My nine year old son and I are heading to school when a program on the radio catches our attention. It is a story about a Native American man describing how as a boy he was sent away from his home in a reservation to live with a white foster family. He describes the challenges of his life, from living in a teepee to waking up inside 4 walls, from being surrounded by the love of his family and community to starting a life among strangers. He speaks about difficulties growing up, the trying to figure out who he was, the sense of loss and the lack of belonging… We arrive to school and I sit in the car in silence. My son asks to learn more about what happened to that man when he was a boy… We talk, I speak  – tears streaming down my face –  about injustice, the difficult life of minority children misunderstood by a system that thought that it was doing what was best for society… We get off the car and head into his elementary school… As we walk into the building, the last phrase in the story,The difference between running away and running home is whether you are running in the direction you belong” is still resonating in my heart…

The school secretary calls my attention: “You speak Spanish!!! I need you… I don’t know what is going on. She doesn’t speak English. I need you to speak to this woman”. And grabbing my arm she walks me out again towards a car parked at the curve. A woman is outside the car, begging someone inside to get out. Inside the car, holding herself curled up in in a ball is a young Hispanic girl. She looks my son’s age. The woman tells me in Spanish: “I can’t get her out of the car, she won’t come to school. Every day is like this. I can’t get her out of bed, can’t get her into the car, I need help. She needs to be in school, they are going to send the police if she does not attend school”. I introduce myself and tell her “I was just asked to help because I speak Spanish, I do not work for the school, I am just a mom. Is there anything I can do to help?”

The woman looks at me and with a sad face says “Gracias, it has been like this since her father left”. I open the car door and ask the girl if she is willing to talk to me. She keeps her eyes shut. I speak softly, and sit beside her in the back seat. I tell her I mean no threat, I want to know if I can help. She opens her beautiful brown eyes but shows no expression. Only for a few seconds her eyes make contact with mine… Hollow, no fear, no dare, no shine. I am trying to recognize whether this is pain or grief, or severe depression. She looks at the distance and walks out of the car. She does not say a word. She does not cry. She stands and looks away. The school secretary tells the girl “Your mom is right; the law says you must be in school”

I tell her mom that I will not translate this to the staff: “Al padre, lo hicieron irse? (Her father, was he made to leave?” ” Si”, the woman answers “lo deportaron” (yes, he was deported)”.  I talk to the girl and offer to hear her if she wants to tell me how she feels, I offer to walk with her into the school. The woman says she will “get fired if she continues to arrive late to work… This is happening every morning”.  I say to the girl: “Let’s help mom get to work”. The woman adds “I have been trying to find them, I have talked even with the Mexican embassy, and nobody can help me. No one knows where they are. I can’t deal with this. I love her, but she wants to run away to her family.”

“But.. you…” I start. “All of them were deported”  the woman adds. “I was their neighbor, I took her in. They asked me to keep her and give her a better life. She is the only American citizen in the family. They were all deported. But all she wants is to see them. Every day is the same. She wants to run home to them”…


One thought on “Belonging

  1. This story resonates in my mind every time I hear discussion about immigration reform. Four hundred thousand people were deported by the federal government in 2010. And in 2011 there were at least 5100 children in foster care whose parents had been deported or detained. The numbers are larger in states and counties where local police participate in immigration enforcement. These families face barriers to reunification due to different factors; children are at times indefinitely separated from their parents because juvenile dependency courts often terminate parental rights.

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