the Trail of Tears, stole their children who we abused and murdered in “re-education” Boarding Schools, and – as recently as 1973 – slaughtered hundreds of Lakota at Wounded Knee. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests in recent years shows our assaults on Native Americans have not abated.
  • During World War II we incarcerated around 120,000 Japanese Americans solely for their ethnicity. They lost livelihoods, homes, and dignity – with minimal reparations or apology offered afterwards.
  • Meanwhile attorneys Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson have painstakingly documented the millions of BIPOC citizens we have essentially “removed” from this country through mass incarceration and the so called “War on Drugs” which disproportionately target minorities.

The human tragedy of “exile” – external or internal – just goes on and on and on….