I RECENTLY LISTENED to a radio program about coincidences and about people who claimed they were always experiencing them. I told myself that coincidences don’t happen to me.
Last night, a couple of hours after I had watched a report on the evening news about a mother in Arizona who had been deported after having lived here 21 years, I began anew my task of going through my old papers and figuring out what to keep and what to discard. The very first piece I picked was a dot-matrix printout of something I wrote, either while at The Houston Post or at the Austin American-Statesman, about my fears as a young boy that my parents would be sent back to Mexico. I am pretty sure it was never published.
I want to share that with you, but first I want to share part of The New York Times story today about yesterday’s deportation:
“Her son, Angel, still remembers the evening of her arrest — the knock on the door, the flashlight on the darkened living room, the sight of handcuffs on his mother’s wrists.
‘I was in second grade,’ he said. ‘I never forgot that night, and I’ve lived in fear of losing my mother every night since then.’ His [sister] had stayed with protesters until long past midnight. By sunrise, she was back home, packing her mother’s suitcase — her toothpaste, her brush, her favorite pants and shirts. ‘Nobody should have to pack her mother’s bag,’ she said, her lips quivering, tears filling her eyes.”
This is what I wrote (with a bit of minor editing):
THEY CAME IN at least once a year, swooping down, unnoticed until their green vans were at the edge of the sugar beet rows on the flat fields of the North Dakota Red River Valley. The ominous figures lumbered over to where we were hoeing away.
And that’s when the fear began.
In terribly broken Spanish and boisterous manner, la migracíon asked the usual questions regarding my parents’ legal status in the country. My parents sheepishly and patiently explained the facts: yes, they had been born in Mexico but they had been in this country since 1920. And no, they had no papers; they never needed any since they never went back to Mexico.
The border patrolman made their usual grumblings about the irresponsibility of not taking care of such things, and only after they had thoroughly humiliated my parents and intimidated the rest of us did they leave – to check on other Mexicans on other farms.
I might not have feared the border patrol so much had I not always worried that neither of our parents was an American citizen and, even worse, neither had ever bothered to acquire a passport to make their presence in the United States legal. I didn’t know then why they didn’t; children never grilled adults about such matters.
I will never know if the fear would have been different had my parents been legal. Probably not, given that the INS officers didn’t treat legal workers any differently. But one thing I do know is that I was scared, very scared. I feared my parents would be shipped back to Mexico, where they had not lived for more than 30 years.
The reality was that my parents were unlikely to have been deported after having spent so many years here.
And the reality was that government officials knew all too well that my parents and us were doing the work that nobody else wanted to do. If they had sent back to Mexico all people who did not have proper documentation, who would have hoed their sugar beets and picked their tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and other crops, at wretched wages while living in miserable housing?
But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that men with uniforms and guns were doing what men with guns and uniforms tend to do: instill fear in people. My fear was a justified fear. When you’re young and ignorant, fears have a tendency to grow to uncontrollable proportions. The prospect of our having to fend for ourselves forever in the windblown North Dakota plains because my parents had been deported was a real and menacing presence in my young mind.
THAT IS WHAT I feel when I think of the renewed efforts to clamp down undocumented immigrants.
I think of the children who will be forced to live in fear that some official in the green uniform will come take their parents away if they don’t have the magic card. I think of the parents who will be cowed by the uniform and authoritativeness of the officers and I wonder what that will do to their lives, and those of their children.
I fear for them. I understand all the arguments that nations have a right to enforce their borders, but that doesn’t ease the fear, the fear of the dreadful fear.