Thursday, February 6, 2014

“Live or Die”: Avoiding Shelternization

By Briana Whiteside

In part two of the five-part “Invisible Child” series that ran in The New York Times in December 2013, we learn of the complexities surrounding lives of those who live in the Auburn shelter. Dasani and her family are still at the center of the story; however, we are given the opportunity to hear the complaints and worries of other residents. Women and children have been fondled and violated by men, some verbally abused, and others live in fear for their lives. Yet, in spite of the living conditions at the Auburn shelter, Dasani refuses to become another statistic.

“Shelternized” is a term that Chanel, Dasani’s mom, uses to describe the numbing feeling of living in a shelter where “crack pipes” on the bathroom floor are viewed as normal. Where “faulty fire protection, insufficient heat, spoiled food” as well as the presence of “mice, roaches, mold and bedbugs” are common factors of everyday life. From Chanel’s view, her children have become “shelternized,” yet Dasani’s imaginative game “Live or Die” proves different.

In round one of the game, Dasani confronts evil villains that represent her chores and must find baby Lele, her younger sister, who is crying tears of “lethal rocks.” Then she must save her parents from “angry pirates” that represent the social workers. In the third round, she goes to school and must rescue her teacher Miss Hester from giants because “if she dies, all the kids die, too.” Finally in the last round, the girl must face a rival from the projects “who picks up cars and hurls them.” If she lives, she wins the prize of a new home, but if she loses, she has to return to the shelter, “which is death.”

Dasani explains, “My goal is to make it to the end, but I keep dying.”

Dasani equates life in the shelter with death, and this realization keeps her from becoming completely “shelternized.” Her ability to imagine and create a video game that closely resembles her daily struggles in many respects shows the tenacity of a girl who recognizes her formidable circumstance but is fighting to escape.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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