by Victoria Contreras
I’ve become numb. I didn’t know it until last night. I didn’t realize how the bombardment of the human injustices happening in our country has resulted in the normalization of what should sadden us–enrage us.
This is not to say that we’ve become incapable of noting when something is morally and ethically wrong. Nor is this to say that this numbness has prevented any of us from taking action.
But, it has served as a protective measure in this state of hopelessness we have found ourselves in.
On July 1, I attended the Families Belong Together march in Chicago. The march addressed the cruel separation of immigrant children from their families. As the daughter of an immigrant father and as a member of an immigrant family, I take immigration issues to heart. The degree of separation is small between me and those threatened by deportation, discrimination and exploitation that comes with being an undocumented immigrant.
If you looked around at the thousands of people who attended the march, you’d find that this issue goes far beyond the U.S./Mexican border. This issue has affected everyone. And as a result, it brought together an inter-generational group of people from all walks of life.
Questions for my immigrant dad
That night, after I had helped my 2-year-old sister get to bed, I sat down in the living room with my dad. I asked him, “Pa, how old were you when you came over here from Mexico?”
“Well, I turned 16 here,” he answered.
“And you came over by yourself, right?” I asked.
He’s told me about his journey here before. About how he hid in the trunk of a car, bearing the border heat for hours, praying that he’d make it through before la migra (immigration) found him. I thought about how scared and alone he must have felt, hundreds of miles away from his family. He was 15.
I hadn’t realized that I had started to cry. Concerned, my dad, now a U.S. citizen, asked me what was wrong. The numbness dwindled, and I vented:
“Dad, you chose to come here, and I thank you for that every day. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to leave everything–everyone—you know behind for a better life. But I can’t help but think of these kids separated from their families because they didn’t have that choice. Their parents brought them here. I’m in no way trying to invalidate your experience. I’m trying to make sense of it all because it’s not right.”
I can’t imagine what these parents must be going through. I picture these families coming over here wanting a chance to make life better for their children. And then losing them–not knowing where they are, if they’re taken care of, or if they’ll ever see them again. The kids’ last memories of their parents are traumatic. Now, they are alone and detained in literal cages.
We distance ourselves from the pain and then become numb. But sometimes we need to use that pain to propel us toward change, to motivate us to take action.
I think of my 2-year-old sister
When I see those kids, my mind goes straight to my 2-year-old sister. The thought of her confused and defenseless, not knowing why her parents aren’t with her or able to save her, breaks my heart.
By now, my dad was staring at the ceiling avoiding my gaze. His eyes had welled, and he was trying to prevent his tears from falling. He wasn’t successful. I hadn’t realized he had numbed himself too.
Sometimes we need to protect ourselves from the hurt and disappointment. We distance ourselves from the pain and then become numb. But sometimes we need to use that pain to propel us toward change, to motivate us to take action.
On June 20, the president signed an executive order halting the further separation of immigrant children from their families. This does nothing to address the greater humanitarian issues about the detention of entire families or those now separated.
We must do more.
Call your lawmakers and tell them that families belong together. And read this statement from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.
Victoria Contreras is a recent graduate from Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. She often works with Women of the ELCA to help out when needed. The original blog can be read in full here. Photos by Victoria Contreras