The Devastation of Deportation A Mom Leaves the US fearing Separation from her Children

Mirna  was 5 years old and Emilio was 7.  Mirna was a kindergarten student, Emilio was in first grade when I met these children. Their parents are from Honduras.  As an ESOL teacher, I became involved with this family because both kids were struggling in school. They were missing many school days, and both had repeated kindergarten.

Last summer, their father was deported to Honduras. Zoila, their mom, began trying to find a job but it proved to be almost an impossible task. She didn’t have a driver’s license, so job hunting was especially difficult, and no one would offer her a job without a work permit. As time passed, she became depressed to the point where she could barely function.  Getting out of bed required great effort, and there were many days when the children missed the school bus.  And when they came home in the afternoons, they would often find their mom sitting in the same spot where they had left her hours before, unable to fix a meal or do the laundry.

For over a year, the community has surrounded this family and tried to help, but without legal status, there are few options available, particularly for single moms.  The children’s school was very supportive as faculty, staff, and administrators realized the family’s difficult circumstances.  With extra attention and support at school, Mirna was making some progress but Emilio continued to struggle.  LUCHA helped the family with counseling and with food from the food bank, and their church has pitched in as well.  But it wasn’t enough.

Zoila made the difficult decision to return to Honduras.

Once the presidential election was over, fear and stress over the future plight of immigrants in the US made their situation worse, and Zoila began to think of returning to Honduras.  She feared separation from her children, thinking it will be just a matter of time before she is caught and deported to Honduras, like the children’s father.  And as American citizens, her children will be left alone in the United States, with no source of financial support and without their parents or other family members.

Zoila, Emilio, and Mirna left the country on March 14, despite the fact that Zoila is very fearful for her future and for that of the children.  She fears the  violence in her home country and understands the lack of job opportunities there.  While the children speak Spanish, Emilio is terrified.  He’s seen many of the challenges that his mom has faced since his dad was deported, and while he tried to be “the man of the house,” it wasn’t enough.  He’s also old enough to have heard things about living in Central America.  If he was already struggling in school in the US, studying in Spanish in Honduras is going to be even more difficult.  Not to mention the cultural issues he will face as an “American” kid.

However, there are few choices available to Zoila.  She wonders if she has failed her children by not being able to provide the future for them that she dreamed of — high school, college, good jobs and a stable future.  She hopes that once she is surrounded by her extended family, she will have the emotional support necessary to begin to heal her wounds and address her issues of depression and low self esteem.  She knows she will face poverty, but there will be peace in her heart knowing that nobody will separate from her children.

*This article was written by an ESOL teacher.

Being Brown in the USA Race, Ethnicity, and the Struggle for Identity

“When I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw there, I hated who I was.  I saw brown, and I hated being brown.”

While “brown” isn’t a race, people are often stereotyped based on their appearance and skin color, including the spectrum of “brownness.”  And for many Latino youth, this can lead to serious issues with identity, particularly when they don’t fit the stereotype.

For Alan*, the journey to self-acceptance has been hard, lonely, and hurtful.  Many look at him and see another young Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrant, struggling to make ends meet through jobs that require hard physical labor and little education.  But this perception is far from reality.

Alan was born in the US to middle-class Hispanic parents; his family’s immigrant story includes Mexican-born migrant workers in California, European Jews fleeing persecution, and ancestors from Spain.  Alan didn’t grow up speaking Spanish.  “I’m learning,” he jokes.  “Even though I look Latino, I’m different, I don’t feel like one of them, because of my language and culture.”

I often encounter youth like Alan who get lost in their search for identity and belonging.  They resent being labeled “Mexican” when they are, in fact, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, or Colombian.  An immigrant family of four from Nicaragua moved from a small apartment in a school district with a relatively large Latino population to a more rural school district, where they purchased a house in a better, safer neighborhood.

Their son, Andres*, was one of the only Latinos in his new middle school.  He was called “the Mexican kid” by his peers, and no amount of explaining about his heritage made any difference.  He soon came to hate school.  He was ashamed of his family’s language, culture, and ways of doing things, and he soon began hanging out with the “wrong kind of kids.”  His parents no longer knew his friends, he was experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and obsessed with gang culture.  The family finally made the difficult decision to move back to a neighborhood with more Latino immigrants and racial diversity, a school where their son felt less isolated as a Latino immigrant.

Like Andres, many immigrant youth experiment with alcohol or drugs or negative behavior simply to fit in with a particular group, usually “American” peers.  Marisol*, a 9th grader, was finishing her first year at a new, predominantly white school, and two girls asked her to watch the bathroom door while they were in a stall using drugs.  Her reason?  “I wanted them to like me, I wanted to have friends.  No one had asked me to do anything all year, and I thought they would be my friends.”  When the girls were caught by a teacher, the girls insisted it was the “Mexican” girl who had put them up to the incident.  It was Marisol who ended up suspended and who spent a year in Alternative School, primarily because she was ashamed to tell her parents what had happened.

Some youth “choose” not to be smart at school, because they only see “white” kids in advanced classes.  When asked about their grades in 8th grade, Javier and José stated that they would “be smart next year, when it counts.  It’s not cool to be smart.”  Javier, a US citizen whose parents are Guatemalan, is now a Marine.  “I was pretty stupid back then,” he says.  “Thank goodness I had adult mentors and people who cared about me who helped me get over that!”  And José is a college student, holding down two part-time jobs to pay his way through school.

Others deal with the pain of social isolation and identity by self-mutilation or attempts at suicide.  A recently-arrived teen from Guatemala, Daniel,* was identified as being at a high risk for suicide and was hospitalized.  He had just begun experimenting with self-mutilation, and his mom was terrified.  “I just don’t understand,” she said.  “We give him everything he needs.”  His parents couldn’t identify with Daniel’s feelings of being “stupid” in school as he struggled with English, with his sense of loss at no longer living in a rural village with grandparents who had been like parents the past 8 years, or with his struggle to accept his place as the oldest sibling in his US family.  “My mom left me,” says Daniel in Spanish.  “And now she brings me here, to be with my ‘family,’ and everything is supposed to be OK.  It doesn’t work like that.  I need some time.”

These types of situations baffle immigrant parents, who wonder why their children can’t embrace the opportunities they’ve worked so hard to provide.  While the stories of Andres, Marisol, Javier and José, and Daniel are all different, they have all struggled with issues of race, ethnicity, and culture.  They’re all second generation immigrants, caught between two worlds.  Through counseling and pastoral care, I help families understand this struggle for identity, the competing cultural values in their children’s lives, and the challenges of raising children in another culture.  And I help the teens know that it’s OK to be

Today, Alan no longer hates his brownness.  He’s a college student with plans for seminary and eventually earning a Ph.D., with a focus on Latino/Hispanic theology.  Thanks to caring individuals who recognized his struggle for cultural identity, he has moved beyond perception and embraced his Latino heritage as a positive force in his life.

“I’m still defined by being brown, but that’s OK.  Jesus is brown, too.”

By Sue Smith, D.Min., MSW, LSW

*Names have been changed

Nourishment for the Fredericksburg Community LUCHA's Hunger Relief Ministry

By Caitlyn Furr

I have the privilege of interning with LUCHA ministries this summer through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s (CBF) Student.Go program. After completing CBF’s orientation, I began interning with LUCHA at the beginning of June. I am a graduate student at Emory, seeking a Master’s of Divinity and a Master’s of Public Health. This internship at LUCHA provides me the opportunity to learn about ministry, community development and holistic health all at once. I can’t believe how much I have learned and experienced already!

On Mondays, I participate in LUCHA’s food ministry, which is operated by dedicated volunteers in the community. They arrive at the food bank in Fredericksburg on Monday mornings and spend at least an hour carefully selecting food items to purchase. Once they have selected and paid for the food by pound, they load about 5 shopping carts full of food into their own cars. They drive to Sylvania Heights Baptist Church, which has graciously allowed LUCHA to use its facilities, to sort the food. The volunteers create boxes of food, which include fresh produce, meat, packaged foods, hygiene products, and much more, for families in the community. The volunteers are well-acquainted with the families who will receive the food, so they personalize the boxes to ensure needs are met. For example, if a family has an infant, the volunteers will ensure that family’s box contains diapers. Finally, the volunteers hand deliver boxes to the families in the community. The entire process takes about 4 hours, but many of the same volunteers help every week. I am incredibly impressed with the compassion displayed by LUCHA’s volunteers, and the thoughtfulness they put in to each box they deliver. The program is effective in providing for needs in the community while also encouraging relationship building.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past few weeks to meet various members of the Fredericksburg community who are served by LUCHA. It is clear that they trust and respect LUCHA and its programming. The needs within the community are many, but the community members feel connected to LUCHA and it gives them hope. LUCHA is a place where Latinos in Fredericksburg can turn when they need help, and it works to provide for their needs without judgment. LUCHA is a wonderful example of the love of Christ within the Fredericksburg community. I am grateful to be a part of it this summer, and continue to learn from this ministry.

Each year, the Cinco Panes (Five Loaves) food pantry serves approximately 1,200 persons in need.  Through the years, the ministry has evolved from a more traditional style pantry that provides boxes of groceries  to needy families to a more participatory model where the clients themselves have become the volunteers.  This new model has created a sense of community among many Latino immigrants who otherwise wouldn’t know each other.  The volunteers are Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Baptist; Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan; young and not-so-young.  The ministry helps non/limited-English-speaking immigrants gain a greater sense of self worth as they work together for the greater good of the Latino community.  And it gives parents and youth the opportunity to work together.  During the past year, over 70 persons have served as volunteer.

Is my Daddy a bad person? LUCHA Ministers to Families in Times of Crisis

 

“Is My Daddy A Bad Person?”

By Sue Smith, Executive Director

It was a beautiful fall day, and Eduardo*, his sister Yessenia*, and I were sharing Happy Meals and Chicken McNuggets. We were on our way home from an all-day trip to Farmville, Virginia, where I had taken the kids to visit their dad at the ICE detention center. Somehow McDonald’s didn’t seem like the ideal place for such a serious discussion.

“Ms. Sue, is my daddy a bad person?” asked “Little” Eduardo. Looking into the 6-year-old’s small face was like looking at his dad at that age. Same slight features, same big brown eyes, same black hair. “No,” I responded, “your dad isn’t a bad person. He’s a really good person, and he loves you.” “Then why can’t he come home with us? I miss him so much!” Little Eduardo said as the tears started to flow.

For nearly 20 months, Eduardo’s dad (also named Eduardo) was incarcerated, much of that time in a detention facility for immigrants while the courts decided whether he would be deported or not. The final court date was looming, and with an uncertain outcome. I couldn’t promise that Eduardo’s dad would come home soon, or come home ever. And how do you explain the difference in “jail,” where “bad people go” and immigration detention? That’s a lot for a 1st-grader to comprehend.

From the beginning, LUCHA Ministries has offered a variety of programming to help improve the lives of immigrants in our community: ESOL, tutoring, computer literacy and skills training, counseling, help in obtaining affordable healthcare, food assistance, and more. But it’s on days like this one, talking with Little Eduardo, when I am most aware of the impact of our ministry. What we do is important — vitally important — but how we do it, our holistic approach that extends to the entire family ,is what distinguishes us from other agencies in our community. The folks among whom we work aren’t simply participants in our programs, or clients, or immigrants. They are our friends, our neighbors, and fellow children of God.

Over the years, LUCHA Ministries helped “Big” Eduardo obtain emergency dental care, provided food assistance, and encouraged him to obtain his GED. When he was away, the care extended to his family, making sure they had their basic needs met and providing emotional support. And for those 20 months, I visited Eduardo regularly in detention, praying with him and reminding him of God’s continuous love and care in spite of difficult circumstances.

As Executive Director, I am thankful for LUCHA’s many board members, program directors, volunteers, and donors who share our passion to love and care for the immigrant community. They go above and beyond what is expected, and when they take responsibility for much of the daily administration of our programs and activities, they allow me to spend extra time with families or individuals who are going through a crisis.

I am also thankful for God’s amazing love and care for families like Eduardo’s. “Big” Eduardo is now back with his family and will soon receive his Green Card as a Legal Permanent Resident He’s attending church, working, and enjoying his children. He’s even considering college in the future. Like he recently told me, “I am so blessed, God is good. Thank you for not giving up on us.”

Leaving For A New Tomorrow Sue Smith talks with a father, husband and son separated from his family in Mexico

We think of machismo as being somewhat synonymous with the Latin American male. You know the stereotype – the big, strong guy who rules the family with authority and strength, who would never shed a tear, whose word is law in his household.

Recently I asked one of these big, strong macho guys (a roofer, by the way) about his family back in Mexico. He told me about his wife, kids, and his aging parents; how it feels to be separated from them, and what he’s missing by being in the US. He talked about the loneliness and struggles and yet why he stays.

“My son is a good kid, and he’s growing up so fast! My wife and kids live on a finca with family. My son is 14 and in a good school, lives in a safe, rural area. He helps care for the animals and rides horses, and is taking on more responsibility from my dad . . . sure, he’s missed me growing up, but it’s normal for me not to be around. He knows why I’m not there, but it still makes me sad. I sometimes worry he doesn’t even care anymore that I’m away from them.”

Why ARE you here and not with them, I asked. “It’s my responsibility to provide for my family. In Mexico, I might make $100 per week if I’m lucky. That barely pays for the basics – food and shelter, maybe transportation. There’s not enough for clothes and shoes and things the kids need for school, for my wife to have nice things. And certainly not enough to help my parents as they get older. My mom had a stroke and can’t speak anymore. When I call, she just cries. I can hear her, trying to talk, but she always ends up sobbing. I want to be there, to help them, but they also need the money I send back. I can’t do both.” The macho image is slipping away.

I ask about his daughter, and his smile lights up his face. “I left for the U.S. two months before she was born, so I didn’t see her until she was five. And wow, she’s so great! I’ve seen her only that one time. But she can’t stop asking me where I am, when I’m coming home, why I can’t be at her birthday party. She reminds me there are events at school that parents are expected to attend, and I’m not there. She’s pretty hard on me, and I feel terrible. Sometimes I feel like a bad parent, because life isn’t all about the money. I’m missing so much with my family. But I’d do anything, give them everything, even if it means I have to be away from them.” He clears his throat, swipes at his watering eyes, and the macho image disappears completely.

I’m often asked, how can a parent leave his or her child behind in their home country for years at a time? The assumption is that they (dads, moms) just walk away, thinking only of themselves. But it’s not so simple. The current economic realities, the responsibility of providing for both young children and aging parents, and our cultural norms place enormous pressures on us.