Oklahoma Contemporary

Station 2

Station 2 audio

Refugees from Latin America and the Middle East fleeing to the U.S. or Europe are often caught between borders, unable to go forward or return the way they came, living for months in flimsy pup tents along filthy railroad tracks, rivers, or border walls.

Narration transcripts

Irma Vasquez (Spanish, translated)
I had my first daughter, and oh no, I also did not do very well with the guy I lived with. And well, I decided to leave him, and at the same time I met my current husband. And together I feel we have been able to have a better story, maybe.

When I entered the program of the Agencia latina, we discovered how to have a healthier life as a couple. We started establishing goals every time, and from the point of not having anything, to being on the street, not having a place to sleep, we were able to buy a house. Well, during this time we lost a baby, and we struggled for about two years or so to have our second son, who is Sebastián. I have two children. My first daughter is named Samantha, my second son is Sebastián, and since Samantha was three, we have been in the Agencia latina. Since four years ago, my husband and I have been able to buy a house. And if you ask me if I consider that I have been successful in this country, I think so, because when you come from somewhere else without speaking English, without knowing anything, and you have to adapt, everything we have managed to do so far, I think I have.

Well, nowadays we have tried to instill good things in my children, to teach them that you have to work hard to be able to achieve what you want. I know that there are many successful families that come and have their own businesses or do other things, I don't know. We haven't done that, but we are on the way to doing it, and I think that soon we are going to achieve it, and well, that's it.

Irma Vasquez, song (Spanish, translated)
The moon goes for a walk following your eyes.
The night shines true after you look at it.
No one knows how to be happy at the cost of dispossession anymore.
Thanks to you and your eyes.

The moon goes for a walk after you look at it.
The night shines true following your eyes.
No one knows how to be happy at the cost of dispossession anymore.
Thanks to you and your eyes.

Trace Chapline (English)
When I was around 14 years old, my father passed away, and my mom, when I was really little, got her rights...or relinquished her rights, so I was considered a ward of the court at that time when my father passed away. So I continued to live with my father’s parents, my grandparents, until I was around 17. I was also selling drugs and stuff, and I got into a fight with my grandfather, and I ended up pushing him to the ground, and he ended up pressing charges on me. And so I ended up going to a juvenile detention center. And at this point my grandparents relinquished their guardianship over me, and now I was considered technically homeless.

This was during the end of my senior year in high school, so I spent the last couple of months, few months of my senior year in high school in a homeless youth shelter in Shawnee, Oklahoma. And then from there, I went to college at Oklahoma State University, and I continued to sell drugs, and do drugs as well. Because of the way my mental health was, I was sending emails that would be considered harassment to professors; not necessarily threatening, but they were harassing them. And so when I first got to college in the summer of 2019, I had taken 300 micrograms of LSD, and then I had gone into a drug-induced psychosis, ended up going into the hospital, and then when I came back to Stillwater, I was charged with first offense of student conduct. And so fast-forward to 2021, end of 2021, I get housing on campus because I am threatened with eviction, and then all of a sudden, three days in these dorms on campus, the police come, and they are like "Hey, you are kicked out of OSU until 2025 because this is your second offense with student conduct now due to these emails.” And so at this point I just kind of went crazy. I threatened suicide and stuff. They ended up taking me back to the inpatient center. From there I stayed there for a couple of weeks, thought I might be able to get help with some of my family in Shawnee, Oklahoma—I had godparents there—so I convinced the inpatient stay to take me to Shawnee, which was a bad idea because as soon as I got to Shawnee, my godparents weren’t going to help me, and I was kind of stuck there.

Watimbwa Babingwa (English)
When I left Congo, it was really difficult for me because the countries I went to, I did not know anybody. Imagine you get somewhere you don’t know anybody, you are trying to get help, but most of the people are denying you. They think maybe you are a thief, stuff like that. I went to different countries before I came to America—I went to Burundi. When I reached Burundi, it was hard because it was close to my country. And we had a border with Burundi, so the information about me was all over the country, my picture was also down there, so I ended up fleeing. I went to Tanzania; it’s a little bit far from Congo, so from Tanzania I had help from different communities, especially Catholic churches. I had to seek help, so I told them my stories. So they were helping me, and they said, “We are going to try to do our best to help you.” They did contribute a little money; they gave me, and they send me to Mozambique. There is a refugee camp in Mozambique. So they said, “Maybe over there you are going to be safe. You’re going to talk about it. You're going to tell the UN your story, they might help you.” So when I get to Mozambique, I tried to tell my stories, and I saw that nobody is listening to me. So I ended up going to South Africa, because South Africa and Mozambique, it’s not far. UN was also there in 2009. I don’t know if you know about South Africa, there is what they call xenophobia. In South Africa, South African people were attacking other refugees, African people from other countries. They were killing people, you know. We ended up going to the Roman Catholic churches. It's from there the UN came in South Africa, and they helped most of the refugees—that's why right now I'm in America. Because I talked to them about my stories, and they saw that I'm not safe, they did their best, they helped me out, and now they brought me to America.

Trace Chapline (English)
Toward the end of my first year of college, 2020 happened and COVID happened. And around March and COVID, I had experienced a psychotic break from reality and was experiencing psychosis-like symptoms while sober and not just drug-induced psychosis like I had experienced in the past….but this was real psychosis in my sober life. My friends around me noticed that something was wrong. They contacted the mental health services, and I ended up getting taken into an in-patient stay. I stayed in that in-patient stay for a few days. Then once I got back to my apartment dorm on campus, the entire world had shut down. So it was a complete 360 from what I had experienced. I felt like I was the cause of COVID, and I was like the creator of it all because of my delusions. Throughout the entire year of 2021, I was basically recovering from my mental health from 2020, and it wasn’t going too well. For a couple months it was going well, then towards the end of the year it started to go downhill again. I experienced psychosis again, and at this point I got hospitalized. And when I came back from the hospital, my landlords of my apartment threatened me with eviction, so I had about a week to leave my apartment.

Kian Looper (English)
In the resources that I was using when I was actively homeless, I found a few friends that would frequent the same places, the same drop-in centers, the same food banks, and they started telling me about this opportunity. When you are unhoused the biggest pull-in is they pay you, and they feed you, and it’s somewhere to spend a couple hours once a week. And I think honestly that’s how most of us got started, because most of us in that position are thinking much more about survival than policy change, I guess.

I eventually got connected with resources here in the city and found some level of stability, which gave me the opportunity to explore all the parts of Oklahoma City more, thankfully being in the queer community.

Johnny Antonelli (English)
I was born on Southwest Tenth and Walker. I still live there, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was the neighborhood that my grandmother bought a house in when she escaped boarding school. I carry a lot of honor in living in the same place. I bought a house for my family for the paltry sum of $15,000 at the age of 17. Coming from a nomadic tribe, that wasn’t something that was inset in us, but my grandmother, being privy to colonial ways from boarding school, knew that she needed to take these steps to ensure we had stuff, you know. Now my neighborhood is heavily gentrified; I still live there and intend to until I am no longer alive.

My father is Italian; my mother is Indigenous and of Hispanic descent. My father actually went to prison when I was eight years old; it was the biggest drug bust in Oklahoma at the time. I was raised by the women in my family, so growing up my uncles would step in, but mostly raised by these womenfolk; my mother working two jobs, and my grandmother always working and hustling. When she got older she did step into some oil and gas money, but when we grew up she would always say, “We are money poor but land rich.” So you know I try to carry that, and take honor anywhere I go, even knowing where I come from.

Trace Chapline (English)
People say community, and so I don’t know if I have a whole lot of community, because one thing I notice a lot is that there really isn’t much of a community in Oklahoma City, at least unless you’re specifically trying to actively look for it. Even my neighbors around me, they’re all kind of to themselves. Everybody I see around me is just really sticking with themselves. It’s even really hard to make friends anymore. So if you are not in these social circles or in school, it’s extremely hard to really make connections and stuff. I have made some friends, and I am glad that I have those people that I can talk to and be close to. But yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at in my story.

Kian Looper (English)
I remember my first Pride. I was living out of a hotel, and it just happened to be a free bus day, so I got to go. And that celebration of queer community, that exhibition of joy, really solidified things for me here. Because even if it wasn’t all that I wanted it to be, I could find those moments and those little parts of myself, in this place that seemed so scary, and so strange to me.

And there was one specific time that I remember, it was the first time I had ever been to Angles, which is the one gay club that we have here—very thankful for that place. And it was empty, because it was a Thursday, but I had just turned 21, and I had promised my friend that the first time I ever went I would let them take me. So we got out there, and we had so much fun. We just danced and danced, and it felt like a hug. It made me think of times when I was a kid. I already felt like I didn’t have a place, so I would lock myself in my room, and I would put on these early 2000s pop-girl anthems and dance around. Angles felt like that for me. It mirrored this safe, comfortable, free-for-all place. I found a lot of solace in that.

Watimbwa Babingwa (English)
When I get here in America, especially in Buffalo, New York, I was received by Journey’s End. It is an organization. They organized a place for me to stay. They gave me an apartment. They also paying the rent for me, which was really very, very good for me, and I am really grateful for that organization. After two months they found a job for me, and I started working, and I became self-sufficient. So right now, I have my own apartment. I have a family now, and I am happy for that.

Maria Trejo (Spanish, translated)
I was working as a waitress in a restaurant called Honduras 504—you know why 504? Because it's the area code of Honduras, and I heard that there was a crossing there. There was a crossing, and I came over. I made it. I never, never, ever thought that crossing to the United States was so easy. I crossed this way with a harvest, and from there at night I took the train and arrived in California.

Suddenly I get a call from my sister, and she tells me, “Ornelia, I'm going to fill out an application, do you want me to include your daughters to come in?” And I say, “But my daughters are Mexican, can it be that they are eligible?” And she tells me, "Yes, I am Honduran, and they give it to me because they accept us Hondurans." OK.

So when they arrive, I had to come from California to Oklahoma, because I need to have somewhere to put them. In California it costs about $3,000 to $4,000 to rent. I arrived here and a house is $850-$900, so it is much cheaper. When they arrived, I remember that I needed to get a vaccine for my daughters and someone told me, "Oh, on Thursday, on such date, they will be vaccinating there in a place called la Agencia latina." I arrived at the Agencia latina, and very kindly they vaccinated my daughters. I told the girl, "Look, we have just arrived and we do not have anywhere to sleep, we have nothing to eat, we do not have anything.” And they heated food, they fed my daughters, and one of them referred me for a program for my baby, and she also helped me fill out some paperwork to request beds. From there, the lady told me to do an interview; they told me that my baby's social worker was going to help. I told her I have many problems with my girls; they do not seem to adapt. She told me, "You know, there is a new program starting where they can help you," and well, I got to Celebrando familias. When I got to that program, I never thought they would help me as much as they did.

Audio narrators:
Irma Vasquez, originally from Mexico, speaking Spanish. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Trace Chapline, Oklahoman, speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Watimba Babingwa, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking English. Recorded in Buffalo, New York.

Kian Looper; Seminole, Choctaw, and Cherokee; speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Johnny Antonelli; Southern Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Italian; speaking English. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Maria Trejo, originally from Honduras, speaking Spanish. Recorded in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Video figures:
Sam and Samual Konda
Elyssa Armenta
Gerald Ramsey
Abdula, Fayeka, and Maryam Abdulghafar
Johnny Antonelli
Al Monaco
Aqueira Oshun
Rowdy, Shannon and Arden Gilbert


Monday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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Visit us at 11 NW 11th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73103
Phone: 405 951 0000
Fax: 405 951 0003

Oklahoma Contemporary
P.O. Box 3062
Oklahoma City, OK 73101

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