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A Make-Believe Nation

Honolulu, Hawaii


I drive through the industrial neighborhood:
ocean blue tarps and colorful tents cluster
like a coral reef amongst a shipwreck of
shopping carts and bikes. This encampment
is one of many across Hawaii, the state
with the highest homeless rate in the nation.
So many islanders barely surviving beyond
the frame of a tourist postcard. So many
families bankrupted by the high cost
of living in "paradise." I park in the nearby
lot of the Children's Discovery Center,
then unbuckle my daughter from her car seat.
After I pay the admission fees, she pulls me
by the hand to her favorite area: a make-believe
town with a post office, clinic, library, theater,
television studio, grocery store, and classroom.
As she plays, I make-believe a nation where all
of this is a pure public good, nonrivalrous
and nonexcludable. A nation where housing,
good government, and bread are no longer
privatized. A nation divested from the public
harms of border walls and military weapons.
When she tires, we return to our car. I drive,
more slowly, through the encampment. Soon,
without warning, real bulldozers, dump trucks,
cops, and state workers will enforce laws
that ban sitting and lying in public spaces.
They will sweep these makeshift homes
and vulnerable citizens off the sidewalk,
where a girl is now playing in an inflatable
plastic pool, surrounded by her parents.
She looks the same age as my daughter,
who has fallen asleep in her car seat
as I dream of a future commons.


Craig Santos Perez

Forum / Boston Review

Forum 3 - The President's House Is Empty


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