Teenage Life After Genocide – The Atlantic

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At 19 years outdated, Aséna Tahir Izgil feels smart past her years.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 along 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 company embrace Aséna Tahir Izgil and her father, Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur poet and writer.

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 modifying 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 introduced beneath:

(A heavy, low, roiling sound ever so slowly crescendos, up and up, and ends when a quick 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 may be 5 individuals in my household.

Ramirez: Okay, cool. And, um …

Aséna: This is, like, the essential query I realized after I realized 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 keep 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 completed! So I nonetheless adore it to at the present time. (Both snort.)

Ramirez: Okay, good! Now you’ll be able to cease recording.

(The blip from earlier than sounds once more.)

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

Longoria: You can go forward and click on Record.

(The blip.)

Aséna: Okay!

Um, hi there! My identify is Aséna.

Longoria: I first requested Aséna Tahir Izgil, 19 years outdated, concerning the issues she didn’t know when she first received 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 already know? It’s like an artwork gallery or one thing. [Both laugh.] Only factor that I realized from my British English that I realized from my trainer in a 12 months was restroom.

Longoria: There have 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 lady 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 woman—’trigger quite a lot of occasions in school, she kinda looks like one.

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

Longoria: The principal factor conserving 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 adjustments tone. The percussion drops out, and a collection of gradual tones, nearly like trumpets, play as a substitute. The synthesizer is decidedly much less jazzy, extra spacious and empty. The complete of it feels extra critical.)

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

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 at the moment are underneath 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 have been in a position to 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 way of the crackle of gramophone static, looping quietly.)

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

Aséna: It’s just about unimaginable 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 grew to become outdated earlier than her time out of the country, and the way she is now attempting to make her method 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 identify, Aséna, is a Turkish identify. It’s a fairly widespread identify 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 realized is the Chinese historical past—their dynasties—I nonetheless adore it ’til today. I nonetheless watch motion pictures about it; I nonetheless learn books about it. It’s so stunning. 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 have been Uyghur, the one Uyghur historical past they received was a number 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 fairly good area to develop fruits. We have quite a lot of good fruits and veggies. [Chuckles lightly.]

And the individuals there may be pleasant, optimistic. Every single individual [Chuckles.] is aware of easy methods to sing and dance. Little fairies, you already know—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 easy methods to 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 many years in the past.

The understanding will not be deep, and I’m fairly positive 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 folks that reside, they actually simply see you want a foreigner.

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

Aséna: We took a prepare, and it was, like, a fairly blissful 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 mainly don’t have any Halal meals in prepare. 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 positive. We’re Muslims. We should eat halal meals!

And then a fairly, 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 mainly, like, I dunno easy methods to say that phrase, however [Searching.] “brutal”? Yes, actually brutal, spiritual, excessive individuals. But we appears good.

(A pause.)

Aséna: A whole lot of Chinese individuals had by no means traveled to Xinjiang, they usually simply consider the medias and the data that they received from fairly outdated textbooks. They simply describe us as, like, fruit-eating, dancing, singing, optimistic, brutal, spiritual, ethnic minority that, you already know, 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 anything. It’s simply—simply insecurity. Just makes you are 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 fun of discomfort and never humor.)

(A beat.)

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

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

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

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

Longoria: The first massive 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 grasp what occurred at the moment.

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

Aséna: My mother and my grandma, they have 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 have been on the skin of our neighborhood and shopping for groceries in a—like, a small retailer on the roadside. But then, out of the blue, a younger man from that retailer, he was, like, exterior, 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 have 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 warfare—small warfare taking place over there.

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

Aséna: Couple hours later, I suppose, my mother and my grandma got here again. They noticed the entire thing. They regarded terrified, they usually got here again to our home and sit down and drink water they usually simply can’t communicate for, like, a very long time. And I used to be small, however I can really feel, like, you already know—it’s a fairly unhealthy 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 carefully.

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

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 already know that they don’t such as you they usually discriminate you.

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

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

Aséna: Mmm. [A pause.] It’s mainly like you’re a drop of oil, however you’re in a cup of water. [Laughs.] You are, like, each liquids—each people—however you’ll be able to simply by no means truly 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, largely in refined ways in which Aséna by no means seen—till 2017.

Aséna: The first signal of the issues getting unhealthy 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 high school. It actually takes me, like, 10 minutes to go stroll to my college. 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 after I walked previous them. I knew issues are actually, actually, actually unhealthy.

Longoria: What have been individuals saying about this alteration?

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

Longoria: Mhm.

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

You can inform how terrified we’re. We couldn’t do something. We couldn’t even discuss it. We have been simply, like, pressured to get used to it. And nobody may truly, 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 have 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 spiritual individuals and quite a lot of my dad’s spiritual associates received in there. If you look actually spiritual, for those who look actually Uyghur—and particularly while you have been a male—they’ll undoubtedly suppose you’re suspicious.

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

Aséna: The suspecting is that you’re a spiritual individual and you are attempting to divide the nation. They began to place individuals inside these camps within the identify of “studying.”

Longoria: The authorities referred to as the camps “study centers.” And the official phrase from Beijing was that individuals have 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 have been carted away to camp.

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

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

Aséna: I keep in mind as soon as, after I was in my classroom—we had cameras in school rooms, each single school rooms—one in every of my classmates began crying . He stated his dad was in camps. At that point, at the very least 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 coated 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 hassle.

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 college. And then we received 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 associates being taken to camp, Aséna and her household have 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 arrange starvation strikes and marches throughout the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. And in 1996, after he utilized to check overseas in Turkey, he was tortured after which imprisoned on expenses of exposing state secrets and techniques. He spent three years in a forced-labor camp, the place situations have 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 will have a favourite one?

Aséna: I used to have one.

Longoria: Oh yeah? What was it?

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

Longoria: Hmm. Do you keep 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 mainly like, uh, he was saying, “When I die, don’t be sad and don’t lower your flags.” It’s mainly like, uh, “I deserve a lonely death.” (Laughs.)

Longoria: (Laughs, perhaps a bit 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, could be despatched to the camps.

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

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

Aséna: They took our passports away. So he didn’t sleep for a complete 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 received three medical professionals to assist make the epilepsy look legit.

Aséna: You know, in China, um, you’ll be able to mainly do the whole lot with cash. [Laughs.] If you will 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 mainly 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’re 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 type 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 finest 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 demise is coming nearer and nearer to him on daily basis, as a result of each individual that received into camps round him is said to him, and he is aware of that he can’t escape. I didn’t suppose, you already know, he’s not courageous. I didn’t suppose he’s not sturdy. I simply—I really feel unhappy for him. And I attempted my finest 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 take a look at the road, and I take 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 mother and father and her little sister made it to the airport.

(Busy background noise, then a beep—of the safety factors within the airport, perhaps—indicators a dreamy, gentle glockenspiel track, a lullaby.)

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

I felt excited, to be sincere. My mother and father have 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 suppose. It simply feels such as you escaped from your personal—personal homeland. You lived there—particularly for my mother and father, 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 already know?

(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 an advanced feeling. We simply sat there, like, quietly, for, like, hours fascinated with 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 peculiar.)

Aséna: It was all these unknown, apprehensive, panic emotions. And then, after 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 out of the blue, making method for a twittering chicken, 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 way of all of it, monumental and fully overwhelming.)

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

Longoria: Really?

Aséna: Yeah!

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

Aséna: Like, after I see, like, a bunch of Americans. They’re so colourful. All the ethnicities you’ll find on this 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 stunning.

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 effective; they’re dwelling right here. And they’re effective all collectively. So I suppose 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 method by way 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, a bit 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 best way my brother’s—

Longoria: Is the whole lot 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 mother and father, and her sister lastly boarded a aircraft to the United States.

Aséna:  And I received 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 already know? I really feel like I can return to my class and inform them that I had this Starbucks, they usually have to be jealous. That was my first thought. I used to be blissful—excited for a pair minutes—fascinated with, you already know, like, the photographs of going again and inform them I drink Starbucks.

And then, , I noticed it’s unimaginable. 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 blissful anymore. Every time, the texture of guiltiness is that while you strive 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 already know? I ought to stick with my—my individuals. I ought to stick with my kinfolk and I ought to stick with my classmates. And I don’t deserve this stunning life right here.

(Clanging, twisting, nearly 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 residence, 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 youngsters in my college. 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 mother and father in camps or in jails.

So I simply type of hate them too. I—I hate them being, like, so ignorant, not understanding what’s occurring. Like, issues are actually unhealthy in—in corners of the world, however you guys right here simply, like, doesn’t know something and having a very, 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 youngsters in my classroom talks unhealthy issues concerning the authorities—the American society—I really feel actually offended. 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 know the way fortunate they’re, they usually by no means know the way issues can get actually unhealthy in different nations, however right here they’re secure. They even have the liberty, you already know, to speak unhealthy issues concerning the authorities and stuff we are able to’t even discuss in our personal—personal home. They can do it in school rooms, they usually can debate about it. I felt like they don’t know easy methods to respect the nation.

But now I understand it’s an excellent 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 suppose it’s an excellent factor. I imply, I will be the lover, you already know? [Laughs.]

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

But I nonetheless suppose they need to respect it, you already know? They ought to at the very least respect massive 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 will take away the guilt? Like, what do you want you may do?

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

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

I simply needed to rescue my individuals.

Longoria: Like, you wished you may die and type of save all of them from … ?

Aséna: Yes.

Longoria: … that ache?

Aséna: If I am going again and died in a method that it’s helpful 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, after I received again from college, 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 way of a lot with my mother and father, you already know? I’d survived, like, a genocide. So I used to be, like, sitting on the sofa for, like, actually hours, like, pondering by way 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 hearken 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 beginning 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 warfare. [Longoria laughs.] But then I needed to go take an appointment for a health care provider to go to ultrasound. I surrender.

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

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

But after I take my child brother to, like, playgrounds and stuff, everyone take a look at me, and I’m fairly positive they suppose I’m a teen mother. And I’ll settle for it, you already know? [Longoria laughs.]

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

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

He mainly saved us from our unhealthy mental-health state of affairs, as a result of you’ll be able to’t die, you already know, 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 demise. 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 already know?

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

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

Longoria: Always maintain it?

Aséna: Yeah, all the time maintain it. I don’t wanna—I don’t wanna neglect it. It’s painful, however I believe 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 all the time keep in mind this. But I additionally wish to get pleasure from my very own life, you already know?

(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 critically.) 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 mother and father have been truly born in Cuba. Um, they got here from Communist authorities there. And studying your dad’s work and listening to you discuss, it truly jogs my memory quite a lot of tales my household’s informed, you already know? About the expertise of being underneath a Communist authorities: the worry, the distrust, these neighborhood committees that will “check up” on one another.

My grandfather all the time 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 type of had it found out in his thoughts, you already know? (Laughs calmly.)

Aséna: Yeah.

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

I don’t actually have a degree, however [Both laugh lightly.] that was my—that was—that’s what I’ve been fascinated with. [Inhaling sharply.] Um …

Aséna: Yeah.

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

Aséna: My brother—when my brother born …

Longoria: Hmm.

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

And then they poured the water, they usually inform him to be wealthy, to be a scientist. [Both laugh.] They stated all types of profitable lives—to be a health care provider—all types 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 nearly his complete life, on the lookout for freedom. And he lastly received it, and he’s, like, 50s. And I hope my brother, he will be free perpetually. But I do know it’s onerous for him to flee this id as Uyghur.

I give it some thought on a regular basis, that if it’s truthful, like—truthful to, you already know, like, let him get all these recollections and provides him this, like, this, um, onerous duty. Like, give him this id—the entire Uyghur id. 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 already know, get all these genocide, all these unhealthy issues from—from our recollections.

Longoria: You wish to give them the luxurious 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 needs to be a Uyghur. His identify is Tarim. My dad gave him this identify. And Tarim is, like, a mom river of our homeland.

Longoria: Is a what?

Aséna: Is like a mom river? So mainly 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 already know, in Xinjiang, and, mainly, Uyghurs lived in Xinjiang due to that river, I suppose. All the civilization began with the water. (Laughs quietly.)

Longoria: Hm, yeah.

Aséna: So, yeah, his identify 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 at the very least not neglect the place he’s from.

I really feel like he’s going to battle lots 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 already know, across the hearth. [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 suppose 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’ll be able to say hi there, 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 fulfill you!

Tahir: Nice to fulfill you too.

Longoria: Well, your daughter is absolutely unbelievable. She’s been telling me all about her expertise, and he or she’s—I do know you already know she’s smart past her years. It’s been such a privilege to speak to her. So, um, you raised a fairly unbelievable individual.

(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 keep in mind any of that poem? Maybe you may begin it off for him, and perhaps 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 identify. 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 effective for him to recite it, so later as we speak we’re going to do it.

Longoria: We’ll do it later? Okay. Great. All proper, properly, get pleasure from 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” will be heard like a pause within the Uyghur.)



A chunk of my flesh

torn away.

A chunk of my bone

damaged off.

A chunk of my soul


A chunk 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 formulation 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 modifying 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 group additionally contains 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 evaluate 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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