Interviewing Ruth Marimo: the Mother, activist and Writer of the Memoir ‘Freedom of an Illegal Immigrant’


In the spring of 2013, I had the opportunity to meet Ruth Marimo, a phenomenal female author, activist and inspirational speaker from South Africa. Witnessing more than a decade of her life in the United States amid excruciating struggles, physical and mental torment, she documents the horrendous events of physical abuse, deportation and extreme suffering at the Cass County jail of Omaha, Nebraska in her memoir ‘Freedom of An Illegal Immigrant’. At the University of Nebraska at Omaha to promote her new book along with her two children, Marimo spoke at length about her experiences with marginalization, domestic violence, abuse and sexual objectification. Her visit was also marked with another objective. While talking about how she gradually embraced her self-identity as a lesbian through encountering abuse, violence and betrayal, Marimo strongly advocated the rights of the girl child worldwide.

Read here to find out some glimpses of her empowering speeches and her candid conversations regarding her book and her life. As a freelance writer/feature correspondent for ‘Gateway’, I feel privileged to unfold her story.


Coming to Thine Arms and our Home


Notes for my readers:

In this short piece, I describe a definitive moment in my life, the sensations of that very moment, and how the memories of those very moments still fill me with wonder and childlike delight.

Six years back, on an unusually rainy evening in March, I finally got to see the face of the long-awaited day of my life after tying the wedlock. After months of waiting at my in-laws’ in Calcutta that had made me hysterical and ruthlessly impatient, I was finally granted a spouse visa by the American embassy and could now go and live with my husband, the love of my life, in the United States.

For all the two years I had known him before getting married to him, I had dated him in person for a brief one month while he was on a vacation in India, after which the insurmountable geographical distance between us became a reality that had consumed both of us entirely. Virtual rendezvous over the phone and on the internet became a daily reality that had kept our sanity, while we earnestly prayed to be physically together for a lifetime. Getting married, for him, was a brief vacation of ten days, three of which he spent in our Bengali wedding rituals, one in our wedding reception, one in the legal formalities of our registry marriage and the three others in a surprise honeymoon, at the end of which I found myself stranded in a suffocating 5’ by 7’ room in the old, narrow alleys of Calcutta, while he flew away ten thousand miles from me, to his world of office meetings and deadlines, to the everyday occurrence of our crazy, long, untimely, distant calls and correspondences.

Here I was in the airport, my clothes all drenched in the rain, surrounded by my parents and in-laws, leaving the most loved and hated site of my childhood and youth, the memories of sunshine and color and of agitation and dejection, lured by the calling and sweet seduction of love which was yet to be consummated in mind, body and spirit, ten thousand miles away from my childhood town. Here I was, a newly wed Bengali bride with a little vermillion mark lingering on my forehead, hugging my teary-eyed mother for one last time before passing on to the boarding and luggage check-in, the customs clearance and emigration area of the international airport. I was waving my silent goodbye to a life lived amidst known people and known surroundings that had gradually become claustrophobic to my existence. On the other hand, there was this unexplained anticipation and anxiety to see with my own eyes how the promise of the uninhibited pleasures of a conjugal life in another part of the world made by my husband turns to reality, becomes the cherished universe we so much fantasized in our discussions.

My mind ached to unknown pleasures as I imagined myself seated at the Niagara Falls, roaming around the streets of Times Square, New York city, hand-in-hand with my love; I laughed to myself thinking of these mushy, sentimental promises of sweet nothings which I knew, would one day sink into oblivion. As I walked into the boarding and luggage check-in area with the trolley, I looked at my heavy handbag, the two huge suitcases stuffed with my endless belongings–heavy silk saris which people gifted me in our wedding reception, cosmetics, loads of books, my favorite music CD’s, a CD capturing our wedding moments, framed pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses, packets of Indian spices. While I had closed the doors to my existence in the city, entering the sweet, unexplored realm of love in another continent, with these belongings I was carrying an inextricable thread that would always bind a part of my being to the city I was departing.

While the 18-hour flight that landed me at the huge John F. Kennedy airport made me see an ocean of multitudes of people flocking to the emigration area, I realized I just had my first encounter with an airport outside my own country. I thought of myself, the only one in our family to have come all the way from India, crossing the Atlantic in search of love, a home and companionship. In the flight, I had thought about my last job I had to quit on the pretext of migrating, about my last days in Kolkata fraught with bickering, pettiness and anxiety, about old friends and foes who had made my life in the city dark and aimless, about the new apartment which my husband had shifted to and its pictures I had seen in the internet. I felt how, entering through its door for the first time would be filled with awe and delight. Today, after all these years of staying together with him in this country where we both are constantly evolving in age and perceptions, I still love to remember that day of my first departure from Calcutta, the following day which was my first arrival in New York, with all the pristine promise of innocence, the sweet seduction that it carried, which has lost its allure in the merciless hands of time.