Below the pristine mountains of Portugal’s countryside, a war rages on in Rei Rosenquist’s “Friends.” Thrown together in a dismal war camp, imported refugees share nothing but their suffering. No common culture. No common tongue. But friendship can spring up even in the toughest of times.
“Friends” appears in The Golden Door, a collection of stories showing the impact on people when they’re treated as “the other,” whether they’re immigrants to a country, a group of targeted within their own country, or something else besides. The title refers to Emma Lazarus’s welcoming words inscribed on the plaque on Statue of Liberty, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Tales of mistreatment of “the other” abound in historical or religious writings from around the world and through all time. But there are also plenty of examples of people helping each other, caring for one another, learning about each other. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small—but they all add up.
Find The Golden Door
The air was a confused hum. Everyone who spoke Português was from a different place in the country: different dialect, accent, vernacular. I saw nobody from home. Everyone, a frightened stranger. At least half the people spoke a tongue that confused my ears entirely.
“Nihongo,” someone with a Português accent whispered.
I got the gist. Refugees who’d been shipped in.
More strangers, harder to get.
We were being forced apart, separated at the very seams.
I rebelled at the idea. If nothing else, we were humans and that would be enough.
I looked at the nearest fellow inmate and forced myself to look for—not the differences: hair color, eye shape, skin color—but the similarities. The sameness. Something to give me grounding. What I found were identical expressions. The same tight broken frown, brow knitted up, eyes narrow and without trust.
Our humanity, reduced to isolation and fear.
—from “Friends” in The Golden Door by Rei Rosenquist
Rei Rosenquist is a queer agender (they/them) speculative fiction and romance writer who depicts a wide variety of identities struggling to find a place in a wide variety of worlds. They are also a barista, baker, musician, and lifelong semi-nomad.
Rei first remembers life as seen out the high window of a hotel balcony. Down below is a courtyard, swarms of brightly dressed tourists, and the beach. The memory is nothing but a blue-green washed image. Warmth and sunlight. Here, they are three years old, and this is the beginning of a storyteller’s life. Over the years, Rei has traveled to many countries, engaged many peoples, picked up new habits, and learned new languages. Across lands, they find constant inspiration in the stories we tell each other, the food we share with one another, the music we make together, and the world we can build when we allow ourselves to dream.