La Mariposa en la Pared

The everyday experiences of latino immigrants through the eyes of an outsider. Las vidas típicas de unos inmigrantes latinos a través de los ojos de una forastera.

My Photo
Location: Upstate NY, United States

"To me it’s always interesting when you get accepted somewhere you don’t really belong. It’s interesting when people open up and let you in their world." - Gilles Mingasson

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Documentary: Valley of Tears

SnagFilms has released a film that looks at the migrant labor community around Raymondville, Texas (home of this horrible place, where my friend Rudi spent several months), throughout the nearly 30 years since the 1979 onion workers' strike. It's the story of the workers' struggle for equality and a better life.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Todos Somos Migrantes

Today, my baby girl is a migrant.

She is headed four thousand miles away, and she will be gone a year. We've been preparing for this trip for almost as long, since she first decided she wanted to be a Rotary exchange student. Her decision left me proud and excited for her, and not until my last few days with her did I begin to feel the dread of seeing her leave, knowing I wouldn't see her again for a long time. But my sadness at her leaving is tempered somewhat by the certainty, barring any tragedies, that I will see her again, and by the finite amount of time that she will be away.

My ache at being separated from my daughter is eased by something else, too: by the knowledge that what I am experiencing pales in comparison to what thousands of mothers are going through as their children set off on more perilous, less certain, journeys.

Those mothers don't have the means to provide all the comforts that will sustain their children on their journey - my daughter filled her wallet with cash and two suitcases with clothes, toiletries, books, a photo album, and a blanket her friends made for her; their children will carry little money, and maybe a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and a photograph, and will be robbed of those few things shortly into their journey.

Those mothers don't have the means to provide a plane ticket, and their children don't have the right to ride in a plane. Their children will walk, or be smuggled in dark, airless, claustrophobic secrecy for days on end. I remember my mind's odd reaction to hearing Milton tell me of traveling across Mexico in the luggage compartment of a bus, then across the U.S. in the trunk of a car. I remember thinking of my own trip across the U.S. to Mexico, and how I loved watching the landscape change as it passed by outside my window. And I thought, how sad that he didn't get to see any of the scenery through which he passed on his long journey from Guatemala to New York. He was my daughter's age, 16, when he made that trip.

Those mothers don't have the political importance I enjoy, simply by being an American citizen, to ensure that my daughter will receive a visa, allowing her to stay legally in Slovakia for a year. They will have to swallow the unfairness of their children being denied traveling papers because they are poor and foreign.

Those mothers do not have the comfort of knowing that smiling, helpful, caring people are waiting to greet their children at the end of their trip. Those mothers can only hope for the best as they watch their children leave. They feel that surely God will bless their precious child in the land of opportunity. Surely their child, too, will enjoy what so many others have headed to that great country to find: honest work, good pay, and the freedom to follow their dreams. They can only hope and pray that the Americans will be kind to their children.

While I waited hours to receive a phone call from my daughter telling me she had arrived safely, I thought of the mothers who wait weeks to hear whether their children made it safely to the United States. Some of those mothers will never receive a call, while others will only receive bad news.

While my daughter stretched her cramped legs and wished for a shower after her 8 hour flight, other daughters faced a frigid swim in a river and miles of walking across a desert, after 20 days of hunger, of no sleep and the constant threats of rape that, for most of them, became horribly real as they fought and begged their way north.

As my daughter entered a country that welcomes her as an ambassador of peace and cross-cultural understanding, as people smile patiently at her attempts to use a new language, the sons and daughters of so many other mothers endure hostility and hate as they try to make sense of their new environment.

My daughter is happy and comfortable in the home of her host family, surrounded by people who are committed to keeping her safe. I would be horrified if this were not the case. I miss my daughter, but I do not fear for her well being.

No mother should have to endure the pain of knowing their child is being denied compassion, protection from violence, or medical care when they're suffering. Those mothers know as I do that their children are no less precious than mine. All the protections and opportunities that my daughter enjoys is all that any mother anywhere would naturally want for hers.

Why should any child be less deserving than mine, simply because he or she was born on some other piece of earth, outside of the man-made border of the United States of America?

So while my fears are few and I feel fortunate to be spared the desperation that other mothers feel for their migrating children, my comfort comes at the expense of those mothers whose suffering need not be inevitable. The degree to which our country - specifically the poisonous attitude of intolerance and hate that is creeping into people's minds, the unchecked abuses of power wielded by the Department of Homeland Security's ICE, the broken immigration laws that determine who is worthy to live and prosper here, and the economic policies that keep so many in Latin America living in desperate poverty - is responsible for those mother's greatest fears come true, that suffering is not inevitable.

We as Americans need to do everything we can to put a stop to that suffering.

That is one reason I am willing to sacrifice a year of my time with my daughter to share her with others. She is aware of how lucky she is, and she has heard first-hand the stories of migrants. Her heart carries compassion for them, and her conscience carries a mandate to help make the world a better place for everyone. This is a message that she brings to a part of the world that is not immune to the vilification of migrants.

My daughter is migrating to another country for some of the same reasons people migrate to ours: for the experience and for the adventure. She goes without fear and without the desperation born of poverty. She goes with the protections and privileges that Americans enjoy, and for that I am grateful; without that, I would not have let her go.

Her absence makes me remember the "other mothers" who are missing their migrating children, and I hope that her journey can remind more people to remember them, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Donna Poisl, A Friendly Voice for Immigrants

Donna Poisl has the right idea. She is the author of How to Live & Thrive in the U.S. / Como Vivir y Prosperar en los Estados Unidos, a bilingual guide for immigrants to everything from seeking medical care to opening a bank account. Her aim is to help immigrants to learn our system and live successfully in the U.S. as active members of society rather than as passive visitors. The book is available spiral-bound, with English printed on the left and Spanish on the right to facilitate its use by advocates, such as ESL teachers, in helping to instruct their students.

I wish I had known about this book a long time ago, for the many times I've guided migrants to walk-in clinics, dentist offices, and emergency rooms, and tried to answer questions about auto insurance, drivers' licences, and various other "documents."

I want to add, however, that most of the challenges faced by those I know were compounded by their being undocumented, and I don't want to invite hate-mail by implying that she has written this book to help undocumented migrants navigate (i.e. take advantage of) "the system." From food stamps to Planned Parenthood, undocumented immigrants aren't eligible for public relief, anyway. In fact, in spite of what some nativists like to say about immigrants' receiving social services, those I know rely on each other for support in times of need, rather than trying to get anything for free, and when given the chance, pay their hospital bills in installments rather than walking away from their obligation.

Poisl's book is on my list of things to purchase with my next paycheck, so I haven't read it yet. It seems an invaluable resource for anyone who works with or advocates for immigrants of all kinds. Whether a person is documented or not, it's ultimately better for everyone if they know what to do in an emergency, what their rights are, and how to live as seamlessly as possible among us.

Donna also keeps a blog, highlighting mostly positive articles relating to immigrants and their lives here. Her advocacy - helping to orient immigrants in their new surroundings and guide them to sources of support, and her blog's emphasis on the positive impact of immigrants on our communities - is a powerful force in the right direction, creating win-win situations for immigrants and those who live alongside them, and countering the negative press that aims to vilify immigrants.