Tuesday, June 19, 2018

3:30 AM Thoughts on Babies Separated from Their Parents

I usually don't have trouble sleeping, but I woke up at 3:30am this morning and my mind went back to the stories I've been reading about immigrant families separated at the boarder. About children--toddler, preschool age children--crying for their parents. About a breastfeeding mother separated from her infant. Like many people, I feel angry and helpless.

It also feels like a hard place to find a middle ground. I'm baffled by the fact that this is a partisan issue--that Democrat senators have signed on to support a bill that will prevent this from happening and no Republican senators have. I read that 60% of Americans are against the separation of immigrant families... which means that 40% of us think this is okay?

This past semester I had an international student in class. She is from Honduras. She happens to be one of the brightest students I've ever taught--including the many brilliant and privileged students I encountered at Wash U. She's smart and her writing is remarkable. She took a creative nonfiction course with me and some of her essays were about her home.

Confession: I don't know all that much about what's going on in Honduras. Or, I didn't before this past semester. I think I'm fairly well-informed. I get a daily news e-mail that I read. I listen to NPR before work in the morning. True, I've mostly stopped listening to Pod Save America because I felt that it was raising my blood pressure in unhealthy ways during my commute (not the podcast itself, but the political events they were covering). My news consumption is lower than it used to be--I get so frustrated by much of what the Trump administration has done (and, mostly, the lies they tell) so I have decreased some of my NPR listening, especially with my kids around. But I'm still reading and listening. And yet I had no idea what was happening in Honduras. I mean, I would have been able to tell you that the country is politically unstable and some people are seeking asylum, but I didn't have much sense of what that meant on the ground level. Not the way it affected individual people.

And then my student wrote an essay about a girl she went to school with getting kidnapped off her school bus to be held for ransom. She wrote about protests that turned violent, about unarmed civilians being shot, and the fear of families in neighborhoods that had always been safe and protected by wealth and affluence. She wrote about the anxiety of going anywhere alone, about the danger of ordinary life in her country, even for people who had previously been comfortable.

I'm embarrassed that it took a college student writing about her own experiences for me to understand the gravity of the situation there, but it suddenly made clear to me why someone would flee everything familiar in order to seek asylum in the U.S.

I know there are people who don't want "foreigners" in our country. I know there are people who are worried that their position or their comfort in society could shift if we allow people who look different or speak differently to enter our country. I think is fear is ignorant and misplaced, but I can at least recognize that the unknown is scary. And yet, I don't understand people who think these migrants should just "go home." I don't understand why they can't see that no one wants to move to a place they've never been, knowing they will not be welcomed. But as Glennon Doyle wrote on IG, "Parents will take their children and run from a burning building, even if it's illegal to do so." I recently poem by Warsan Shire called "Home" and it made me feel so heavy and weepy as it captured the impossibility of this situation for these immigrants.

"Home" by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.

i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

So I was up at 3:30am, thinking about this poem and crying, traumatized children with no one to comfort them and feeling sick to my stomach. 

I made a donation to RAICES (an organization to reunite parents and children) and to Together Rising (Glennon Doyle's nonprofit that is funneling money to similar efforts). I still feel angry and helpless.

I read a blog post on Design Mom (one of my favorites--she's so smart and the cross sections of home decor, parenting, and social issues is like my sweet spot of interests right now) and one thing she invited readers to do is to participate in a letter writing campaign:

A reader named Alexis emailed me today and said, “I’m writing you from New York City where my friends and I are working on a letter-writing campaign — gathering notes to elected leaders regarding the cruel act of families being separated at the U.S. border. The letters will be hand-delivered to government leaders later this week. We’re hoping to gather hundreds with representation from every state.

We’d love to extend the invite to submit letters to you and your readership. All letters can be emailed to stopborderseparations@gmail.com by Wednesday, 6/20. They should include at least the zip code of the writer. We’ll take care of printing and delivering the letters.

All you have to do is email. They’ll take care of the printing and postage.

I love the idea of stacks of mail being delivered. Writing a letter doesn't feel like enough, but it's something tangible. I hope you'll consider joining me!

If you still have questions about exactly what's happening at the border, or why it's happening, or how our government is attempting to justify it, I recommend reading Gabrielle Blair's entire post at Design Mom or Joanna Goddard's post at Cup of Jo. Both offer helpful links and answer frequently asked questions (like Isn't this the law that Trump is just enforcing? Nope.

(Also, you know what else was a law? Concentration camps in Germany. Sometimes laws and entire governments are so wrong you would think it would be obvious to everyone.)

I'd also encourage you to read this essay by Meg Conley (which I shared on Facebook) because it basically broke my heart wide open and also this statement by the United Methodist Church

I guess that's it. I hoped writing about this would make me feel a little better, but honestly sitting here in my own comfort is what is making me feel so sad right now. Guess I'll give Senator Roy Blunt another phone call...

(Quick update: I just saw here that Roy Blunt issued a statement that says separating families doesn't "meet the standard of who we are as a country" so I was able to leave a message for him complimenting his statement and asking him to work with Democrats in order to stop this policy.)


  1. Thanks for writing this. As a Canadian, I feel especially helpless because your country is not my country and your politicians have no interest in hearing from (and certainly no responsibility to) someone from another country. But as distressing as the news coming out of the States is (and, as you note, one of the most distressing things is that there is a good proportion of people who think these measures are justified because these people are 'breaking the law'), it is good to know that there *are* people working against it and there *are* things all people can do to stand up to this horror. The lies the Trump administration are telling are equal parts maddening and horrifying, the comparisons to concentration camps and internment camps are apt (and horrifying - and Canada is not immune to this shameful history, since we had Japanese internment in World War Two, and residential schools whereby indigenous children were separated from their parents - often forcibly - from the 1960s until the 1990s), but please take heart that people (including you!) are not letting this be ignored. I've read a good deal on Nazi-era Germany, but one thing I don't know is if, or to what extent, people resisted. People ARE resisting this, and I have hope that perhaps - against all odds and at long last - at least some portion of the population has learned something from history. I really hope that these children are reunited with their parents soon.

    1. I agree completely. I have great hopes for the next two ejection (midterm and 2020 presidential) but I’m also terrified. And you’re right—people say things like “if they want to come here, they should do so legally!” But seeking asylum IS legal and the time and expense it takes to immigrate obviously makes it impossible for some whose lives are in danger. It’s so disheartening.

    2. Was "ejection" intentional, wishful thinking, Freudian slip...??? ;)

  2. I have been left feeling helpless, hopeless, and angry as a result of this horrific situation. Thank you for providing charitable recommendations. I just made a donation.

    1. Same. I hope our donations do some good together!

  3. I'm south of you, and yelling at my reps as reasonably a possible. I need to Google their names, see if any of them have taken a real stand. I'm not hopeful. I will gladly join in that letter writing campaign. I've seen that poem so many times in so many places this past week, I hope it's having the same effect on others as it is on us. Anyone can text RESIST to 50409 as well for help contacting their reps. I think I got that from you!? And it's been great. Sigh. Idk what to say, but b support you in this anyway and your post was reassuring, it's just good to know others are with you.

    1. Yes! Thanks for this. Sent my email this morning. May our notes be part of an enormous stack of mail!

  4. A reporter on PBS Newshour quoted this poem tonight!

    She was reporting on how asylum-seekers are being stopped in the middle of a bridge to a port of entry. (The woman she covered did make it through, likely because she was accompanied by an advocate and the media.)

  5. Like Anonymous at the top of the comments, I'm Canadian, and watching the events of the past few days in horror. As s/he said, we are not immune to this sort of thing here, but it's so discouraging that nobody seems to learn from history. :( Our families were all immigrants to North America at some point (unless you happen to be indigenous -- and even some of them crossed the Bering Strait at some point...!), and a lot of them weren't considered "desirable" when they came here either. Have we learned nothing? :(

  6. I've donated to RAICES and Together Rising as well....still left with all the feelings. I'm sure there are 5 million things to consider and work through to reunite these families, and I'm beyond grateful there are people addressing those 5 million things. But GOD I wish I could somehow find out if there are children here in the Twin Cities area, get them, and fly them back personally (or to wherever their parents are). If only it were that easy. Until then...money and phone calls and not letting it rest. Onward.