“A hug over the phone” by Daniela Merino, one of the 80 children who participated in our “Soy Autor” program in Apopa, El Salvador from January to May 2018 wrote such a story.
I can imagine the fear, anxiety and trauma a child feels being separated from mom or dad, let alone the feeling caused by being taken apart at the border by officers who, “concentration camp style”, separate you from the only person you know, with whom you’re taken the fateful voyage of “getting there”, your mom, her smell, her heart beat, the big hand that both holds yours and caresses you when needed, I cannot imagine what these children at the detention centers in the U.S. border are feeling these days. I can empathize, for when I was 11-12 and until I stayed in the States to study when I was 13 years old, I had to separate repeatedly from both my parents, at the airport in Managua, after the first Sandinista Revolution when my parents stayed in Nicaragua and I went to live with my older sister and her two children, yes, her children left fatherless by violence in their country, El Salvador.
In her story “Un abrazo por telefono” / “A hug over the phone”, Daniela explains how when she was 11 years old her mom was thoughtfully looking into the night as she talked about leaving with her brother. Daniela asked her mother where she was going, thinking it was only a day trip to a city nearby, but when her mother said “to the United States”, she says she begged her mom to take her with them. Her mother responded that she couldn’t because she didn’t have enough money to take both Daniela and her brother, therefore having to leave her behind, to the care of her grandmother, but “having to leave her behind” resonates with me, makes me sick to my stomach and brings me back to a childhood of fear, pain and separation.
Daniela recalls the next day before going to school (how she could concentrate and do any work, participate in class, or play any games at recess, astounds me!!) she said goodbye to her mother, who was not able to say anything in return; just gave her a hug and cried and hugged her brother saying “may God keep you”. Daniela goes on to describe how anxious she felt the following weeks, speculating if they had made it, if they had gotten caught by immigration? She missed her mom terribly, taking her to school, reading to her before falling asleep, she says she felt “depressed”, what child would not?!!!.
When she finally received a phone call from her mom, all Daniela could do was cry as she felt relieved by her being “safe”, out of harm’s way, on the other end of the line. It’s been two years since her mom left, she still misses her, she still tries to do good by her and she wishes she could be with her. At the end of her book, Daniela writes “I hope that all of those who want to leave to the United States, try to take all of their family with them, so that those left behind, do not feel lonely” … As I close Daniela’s book, my eyes fill with tears, my heart shrinks as I replay the images I have seen, the crying children I have listened to, of the gut wrenching despair in the mother’s eyes, and I think of Daniela, and how farther away she must feel from her mother and brother, and how scared she must feel when she sees what other kids, younger than her, are experiencing at the U.S. border now.
As I type these words, I cannot help but think of my own children and how I felt when they were little and as they’ve grown and how separating from them makes me feel when they have to go study, work, make a life of their own. And I think of how much meaning the Hawaiian word for family “Ohana”, as explained by Lilo, a character from the Disney movie, “Family means nobody gets left behind” has always defined my family, my three children and I. As I write this, I wish every family to be together, as it is their right, under whatever circumstances and wherever in the world they may find themselves.
Country Director of ConTextos