Camp Wonder

By Kerri Romeo

Once underground in the rabbit hole Alice has come to expect to have extraordinary and unusual experiences.  In this SPECIAL EDITION of the Wonderland Campaign Alice follows the rabbit outside the traditional story into a world even Lewis Carroll could not have imagined.  Alice leaves behind the magical creatures in Wonderland to witness one of the most unnatural experiences a child/adolescent could ever face.

As her curiosity would have it, Alice hadn’t seen the White Rabbit in quite some time and she decided to investigate.  This was a different path than she had traveled before while in search of the garden.  Would she find her way back?  Did she even want to?     

“…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Alice (from Alice in Wonderland, Chapter X)   

The dream she originally chased no longer felt captivating.  As SHE changed, so did what appeared around her.  The Royal Garden had disappeared.  The White Rabbit was once again the White Dove leading her up.  She heard a crowd ahead.  What were they looking at?  WHO were they here for?  There were hearts and balloons.  It must be someone very special.  She tried to see over a fence…and then someone grabbed her.  Wait…what was happening to her? 

Alice is ushered into a small over-crowded space after a series of questions from adult strangers in uniforms.  They ask how did she get here, where are her parents, does she have her birth certificate?  Who is she? 

Alice wonders…did the Queen send her to this prison?  What had she done wrong?  The adults at home were always bossing her around, but at least they were familiar.  She missed her parents, her siblings and her teachers now.  She was scared, confused…and cold…so cold.  She overhears someone say las hieleras.  Her French lessons aren’t going to help her understand anything now.  Did anyone have a sweater?  One of the interrogators hands her a silver emergency “blanket”. Is this supposed to be a blanket?  Is this an emergency?  It felt alarmingly so, but somehow what they called a survival blanket did not provide the warmth and comfort she desperately needed.

Alice sees a girl about her age alone in the corner.  What is her story?  Why is she in prison too? She must be the special person all those people were here for.  Alice attempts to find some answers, but the two girls speak different languages.  The adults in uniform reprimand her for being so curious.  She stares into the girl’s big brown eyes.  She senses something is very wrong.  Without words she knows her new friend cannot go home.  But is she safe here?  Is she safe anywhere? She is afraid for her.  She wants to protect her.  

To her advantage, Alice speaks the same language as the adult strangers (with a slightly different accent). But they don’t seem open to her questions anyway so she just observes her surroundings.  There are so many secrets here.  Who can they trust?  People are huddled together.  Under those uncomfortable silver blankets.  Do they know each other?  How long have they been here?  Why are there SO many children alone?  How long will SHE be here?

She didn’t know exactly what time it was, but it wasn’t like the dreamy timelessness in Wonderland.  She was suddenly aware of night and day again and that she hadn’t slept at all.  Between the cold, the lack of sleep and the uncertainty she began to lose her sense of wonder and curiosity.  She felt numb emotionally and just wanted to return home.  Can she take her new friend with her?  Maybe they can find her mother.  Maybe they can get her legal assistance.  

Another child tugs on Alice’s dress and whispers something in her ear. Alice cannot understand her words. But she knows she is a girl in danger. They are all looking at Alice now. They trust her. They need someone who they can trust. Go ask Alice.

By morning the adult strangers begin to ask more questions.  But she can’t explain herself in a way that makes sense to them.  

“Alice said nothing; she had sat down with her face in her hands, wondering if anything would ever happen in a natural way again.”

Alice in Wonderland, Chapter X

The adults were growing more puzzled by her being there.  They mention places like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico in conversations she overhears.  She hears words like illegal and immigrant or refugee. She is no longer unsure of her purpose.  She wants to understand.  She wants to help.  The trip of the asylum seeker is often confused with what can seem to some like the curious adventure of a migrant seeking the American dream of economic wealth.  Americans are kind of obsessed with wealth and deeply afraid of the loss of it, which can objectively blind us from both the problems people need to escape (kidnapping, rape, murder, gang recruitment) and the effective solutions. It shields us from questioning how our country contributes to the danger. It prevents us from recognizing the strange reality that a child is a criminal for seeking safety. The crisis at the border is riddled with systemic issues that cannot and should not be disregarded. But how are people, especially children and adolescents, affected emotionally? 

She is asked to explain herself again.  They were growing impatient.  As bold as Alice is to call out the nonsense of the creatures in Wonderland, the uniformed adults here make her feel voiceless and powerless. Even the nicer ones remind her not to cry. Not to wonder. They ask her questions, but she feels silenced all at once.

“Alice did not dare to disobey, though she felt sure it would all come wrong, and she went on in a trembling voice…”

Alice in Wonderland, Chapter X

Will Alice and her new friends survive?

How are we letting children down?  When children are expected to act like adults we let them down.  When we tell them not to feel we let them down.  When we underestimate their awareness we let them down.  We break their resiliency.  We break spirits. They say it takes a village to raise a child.  What if we ARE the village for these children?

We confuse reality television, virtual reality and the “reality” of propaganda programming with actual reality. It can be easy to distance ourselves from the people on the screen. But there are real people like Emma who shares her story of being inside a detention center with Mary Hollywood on At The Crossroads:

Alice wants to understand what is happening in Camp Wonder so she can help. Do you understand what is happening at our borders and why? Jesse Crall answers to Victoria Lynn Hall’s questions about these issues can help educate us all:

What would Camp Wonder be like if children seeking asylum in the United States were treated like the precious children they are and not like criminals? How could Alice’s scary “adventure” in Camp Wonder lead to a happy ending? The Wonderland Discussion Group pondered these questions and more:

Camp Wonder and Discussion Group

Amplifire Project Animating Director describes his motivation and inspiration for rescuing children like the ones Alice encounters in Camp Wonder and calls on all of us to get involved with in this interview At The Crossroads with Mary Hollywood:

New to the Wonderland Campaign?

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Kerri is an advocate for the introverted activist. Often at a loss for words in person, she writes to make sense of the world and connect with others. She wishes for more curiosity & kindness in the world.

Published by Kerri

Kerri is an advocate for the introverted activist. Often at a loss for words in person, she writes to make sense of the world and connect with others . She wishes for more curiosity & kindness in the world.

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