Surviving Survival

In early 1979, when Eugene Smith returned “back to the world” from the Guyanese jungle, my father had made his return “back to the world” more than a decade before, following his completion of a tour in the Vietnamese jungle. When he first returned, my dad was a 22-year-old husband and father of one – like Smith upon his return. Smith’s wife and one child, however, were not waiting for him, nor were they with him; along with Smith’s mother, they had died in the jungle with over 900 other members of Peoples Temple.

My dad also uses the term made famous by Curtis Mayfield’s song from which [Eugene] Smith’s memoir takes its title – Back to the World – to describe his landing in the States and what followed. It had been a hostile world for Black men daring at hope when my dad deployed, and was still so when Smith immigrated to Guyana years later, both men betting on hope and possibility. When they returned on their separate occasions more than a decade apart, the hostility was compounded because they were considered undesirables who were party to, and cause of, the deaths of innocents

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