Teenage Life After Genocide – The Atlantic

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At 19 years outdated, Aséna Tahir Izgil feels clever past her years. She is Uyghur, an ethnic minority persecuted in China, and few of her individuals have escaped to bear witness. After narrowly securing refuge within the United States, Aséna’s now tasked with adjusting to life in a brand new nation and becoming in together with her teenage friends.

This week on The Experiment, Aséna shares her household’s story of fleeing to the U.S., navigating newfound freedom, and elevating her child brother away from the shadows of a genocide.

This episode’s visitors embody Aséna Tahir Izgil and her father, Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur poet and creator.

This episode of The Experiment initially ran on August 19, 2021.

Further studying: One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps, Saving Uighur Culture From Genocide, ‘I Never Thought China Could Ever Be This Dark,’ China’s Xinjiang Policy: Less About Births, More About Control

Be a part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, with assist from Gabrielle Berbey and enhancing by Katherine Wells and Emily Botein. Fact-check by Yvonne Rolzhausen. Sound design by David Herman, with further engineering by Joe Plourde. Translations by Joshua L. Freeman.

A transcript of this episode is offered under:

(A heavy, low, roiling sound ever so slowly crescendos, up and up, and ends when a short blip performs.)

Natalia Ramirez: Okay! Good morning! Um, so are you with quite a lot of household proper now?

Aséna Tahir Izgil: (Laughs.) Yes!

Ramirez: (Lightly, additionally laughing.) Yes? How many individuals?

Aséna: So there’s 5 individuals in my household.

Ramirez: Okay, cool. And, um …

Aséna: This is, like, the essential query I discovered once I discovered English with my trainer. (Chuckles.)

Ramirez: Oh yeah? Really? (Laughs.)

Julia Longoria: What you’re listening to is a mic test between producer Natalia Ramirez and our visitor, a brand new younger immigrant to the U.S.

Aséna: I bear in mind my favourite phrase in, like, complete English language was “I don’t know.” (Both laughs.)

Ramirez: Why was that your favourite?

Aséna: Because it simply keep away from me from quite a lot of troubles. Like, my trainer requested me, like, difficult questions, and I’d simply say, “I don’t know.” And then it’s carried out! So I nonetheless like it to this present day. (Both snort.)

Ramirez: Okay, excellent! Now you may cease recording.

(The blip from earlier than sounds once more.)

Longoria: So once I lastly sat down to speak to her—

Longoria: You can go forward and click on Record.

(The blip.)

Aséna: Okay!

Um, hey! My title is Aséna.

Longoria: I first requested Aséna Tahir Izgil, 19 years outdated, in regards to the issues she didn’t know when she first obtained right here from China 4 years in the past.

(A gradual however regular cushion of sound—a plodding percussion line, a jazzy synthesizer—lazily performs beneath the dialog.)

Aséna: I didn’t know what cafeteria means. It was, like, proper earlier than lunch, and the trainer was like, “Okay, kids, let’s go to cafeteria and eat your lunch!” And I used to be like, “What the hell is cafeteria?” [Both chuckle.] Sounds so fancy to me! [Both laugh.] You know, it’s like, uh, French or one thing.

Longoria: (Jokingly.) “Where are we going now?” Yeah!

Aséna: Yeah! Like, costly, you understand? It’s like an artwork gallery or one thing. [Both laugh.] Only factor that I discovered from my British English that I discovered from my trainer in a yr was restroom.

Longoria: There had been quite a lot of fundamental phrases she didn’t know. Like, as a substitute of “restroom,” she would say “toilet.” Instead of “excuse me,” she’d say “pardon me.”

Aséna: So sooner or later a woman in entrance of me—she turned her head again. She checked out me, and he or she’s like, “Hey.” I stated, “Hey.” She stated, “You know you sound like an old lady?” And I used to be like, “Really?” She stated, “Yes.” I used to be like, “Okay.” (Laughs.)

Longoria: Aséna says she didn’t actually thoughts being referred to as an outdated girl—’trigger quite a lot of instances at school, she kinda looks like one.

Aséna: When I be buddies with my same-age children, I simply really feel like I’m their grandma.

Longoria: The principal factor protecting Aséna from connecting to children her personal age isn’t the stuff she doesn’t know.

Aséna: The issues they discuss is, like, TikTok, malls, video games.

Longoria: It’s that she is aware of an excessive amount of.

(The music modifications tone. The percussion drops out, and a sequence of gradual tones, virtually like trumpets, play as a substitute. The synthesizer is decidedly much less jazzy, extra spacious and empty. The complete of it feels extra severe.)

Aséna: And then the issues I take into consideration, it was genocide, it was Uyghurs, it was worldwide insurance policies. All these, you understand, like, annoying grownup info.

Longoria: Aséna is aware of these “annoying adult facts” as a result of she’s Uyghur. She grew up in Urumqi, part of Xinjiang, China, the place over 12 million Muslims like her are actually below excessive surveillance. Human-rights teams estimate that over one million have been detained in focus camps over the previous few years. And the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands have formally referred to as it a genocide.

(The music echoes and reverberates, then fades out.)

Longoria: Aséna and her household had been capable of escape 4 years in the past.

Aséna: The complete factor simply made me develop up so quick that I needed to suppose quite a lot of issues that, in my age, like, it doesn’t belong to my age.

(Airy, low woodwinds play by means of the crackle of gramophone static, looping quietly.)

Longoria: For years, I’ve been listening to tales in regards to the Uyghurs in China, the ethnic minority group that’s been persecuted by the Chinese authorities. But only a few Uyghurs have been capable of depart China in the previous couple of years, so it’s uncommon that we hear what is going on there firsthand, a lot much less in English.

Aséna: It’s just about unattainable to flee. I—I really feel like I’m the one one who’s, like, the latest right here.

Longoria: So this week, the story of 1 younger Uyghur: how she turned outdated earlier than her time out of the country, and the way she is now attempting to make her approach right here, the place nobody her age appears to know the issues that she does.

(The music performs up, surrounding, enveloping.)

Longoria: I’m Julia Longoria. This is The Experiment, a present about our unfinished nation.

(Just because the background noise turns into overwhelming, it cuts out.)

Aséna: My title, Aséna, is a Turkish title. It’s a reasonably frequent title in Turkey, in keeping with my dad. It’s additionally a reputation of, like, a feminine wolf who’s, like, a mom of the entire Turkish individuals. So, on the time when he named me, he needed me to do not forget that we’re from Turkey.

Longoria: Aséna grew up amongst many Uyghurs in part of China—Xinjiang—that was once Turkish.

Aséna: We referred to as Xinjiang “East Turkistan” right here, simply because it’s what it named earlier than.

Longoria: But rising up in China, she didn’t know a lot about her personal individuals.

Aséna: The historical past we discovered is the Chinese historical past—their dynasties—I nonetheless like it ’til nowadays. I nonetheless watch motion pictures about it; I nonetheless learn books about it. It’s so lovely. But they’ve by no means taught us about our personal tradition.

Longoria: In her classroom, in Urumqi—the capital of Xinjiang—the place many of the children had been Uyghur, the one Uyghur historical past they obtained was a couple of paragraphs lengthy.

Aséna: My Chinese textbook from first grade had, like, couple articles introducing Uyghurs. Basically what they launched is: Our area is a reasonably good area to develop fruits. We have quite a lot of good fruits and veggies. [Chuckles lightly.]

And the individuals there’s pleasant, optimistic. Every single particular person [Chuckles.] is aware of sing and dance. Little fairies, you understand—like, a land of fruits and veggies!

That—that’s what they imagined.

And I used to be like, They don’t know something about Uyghurs. We’re not like that. My dad doesn’t know dance. [Both laugh gently.] We don’t—we don’t dance round a fireplace. It’s like, we did, however, like, it’s a pair a long time in the past.

The understanding is just not deep, and I’m fairly certain they don’t need it to be deep.

Longoria: Growing up surrounded by Uyghurs, this by no means actually bothered Aséna very a lot. It was solely when she left Urumqi.

Aséna: When you go to locations that there’s solely Han Chinese people who reside, they actually simply see you want a foreigner.

Longoria: She remembers one journey her household took to Beijing.

Aséna: We took a practice, and it was, like, a reasonably joyful second, ’trigger I can eat no matter snack I need.

(Softly, a percussive melody performs beneath the dialogue.)

Longoria: What did you eat?

Aséna: Oh! Oh my god. I ate quite a lot of trash meals. [Both laugh.] Instant noodles. I ate all these, like, spicy little snacks. [Both laugh.] It’s been, like, a trash-food three days for me.

Longoria: Like a bender. (Laughs.)

Aséna: Yeah. Yeah! They principally don’t have any Halal meals in practice. That’s why my mother simply introduced me quite a lot of snacks.

Longoria: Because your mother usually needs you to have Halal meals?

Aséna: Yeah, for certain. We’re Muslims. We should eat Halal meals!

And then a reasonably, actually, very nice Chinese lady compliments me. [Laughs.] She’s like, “You’re so pretty!” That’s why I believed she’s good. And then she informed us that she didn’t even know the distinction between, like, ethnic minorities in China. And the media taught them that the Uyghurs or different ethnic minorities is principally, like, I dunno say that phrase, however [Searching.] “brutal”? Yes, actually brutal, non secular, excessive individuals. But we appears good.

(A pause.)

Aséna: Lots of Chinese individuals had by no means traveled to Xinjiang, and so they simply imagine the medias and the data that they obtained from fairly outdated textbooks. They simply describe us as, like, fruit-eating, dancing, singing, optimistic, brutal, non secular, ethnic minority that, you understand, like, dance round a fireplace. [Laughs.] That—that was their stereotype. And she informed me that—fairly sincere.

I wasn’t stunned. We simply snort. We don’t do the rest. It’s simply—simply insecurity. Just makes you’re feeling such as you don’t belong to this nation. They actually, like, introducing you want an alien or one thing. (Laughs, however every subsequent snort bears a rising nervousness, as if it’s amusing of discomfort and never humor.)

(A beat.)

Aséna: We obtained used to it, to be sincere. You obtained used to all these small discriminations, all these small stereotypes, all these small issues—we obtained used to it.

At least I believed it was fairly regular again then. It—it hurts, nevertheless it’s like somewhat bit. It’s not a lot.

But the issues they did afterwards was terrifying, and it’s principally a genocide.

(The music turns into extra advanced, including in a swarm of strings whirring about.)

Longoria: The first huge turning level for Uyghurs who had lived peacefully in China got here when Aséna was simply 8 years outdated.

Aséna: I used to be too little to know what occurred at the moment.

Longoria: In June 2009, in a manufacturing unit in jap China, rumors flew round that Uyghur staff had raped two Han Chinese staff. As a results of these baseless rumors, Han staff lynched a number of Uyghur co-workers. This sparked protests in Urumqi, Aséna’s hometown. The protests had been peaceable, however quickly turned violent after police suppressed them.

Aséna: My mother and my grandma, they had been going to a marriage on the actual day of July 5. And they left me and my sister to our, like, fairly shut neighbor. So we had been on the skin of our neighborhood and shopping for groceries in a—like, a small retailer on the roadside. But then, all of the sudden, a younger man from that retailer, he was, like, outdoors, and he simply bumped into the shop and he was like, “Something bad happened over there.” That’s what he stated. And then I noticed it too. People actually screaming with sticks and stuff. They had been like hitting one another. You can see it from actually far. [A nervous chuckle.] It was actually, actually terrifying. It was like screamings and stuff. It was like a conflict—small conflict taking place over there.

Longoria: At least 197 individuals had been left lifeless from the violence.

Aséna: Couple hours later, I assume, my mother and my grandma got here again. They noticed the entire thing. They regarded terrified, and so they got here again to our home and sit down and drink water and so they simply can’t converse for, like, a very long time. And I used to be small, however I can really feel, like, you understand—it’s a reasonably dangerous state of affairs.

Longoria: The violence made worldwide information and heralded a brand new period within the Chinese relationship to the Uyghur individuals. From then on, the federal government would watch them intently.

Longoria: Did you perceive what was taking place was since you had been Uyghur—as a result of it was about your identification?

Aséna: Yes.

Longoria: How do you know that?

Aséna: It was so apparent. [Laughs.] We knew simply from our nature. It was simply one thing that’s in your blood and your bones, and you understand that they don’t such as you and so they discriminate you.

Longoria: Yeah. What—what do you imply that you understand it in your bones? Like, what’s that feeling?

(The whirring music has pale out slowly. Now, a plunking sound, like drops of water, sounds off solemnly within the background.)

Aséna: Mmm. [A pause.] It’s principally like you’re a drop of oil, however you might be in a cup of water. [Laughs.] You are, like, each liquids—each people—however you may simply by no means really get into them. You can’t simply put your self into that water.

Longoria: After the violence of 2009, Aséna’s childhood was comparatively peaceable. But within the background, clashes between Uyghurs and the federal government continued. And pressure saved rising, principally in refined ways in which Aséna by no means seen—till 2017.

Aséna: The first signal of the issues getting dangerous was they began to construct brand-new, small police stations—like, a small field—in each 100 meters of our metropolis.

It’s bizarre. I used to stroll to highschool. It actually takes me, like, 10 minutes to go stroll to my faculty. And in each quiet mornings that I walked on my own, I noticed tanks with, like, 5, six troopers standing on a tank and me once I walked previous them. I knew issues are actually, actually, actually dangerous.

Longoria: What had been individuals saying about this variation?

Aséna: Let me inform you one thing. Um, you understand the cable in the home?

Longoria: Mhm.

Aséna: They put in so many cameras. They did fingerprint checkers and all these items in each single a part of our lives that quite a lot of Uyghurs begin to imagine that the cables have, like, chips or one thing that may report what we’re saying. So my dad and my mother, they didn’t imagine it, however they nonetheless didn’t discuss politics at residence.

You can inform how terrified we’re. We couldn’t do something. We couldn’t even discuss it. We had been simply, like, compelled to get used to it. And nobody may really, like, stood up and say, “Hey, what you guys doing? We’re not prisoners.” But, like, nobody. Not even the courageous ones, not even the intellectuals—as a result of they had been all in camps.

Longoria: By 2017, Uyghurs had began to vanish, one after the other. The Chinese authorities had taken them away to camps.

Aséna: Yeah. They first focused the non secular individuals and quite a lot of my dad’s non secular buddies obtained in there. If you look actually non secular, if you happen to look actually Uyghur—and particularly while you had been a male—they are going to undoubtedly suppose you might be suspicious.

Longoria: Suspicious? What is the suspicion? What are they suspecting?

Aséna: The suspecting is that you’re a non secular particular person and you are attempting to divide the nation. They began to place individuals inside these camps within the title of “studying.”

Longoria: The authorities referred to as the camps “study centers.” And the official phrase from Beijing was that individuals had been going there voluntarily, for reeducation.

Aséna: They stated, “We are teaching them.” They stated, “They have to learn Chinese language. They have to learn all the skills.” And then they’re gonna, like, put them again into society after they completed studying. That’s what they stated—at first.

Longoria: But because the months handed, individuals didn’t appear to be coming again. More and extra individuals had been carted away to camp.

Aséna: Intellectuals—my dad’s buddies—they begin to disappear.

Longoria: It’s estimated that greater than 1 million Uyghurs have been put in these camps. Human-rights teams and several other governments say that, at these camps, the Chinese authorities is forcibly sterilizing Uyghur girls.

Aséna: I bear in mind as soon as, once I was in my classroom—we had cameras in school rooms, each single school rooms—certainly one of my classmates began crying . He stated his dad was in camps. At that point, not less than one relative, one pal from every household was in camps.

So the entire classroom simply begin to start crying. And then my biology trainer—he stepped into classroom, he checked out us, after which he grabbed the blackboard wipe, and he lined the digital camera on the again door of our classroom.

He knew that the issues he’s going to speak about goes to make him in an enormous bother.

Longoria: What did he say?

Aséna: So he stated, “Don’t cry. I know that the situation is bad, but you can’t let them see our tears.” He stated, “You young people, you teenagers are the hope for Uyghurs. You guys can’t be freaked out. You guys have to stand up and be brave.” That’s what he stated. And then, couple weeks later, he disappeared from faculty. And then we obtained the knowledge that he’s in a jail—like, within the camp.

Longoria: In a research camp.

Aséna: In the research camp. That’s my final time seeing him.

(A beat.)

Longoria: Watching their buddies being taken to camp, Aséna and her household had been terrified. And Aséna regarded to her dad for solutions about what was occurring.

Aséna: My father is a poet and a author and a movie director—and my idol.

Longoria: Aséna’s father, Tahir Hamut Izgil, is a well-known Uyghur poet—and an activist. He’d been politically lively for many of his life. He helped manage starvation strikes and marches through the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. And in 1996, after he utilized to check overseas in Turkey, he was tortured after which imprisoned on prices of exposing state secrets and techniques. He spent three years in a forced-labor camp, the place situations had been harsh and he misplaced 100 kilos. After that, he began over, constructing a profession as a filmmaker and a poet in Xinjiang.

Aséna: So he’s, like, my idol. He’s—he’s actually skilled, and it’s one thing I actually respect.

Longoria: What is your favourite poem of your dad’s? Do you may have a favourite one?

Aséna: I used to have one.

Longoria: Oh yeah? What was it?

Aséna: So I don’t understand how did they translate it to English in precisely, like, uh, the phrases, nevertheless it’s referred to as “Men ölgende.” If I translate it right here, it’s like “When I Die.”

Longoria: Hmm. Do you bear in mind it in—in Uyghur?

Aséna: Yes. Um …

[Aséna begins to recite the poem in Uyghur. The translation follows in parenthesis.]

Men ölgende (“When I Die”)

Men ölgende, bayriqingni chüshürme yérim, manga mensup tenha yoqilish. (“When I die, don’t fly your flag half-mast, it’s my destiny to disappear alone.”)

[Aséna pauses.]

… I forgot.

Longoria: Hmm. What does—what does that imply?

Aséna: It’s principally like, uh, he was saying, “When I die, don’t be sad and don’t lower your flags.” It’s principally like, uh, “I deserve a lonely death.” (Laughs.)

Longoria: (Laughs, possibly somewhat uncomfortably.) Oh goodness!

Aséna: I used to love it.

Longoria: What do you want about it?

Aséna: It’s simply so lonely. You can really feel the emotion. And I can inform my dad was lonely at the moment. And I do know it was, like, the toughest moments of his life, so I can really feel the feelings.

Longoria: Aséna’s dad noticed what was taking place in Xinjiang and believed it wouldn’t be lengthy earlier than he, too, can be despatched to the camps.

Aséna: He is aware of every thing. He was so sensible that he already smelled that the hazard’s coming.

Longoria: So he began searching for methods to get his household overseas—which proved very troublesome. When he lastly obtained a passport, they couldn’t get a visa. And once they obtained the visa …

Aséna: They took our passports away. So he didn’t sleep for an entire evening. And he searched on-line that “Which kind of illness that Chinese people will go treat in the United States.” It’s epilepsy. So my dad stated, “I have epilepsy,” and he needed to got here to the United States to do it.

Longoria: They even obtained three medical professionals to assist make the epilepsy look legit.

Aséna: You know, in China, um, you may principally do every thing with cash. [Laughs.] If you may have cash, you are able to do something. You can faux something.

Longoria: And then they needed to wait.

Aséna: So, like, couple final months from our escape to the United States, my dad, he’s principally like a ghost. He was simply, like, consuming, and he simply goes out to stroll ’spherical and even run. He by no means exercised, however he simply can’t relieve the emotion in his coronary heart. It was—it was determined. It simply makes us so drained. When you might be in that state of affairs, you don’t even wish to suppose anymore.

Longoria: Did you see him as your hero throughout this time—throughout that form of determined time?

Aséna: I believed I used to be—I used to be his hero. [Laughs, with sharp intakes of breath.] I attempted my greatest to make him really feel higher. I used to be actually afraid that his psychological well being—You know, on this state of affairs, there’s no hero. It feels just like the dying is coming nearer and nearer to him daily, as a result of each person who obtained into camps round him is said to him, and he is aware of that he can’t escape. I didn’t suppose, you understand, he’s not courageous. I didn’t suppose he’s not sturdy. I simply—I really feel unhappy for him. And I attempted my greatest to make him really feel higher.

Longoria: During this time, all of the household may do was wait.

Aséna: At that point, I hated the place. My stroll within the streets, I hated. And I simply can’t wait to flee. That was my thought. I regarded on the troopers, and I have a look at the road, and I have a look at the entire metropolis that raised me, and I hated town. And I—I used to be simply—I simply felt unhappy for them as a result of I do know the state of affairs goes to worsen.

Longoria: Then, after months and months of attempting to get overseas, Aséna and her dad and mom and her little sister made it to the airport.

(Busy background noise, then a beep—of the safety factors within the airport, possibly—alerts a dreamy, mild glockenspiel track, a lullaby.)

Aséna: When we, like, move by means of the safety factors within the airport—and this complete course of, you understand, like, going from my home to the airport—it’s like spy motion pictures you may have. [Longoria laughs.]

I felt excited, to be sincere. My dad and mom had been, like, freaked out. They’re afraid. But I used to be, like, excited, as a result of I like airplanes. [Chuckles.] I used to be like, “Yeah! 16 hours of airplane!” [Longoria laughs again.]

But then, after a pair hours of pleasure, um, there’s, like, an empty feeling in all of our hearts, I assume. It simply feels such as you escaped from your individual—personal homeland. You lived there—particularly for my dad and mom, they lived there for, like, 40, 45 years. And they’re, like, going to a brand new—brand-new nation that they solely noticed in motion pictures earlier than, you understand?

(The music quiets.)

Aséna: So it simply—you don’t know what to do. It’s simply—it’s unknown. The future’s unknown. And it was a sophisticated feeling. We simply sat there, like, quietly, for, like, hours desirous about our personal future. Except my sister! She was sleeping. (Both snort.)

(As the aircraft within the story begins to land, the music picks again up, whirling and twisting like butterflies in Aséna’s abdomen, distorted and bizarre.)

Aséna: It was all these unknown, nervous, panic emotions. And then, once I stepped out of the aircraft, and I see all these individuals, it’s simply disappeared [A beat.] at one single second.

(The whirlwind of noise cuts out all of the sudden, making approach for a twittering chook, the sounds of the commotion of our bodies. After a second, an eruption: animals and wind and visitors, individuals speaking and the motion of ft, a melody weaving by means of all of it, monumental and completely overwhelming.)

Aséna: It was like I’m in a backyard. I nonetheless dream about it typically, in my desires.

Longoria: Really?

Aséna: Yeah!

Longoria: What does it—what do you dream about?

Aséna: Like, once I see, like, a bunch of Americans. They’re so colourful. All the ethnicities you’ll find on the planet. [Laughs.] All the colours of hairs, skins, all of the heights, all of the weights. All the genders, colours, all of the bizarre clothings. [Both laugh.] Difference, it’s simply make it so lovely.

It looks like I’m in a backyard with all the colours of flowers. [Laughs.] When I see all these individuals, I really feel like, Hey, you see all these coloured individuals right here. They regarded like they’re fantastic; they’re dwelling right here. And they’re fantastic all collectively. So I assume I’m going to be slot in right here too.

(The cacophony of life—of Aséna’s dream—performs for a second. A lullaby lilts its approach by means of the animals. The sound is so full that it feels as if it’d burst. After a protracted second, the sounds quiet, leaving solely the melody of the lullaby.)

Aséna: Oh, my brother is crying. Can you hear him or no?

Longoria: Oh, somewhat bit. Yeah. Is he doing okay?

Aséna: Okay. I ought to—I ought to change my location. [A beat.] Oop! (The blip of the recording ending.)

Longoria: Aséna begins a brand new life, after the break.

(The break.)

(As the break ends, the melody of the lullaby reprises for a second. Then, the blip.)

Aséna: Hold on. Okay, I’m again. Hello?

Longoria: I’m Julia Longoria. This is The Experiment, and we’re again with the story of Aséna Tahir Izgil.

Aséna: Hello?

Longoria: Hi! We misplaced you. (Chuckles.)

Aséna: (Laughing.) Yeah, I modified my location. Just the way in which my brother’s—

Longoria: Is every thing okay?

Aséna: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was simply crying downstairs.

Longoria: Back in 2017, Aséna’s father’s plan to flee lastly labored. She, her dad and mom, and her sister lastly boarded a aircraft to the United States.

Aséna:  And I obtained right here, stepped out of the airplane, and I noticed the Starbucks. [Longoria chuckles.]

The Starbucks regarded wonderful. It smells wonderful. It smells so costly. [Both laugh.] It smells fancy. [Longoria bursts out.] So I went in there, and I purchased a cup of espresso. It’s, like, a random strange espresso, nothing fancy. And I drink it. I don’t like espresso. I don’t like espresso ’til now! But that espresso tastes so good. It tastes, like, upper-class. [Both laugh.]

I really feel like I’m wealthy now, you understand? I really feel like I can return to my class and inform them that I had this Starbucks, and so they have to be jealous. That was my first thought. I used to be joyful—excited for a pair minutes—desirous about, you understand, like, the pictures of going again and inform them I drink Starbucks.

And then, , I noticed it’s unattainable. And then I noticed, I had the Starbucks, and I may need it like each single day of my life for subsequent years, however they will’t.

So, I simply—I—I used to be not joyful anymore. Every time, the texture of guiltiness is that while you attempt one thing new and while you eat one thing good, the one factor is, after, like, brief phrases of happiness, the factor left in your thoughts is, They ought to do that too.

(A single violin performs as if in an echoey chamber, lonely.)

Aséna: Like, why—why am I the one who’s having fun with it? What—what did I do? I don’t deserve this, you understand? I ought to stick with my—my individuals. I ought to stick with my relations and I ought to stick with my classmates. And I don’t deserve this lovely life right here.

(Clanging, twisting, virtually industrial bells chime in.)

Longoria: But slowly Aséna tried to regulate to life within the United States. She was the one one in her household who knew English, so she needed to act as their translator, serving to them discover a new condominium, discover the most affordable groceries—stuff usually adults would do—all whereas she tried to regulate to American highschool.

(The music performs out.)

Aséna: I didn’t like the children in my faculty. I believed they’re immature. I even blamed them for not understanding what’s taking place in my homeland. I in contrast them to my classmates who should see their dad and mom in camps or in jails.

So I simply form of hate them too. I—I hate them being, like, so ignorant, not understanding what’s occurring. Like, issues are actually dangerous in—in corners of the world, however you guys right here simply, like, doesn’t know something and having a extremely, actually good life that we are able to’t think about.

Longoria: It’s like not understanding right here is, like, this luxurious. It’s, like, being spoiled to not find out about these items taking place.

Aséna: Yeah. When the children in my classroom talks dangerous issues in regards to the authorities—the American society—I really feel actually indignant. No, I used to be not born right here, however I like this nation greater than anybody that’s within the classroom. They by no means understand how fortunate they’re, and so they by no means understand how issues can get actually dangerous in different nations, however right here they’re protected. They even have the liberty, you understand, to speak dangerous issues in regards to the authorities and stuff we are able to’t even discuss in our personal—personal home. They can do it in school rooms, and so they can debate about it. I felt like they don’t know admire the nation.

But now I understand it’s a very good factor.

Longoria: What do you imply?

Aséna: For the individuals to have ideas, to have debates, to suppose in reverse views and never solely simply praise the federal government and praise society—particularly for younger individuals, I assume it’s a very good factor. I imply, I could be the lover, you understand? [Laughs.]

I could be the one who compliments each aspect and they are often the one, then, who can see the dangerous sides. And we are able to work collectively and make this place a greater nation.

But I nonetheless suppose they need to admire it, you understand? They ought to not less than admire huge soccer fields and the basketball fields. It’s costly.

And the entire, like, American life looks like a dream for us. It was so unreal. I noticed that, after escaping right here, each single one within the household felt some sense of guiltiness.

Longoria: Is there one other life you think about for your self that might take away the guilt? Like, what do you want you might do?

Aséna: At the time, to be sincere—it’s a reasonably darkish thought—however I needed I may die.

Die in, like, a approach that everyone is aware of what’s occurring in Xinjiang.

I simply needed to rescue my individuals.

Longoria: Like, you wished you might die and form of save all of them from … ?

Aséna: Yes.

Longoria: … That ache?

Aséna: If I am going again and died in a approach that it’s useful for my individuals, I felt like this guiltiness will go away. (A breath.) That was my thought.

Longoria: Have your ideas modified?

Aséna: Yes.

Aséna: One day, in February 2019, once I obtained again from faculty, sitting on a sofa, and my mother stated to me that she’s pregnant. I used to be, like, 18. And I’m 18, I’m going to have a child brother. [Both laugh.] And I used to be shocked. [Both laugh even more.] I used to be, like—I used to be shocked! [Longoria keeps laughing.]

I’ve been by means of a lot with my dad and mom, you understand? I’d survived, like, a genocide. So I used to be, like, sitting on the sofa for, like, actually hours, like, pondering by means of in my thoughts.

Longoria: (Chuckling.) What did you say to your mother?

Aséna: I stated, “No.” [Longoria cracks up.] I stated, “Definitely no. No.”

But she clearly didn’t take heed to me. And she was mad at me; I used to be mad at her. I used to be mad at her that she’s not accountable to herself and he or she tried to provide delivery in such an outdated age. I need my mother. I don’t desire a new brother. That was my thought. And she was mad at me that I used to be so cold-blood that I didn’t desire a child.

So we had a few days of chilly conflict. [Longoria laughs.] But then I needed to go take an appointment for a health care provider to go to ultrasound. I hand over.

So I apologize, after pondering by means of it a few days. You know, it’s her alternative. I can’t—I can’t change her resolution. So I noticed that we undoubtedly want one thing that we are able to handle and, you understand, like, distract us from the feelings.

So I believed my brother was a sensible choice, and it ended up I used to be proper. No one can consider something [Laughs.] besides, like, taking good care of child once they’re taking good care of child. It’s so distracting. [Longoria laughs.]

But once I take my child brother to, like, playgrounds and stuff, all people have a look at me, and I’m fairly certain they suppose I’m a teen mother. And I’ll settle for it, you understand? [Longoria laughs.]

I can’t die now! I’ve a child. [They both laugh.]

I’m a teen mother. I’ve to handle my child. [Longoria cracks up.]

He principally saved us from our dangerous mental-health state of affairs, as a result of you may’t die, you understand, with a child. It’s—it’s—it’s not good! You should reside for them.

So you stated, if my ideas have modified. I’ll say now, like, it modified. I don’t wish to go do a pointless dying. I wish to unfold the story. I wish to achieve success, as my biology trainer stated. It may not useful if I used to be again in China, however now I’m right here, and I hope—I hope it really works. [Both laugh gently.]

I hope I can do the issues that my biology trainer stated, you understand?

Longoria: Be the—the hope of the Uyghur individuals?

Aséna: Yeah, yeah. Be the hope of the Uyghur individuals [Both laugh.] by instructing my brother stuff [Both laugh harder.], at all times remembering the accountability, and [Sighing.] at all times maintain this responsible feeling.

Longoria: Always maintain it?

Aséna: Yeah, at all times maintain it. I don’t wanna—I don’t wanna neglect it. It’s painful, however I feel I’ve to maintain it. Mmm.

I wish to—I wish to really feel guilt. I wanna—I wanna assist my individuals. I wish to at all times bear in mind this. But I additionally wish to take pleasure in my very own life, you understand?

(A brand new lullaby—this one heavier, taking part in in a void however resonating so it feels much less lonely, extra cocoonlike—begins. After a protracted second, as Longoria begins to talk, it fades out.)

Longoria: (Speaking softly and significantly.) Hmm. It’s so attention-grabbing, like, simply listening [Longoria sighs.]—it’s simply actually highly effective, and I really feel actually grateful that you simply’re sharing a lot with me.

And my dad and mom had been really born in Cuba. Um, they got here from Communist authorities there. And studying your dad’s work and listening to you discuss, it really jogs my memory quite a lot of tales my household’s informed, you understand? About the expertise of being below a Communist authorities: the worry, the distrust, these neighborhood committees that might “check up” on one another.

My grandfather at all times talked about how he wished he had stayed, how he wished he may have made the nation higher as a substitute of, like, coming to this nation. It’s like this nation form of had it found out in his thoughts, you understand? (Laughs calmly.)

Aséna: Yeah.

Longoria: America had it found out. And so, you understand, he wished that he had been courageous sufficient to do one thing in Cuba, you understand? And it’s so attention-grabbing, ’trigger, you understand, I dunno—I assume, like, you probably have a daughter, that might be my technology, you had been really the identical age that my dad was when he got here. And I’m American now, so that you regulate to a brand new nation. You let go of the guilt. You simply look ahead. ’Cause I assume that’s all you are able to do.

I don’t actually have some extent, however [Both laugh lightly.] that was my—that was—that’s what I’ve been desirous about. [Inhaling sharply.] Um …

Aséna: Yeah.

Longoria: Do you may have hopes for, like, your—I don’t know—you probably have [Laughs.] a daughter, what you’d need, as she lives on this nation?

Aséna: My brother—when my brother born …

Longoria: Hmm.

Aséna: We have, like, a particular occasion. So, principally what they do is, like, they put him in a bath after which, like, little children come over. Then they pour, like, one spoon of water on him after which saying good needs. My dad and mom invited, like, 5, six children round—like, Uyghur children, you understand? [Chuckles.]

And then they poured the water, and so they inform him to be wealthy, to be a scientist. [Both laugh.] They stated every kind of profitable lives—to be a health care provider—every kind of stuff. And then, when it’s my flip, I—I seize a spoon of water, and I pour it on him, and I stated, “I hope you become a free person.”

(A beat.)

Aséna: That was my thought. I simply need him to have, like, a freedom. My dad struggled virtually his complete life, searching for freedom. And he lastly obtained it, and he’s, like, 50s. And I hope my brother, he could be free ceaselessly. But I do know it’s laborious for him to flee this identification as Uyghur.

I give it some thought on a regular basis, that if it’s truthful, like—truthful to, you understand, like, let him get all these reminiscences and provides him this, like, this, um, laborious accountability. Like, give him this identification—the entire Uyghur identification. I don’t know if it’s truthful for him, however—

Longoria: (Softly.) What do you imply?

Aséna: Like, um, I dunno. I simply need him to have the selection. I simply need him to have the selection—to decide on if he needs to be Uyghur. Choose if he needs to, you understand, get all these genocide, all these dangerous issues from—from our reminiscences.

Longoria: You wish to give them the posh of not understanding?

Aséna: Yeah. But, like I discussed, it’s in our bones and bloods. You can’t escape it. Then I noticed he has to—he must be a Uyghur. His title is Tarim. My dad gave him this title. And Tarim is, like, a mom river of our homeland.

Longoria: Is a what?

Aséna: Is like a mom river? So principally it’s, like, the river that raised us. That’s what Uyghurs say.

Longoria: “The river that raised us”?

Aséna: Yeah. It’s an enormous river, you understand, in Xinjiang, and, principally, Uyghurs lived in Xinjiang due to that river, I assume. All the civilization began with the water. (Laughs quietly.)

Longoria: Hm, yeah.

Aséna: So, yeah, his title is Tarim. And my dad and my mother, they don’t need him to neglect he’s Uyghur.

And they’ve hopes for him, not—to not less than not neglect the place he’s from.

I really feel like he’s going to battle quite a bit in future, and I’ve to assist him. [Both laugh.]

He’s going to be like, “What the hell is Uyghur?” And I’m gonna clarify to him. And he’s like, “Okay, what does it look like?” [Longoria starts to laugh.] I’ve to inform him that we dance, we sing, you understand, across the fireplace. [Longoria laughs even more, a laugh that sounds like a release.] We have veggies and fruits! [Both crack up laughing.]

Yeah. I’ve to purchase that textbook from eBay or one thing, in the event that they promote it right here. You know, I’ve to point out him, like, that is Uyghurs!

(Light music, funky and ethereal, performs clearly for a second, then descends right into a fog and fades out.)

Aséna: Okay. Uh, my dad is out right here. I assume our time’s up. Do you wish to discuss to him, although? He can say hello.

Longoria: Yeah! I might like to say hello.

Aséna: Okay. Baba! [Speaks to her father, Tahir, in Uyghur. Translations are provided in parentheses.]

Dada, kéling, mawu mukhbirning siz bilen körüshküsi barken. (Dad, could you come over here? This reporter wants to talk with you.”)

[In English, to Longoria.] My dad loves interviewers.

[The sounds of shuffling and creaking as Tahir settles in. Then, in Uyghur, Aséna speaks to her father.] Mana. (“Here.”)

[In English, to Longoria.] Okay, you may say hey, Julia.

Tahir Hamut Izgil: Hello, that is Tahir!

Longoria: Hi! Hi, Tahir! This is Julia Longoria from The Atlantic. Thank you a lot, um, for—

Tahir: Hi, Julia!

Longoria: Yeah, it’s so good to satisfy you!

Tahir: Nice to satisfy you too.

Longoria: Well, your daughter is basically unimaginable. She’s been telling me all about her expertise, and he or she’s—I do know you understand she’s clever past her years. It’s been such a privilege to speak to her. So, um, you raised a reasonably unimaginable particular person.

(Aséna interprets for her father.)

Aséna: (In Uyghur.) Méni bek yaxshiken deydu. (“She’s saying nice things about me.”) (Both chuckle.)

(Aséna turns again to Longoria.)

Aséna: I translate for him that “I’m the best! I’m the best!”! (Both Aséna and Longoria snort.)

Longoria: Um, would you ask him if he may bear in mind any of that poem? Maybe you might begin it off for him, and possibly it’ll jog his reminiscence?

Aséna: Yeah!

(Aséna interprets the request for her father.)

Aséna: (In Uyghur.) Dada, birer shé’ir ésingizde barmu? Shé’irdin birini dep béring, bizning mawu némige salidighan’gha. (“Hey, Dad, is there a poem you know by heart? Could you recite a poem for us, to put in?”)

Tahir: (In Uyghur.) “Aséna” dégen shé’ir? (“How about my poem ‘Aséna’?”)

Aséna: (Over the sounds of a automotive beeping and signaling.) Oh, sure! He wrote a poem with my title. It’s referred to as “Aséna.”

Longoria: Oh yeah?

Aséna: Yeah.

Longoria: Would he … ?

Aséna: I forgot about that poem. Totally.

Longoria: (Laughs.) Would he—would he recite it?

(Aséna as soon as once more interprets the request.)

Aséna: Ésingizde barmu u shé’ir? (“Do you know that poem by memory?”)

Tahir: Tordila bar u shé’ir. (“That poem’s available on the internet.”)

Aséna: Yadlap bérelemsiz? Siz oqup bersingiz podcastning akhirida chiqidiken.  (“Could you recite it from memory? If you recite it, it’ll be included at the end of the podcast.”)

Tahir: ​​Men hazir oqup bersemmu? (“Recite it right now?”)

Aséna: He’e. (“Yes.”)

Tahir: U shé’ir hazir yénimda yoq. (“I don’t have that poem with me at the moment.”)

(The two end speaking.)

Aséna: Okay, so we’re gonna—my dad stated it’s completely fantastic for him to recite it, So later right now we’re going to do it.

Longoria: We’ll do it later? Okay. Great. All proper, nicely, take pleasure in your trip. Thank you a lot!

Aséna: Thank you!

Longoria: We’ll discuss later. Bye. Bye.

Aséna: Bye. (The blip because the recording ends.)

(Over a lilting piano melody, Tahir reads the Uyghur poem he named after his daughter, “Aséna.” Each stanza that begins with “She” could be heard like a pause within the Uyghur.)



A bit of my flesh

torn away.

A bit of my bone

damaged off.

A bit of my soul


A bit of my thought

let out.

In her skinny arms

the traces of time develop lengthy.

In her black eyes

float the truths of stone tablets.

Round her slender neck

a dusky hair lies knotted.

On her darkish pores and skin

the map of fruit is drawn.


is a raindrop on my cheek, translucent

as the longer term I can’t see.


is a knot that needn’t be untied

just like the components my blood traced from the sky,

an omen trickling from historical past.


kisses the stone on my grave

that holds down my corpse

and entrusts me to it.


is a luckless spell

who made me a creator

and carried on my creation.

She is my daughter.

(The poem ends. The piano continues to play after Tahir reads the final line. It continues even because the credit start.)

Tracie Hunte: This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, with assist from Gabrielle Berbey and enhancing by Katherine Wells and Emily Botein.

Fact-check by Yvonne Rolzhausen. Sound design by David Herman, with further engineering by Joe Plourde. Translations by Joshua L. Freeman. Music by Tasty Morsels.

Our crew additionally consists of Natalia Ramirez and me, Tracie Hunte.

You can learn work by Aséna’s father, the poet Tahir Hamut Izgil, titled “One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps” and extra on the Uyghurs in China on our web site, ​​www.theatlantic.com/experiment.

If you’re having fun with this podcast, please unfold the phrase: Rate and overview us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you pay attention.

The Experiment is a co-production of The Atlantic and WNYC Studios. Thank you for listening.

(Slowly, however with a certainty, the piano’s quiet melody involves a halt.)

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