Profiles of People: "Can you Imagine?"
A family unnerved by new rules on immigration
You wake up each workday, and instead of thinking what clothes your eight-year-old daughter should wear to school or what to fix for your children and husband’s dinner, or if you can go grocery shopping and still make it to your house cleaning job in time, your first thoughts
are: “I need gas for my car, but I am afraid to go to the gas station.”
These are Carina’s* thoughts as she begins each workday now. When she tries to sleep at night, instead of thinking about the weekend and how this large close-knit family is getting together after church to share a meal and
maybe play some soccer, her thoughts go to the three
uncles, two cousins and two family friends who won’t be at the normal weekend gathering. They are gone, not because they committed crimes that would get other people in this country taken away, but because they are Mexican.
From left to right, Omar, Carina, Clarita and Angelica, who have seen five family members and two family friends deported in the past six months, in their Snohomish County home. Carina fled Mexico for the United States over 20 years ago and her children are American citizens, but changes in immigration enforcement has made the family feel uncomfortable participating in their day-to-day lives. Their names were changed for this story.
Carina has been in
the United States for over 20 years, and only recently has she felt afraid about everything, including getting gas. Even grocery shopping, which she used to enjoy, because she loves to cook, now fills
her with trepidation. She shows me how she keeps looking over her shoulder. The proponents of mass deportation reading this article will scoff and contend she is the exception. Her family is the exception. The other millions of Mexicans living here in the shadows are bad people. The skeptics might say, “Our government will never take her or her family. Her family should just
‘get over it.’” But wait. She
has seven friends and family members who have disappeared from their lives in the last six months in this part of Washington for nothing any other person in this country would be “gone” for.
And then there are the children. All four of these young people are American citizens, but “they should just get on with their lives. Suck it up.
Everyone has problems.” Yes? No.
Angelica, the 14-year-old student says, “Now I don’t get to go out so much with my parents because we are seeing immigrants walking and being stopped by an officer and taken away and being deported. It’s scary stuff because it’s separating families. I don’t want that to happen to my family.”
Omar, who is a 13-year-old student, shares, “I play a lot of soccer and I use to go with my team far distances, even out of state, but now I don’t feel comfortable doing that and leaving my parents
Clarita, who is an 8-year-old student, wanted badly to be included in the conversation. “Sometimes a little lie can get bigger and bigger,” she
Needing a moment to
ponder the little girl’s wisdom I looked to Carina, who tried to help her youngest daughter express herself by adding, “This government always gives us a way to pay taxes, and we are happy to do that. We always have, but they don’t give us a way to feel better.” Still trying to help the child express herself, as the older two children sit quietly, Mom continues, “We pay our mortgage, our house insurance,
our car insurance, all taxes.
We always have.”
With great respect for each other’s feelings and mine, the conversation sometimes falters and sometimes grows very intense as all five people try very hard to
explain themselves, not just for themselves, but for the millions of others in this country caught up in a
Carina says something during one of the hushed silences that came right before the food, something that I had not thought of with the full weight of cause-and-effect it deserves. When asked about the difference between how the Latinos felt before this current president with the previous ones she says, “As an immigrant now I feel more scared to spend money.” Wow, a family of six, four of whom are young and like to buy, not spending money because they are scared to shop!
We dig deeper after dinner into what I knew would be the hardest part of an already painful interview, one they insisted I conduct. I asked each of them what all people with the “correct” papers in this country want to know — but won’t ask because they are afraid or uncomfortable, or don’t want to think about the answer: “What will your
family do if Carina is taken away and sent back to Mexico?” Once again I became the student and the four of them the teachers. Little Clarita,
who had finished dinner and was curled up on a bench behind our table to rest, simply looked up for her big sister to speak.
Angelica, the 14-year-old American citizen said
maturely: “We all go with my Mom, except my oldest brother who stays here and works on getting us back as soon as possible — many years we will be gone at best.”
Omar, as any 13-year-old American boy would, calmly says, “I will go, but I don’t want to.” Carina, who has been listening to her children, interjects: “But you will.”
Omar respectfully nods.
One last question I ask, with seemingly no mercy or compassion, but a real and necessary question for the reader. Do you have a plan in place if Carina is sent back to Mexico? I’m ignorantly praying the answer will be they will go to maybe Guadalajara or Mexico City where the children can continue more of their American-style
schooling. And the parents, being bilingual, can find decent work. But, no. I am not to be reassured.
They do have a detailed plan all of them know and are prepared for. (It reminded
me of the ‘50s and ‘60s during the Cold War where we all had to plan for what to do if a bomb was dropped).
The brutal reality is Carina will be sent back to a very remote impoverished Spanish-speaking village from whence she fled over two decades ago. Therefore, the father/husband/bread-earner and younger children Angelica, Omar and Clarita will go to live there also. The one grown son will stay here by himself and work solely to get his entire family back as soon as possible.
Some readers might contend that Mexico is a beautiful country so that’s not so bad. However, in small
villages the most horrible things happen to women and girls and that is just life. And the men and boys? There are no jobs and men and boys who come from the United States may be kidnapped because they are seen as wealthy because their clothes are not ripped or have holes.
One of the deported cousins who is in one of these villages was kidnapped four months ago. The kidnappers wanted $15,000 (300,000 pesos) to get Jose released. He has been released temporarily
because all his relatives came up with a much smaller amount; but he can be picked up at any time and the police will do nothing and he cannot go anywhere else. So this will be the kind of place where these precious American school children might live any day or night because they cannot just leave their mother.
For us to be talking about such things in front of a little eight-year-old is despicable, one might say, but
not listening to them say it is worse. Little Clarita wants to say one more thing before we leave. With the pure innocent wisdom, certainly learned from her loving parents and imparted to all the children, Clarita sits up sleepily and ends our evening with. “Life gets harder and something can change your life.”
How truly ashamed I feel that she even knew to say those words regarding this subject, but if something like this
does change her little life and life gets harder, I sure hope it’s ‘not on us’ that it happens when she is in Mexico
because she had to decide between her mother and her country.
Tonight I met with a mother, wife and worker, her 14-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter at a restaurant for dinner. The father and the grown son were still at work. They wanted to tell people how it feels to be in this country where
all the time they are frightened, where the adults work hard, the children all are active in their local schools and I wanted to listen. By the time we parted I was in tears because I am not sure I can translate their message, one that resonates profoundly with millions of people in this country right now-and because the thirteen year old son took out his wallet and very proudly and with great dignity, with money his father had given him, paid the entire bill.
My emotion came not from the money spent, although that was a big bill, but more from the importance they were placing on me to communicate their frustration, despair, hopelessness and anger because they now feel uncomfortable being who they have always been: good, honest, happy people. They wanted to meet with me to detail how their real lives have changed since we the people of the greatest country in the world, home of the brave and land of the free,
have decided that this phrase is conditional.
* - The Tribune is choosing
to change the names in this story.
Author Patricia Therrell’s monthly column has returned.
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