July 28, 2014
Alicia* is here from El Salvador with her two daughters, five and ten years old. “Here” is the Holding Institute Community Center, a national mission institution of the United Methodist Women and a center for humanitarian relief for the Laredo (Texas) Humanitarian Relief Team, an ecumenical effort to help refugees who are coming across the Mexico-U.S. border.
Alicia has not had an easy time of it in her life. Her mother died when she was three years old and her father did his best to raise Alicia and her siblings, but they very soon had to fend for themselves. She married young and the father of her oldest daughter left for the U.S. He was caught and deported to Mexico, where he met another woman and formed a new family, without telling Alicia. His mother kept contact with Alicia and her granddaughter. Then Alicia met another man who became the father of her younger daughter. He was abusive and tried to stab her to death, so they parted ways. In order to support her daughters Alicia decided the only alternative was to head to the U.S.
The first time Alicia tried traveling north, she was kidnapped in Mexico City and kept for two months. One of the kidnappers liked her and took her out, so she took advantage of the chance to escape. She started a second time for El Norte. She walked five nights in the desert with a group of some 30 people led by a coyote. At Nuevo Laredo, she crossed the river and was picked up by the Border Patrol and deported to El Salvador.
At this point Alicia decided that she would bring her two daughters with her, because she didn’t feel she would ever want them to come to her alone if she were in the U.S. So, back in El Salvador the three of them prepared for the trip. An uncle accompanied them through Guatemala and Mexico and is now in custody of the Border Patrol.
Alicia is here at the Holding Institute Community Center after four long weeks of travel. Gladly we gave this brave mother and her two girls clean clothing, showers, snacks for the rest of their journey, a Hello Kitty lunch box with toys, a pink gym bag with coloring books for the ten year old.
They will be on the way to another Texas city when Alicia wakes after a rest in the air conditioning while the girls play with the Save the Children staff. There they will stay with the grandmother of Alicia’s oldest daughter. This woman helped the three sojourners by sending them money when they were stuck for two weeks in Chiapas, Mexico. They were staying with a friend of Alicia’s who gladly took them in, but was so poor that she had no food to share. In order to continue the trip the grandmother postponed needed surgery and sold her television and other items so she could send them money to eat and continue on by bus. Alicia is looking forward to caring for the grandmother while she recuperates from the surgery.
Each refugee mother with children reminds me of my own ancestors who braved difficult conditions to come from European nations to our shores. In the late 1800’s immigrants decided to leave because of crop failure, land and job shortages, rising taxes and famine. Or people came seeking personal freedom or relief from religious persecution. Many immigrant ancestors spoke only German or Danish or Italian. Even the Irish who spoke English were vilified. Signs were posted “No dogs or Irish allowed.”
These are brave, determined, strong women who are struggling heroically to provide a brighter future for their children. They have overcome many obstacles to arrive in the U.S. How ironic that we don’t remember that our ancestors were immigrants as well and that we should afford to new immigrants the same opportunities that previous generations were given. When we climb the ladder of success, we must remember not to pull it up behind us. Other people will need it as well.
*not her real name