This Is America
“Mis Hijos! cries La Llorona, the Weeping Woman of Mexican myth and memory. “My children, where have you gone?” It is the turn into the 16thcentury. Prescient, La Llorona, our Indigenous mother, mounts the temple steps of Tenochtitlan and grieves aloud the loss of her Native México and its children. She knows what’s coming.
In the last weeks, as the horror of the separation of children from their asylum-seeking families along the southern border began to surface, outraged news pundits, protestors and congressmen alike retorted, “This is not America.” Among ourselves, the invisible—Native Americans, Latinos, working-class immigrants and their children, citizen and undocumented alike—we speak a different language. We don’t really believe in the right of that border to determine our lives, even as it continues to bitterly determine our lives. We remember things differently. In 1848, at the end of the Mexican American war, the U.S. border was just another line on a map; never recognized by the original inheritors of that land.
We murmur to one another: “The separation of families . . . This is exactlyAmerica.”
Every African American must, on a DNA level, remember the auction block. Until the passage of the Child Welfare Act in 1979, as much as a third of Native American children were forcibly removed from their traditional communities and adopted into EuroAmerican homes. During the Second World War internment of Japanese Americans, thousands of fathers, Issei community leaders, were arrested and separated from their families, some for the duration of the war. In the 1960s Puerto Rican women lost the very prospectof children through mass forced sterilization.
I, a Mexican American, was raised by a strong-willed mother with a little formal schooling, and yet I received a good enough education through government grants and scholarships (not shackled by loans) to arrive at a critical thought or two. I also had the benefit of coming of age in the late 1960s/early 70s when people of color, women and queer folk took to the streets in rebellion. All this resulted if not in full liberation, at least in a political framework about equity and social justice that would carry a generation of us into the next fifty years. Fifty years in which the vast majority of gains made in public education, health care, social welfare, environmental protection, and workers’ rights have been eroded by a government that, decade after decade, rolled over for the rich to become richer.
Still, there was a moment when I had a brief taste not of what America is, but what it could be.
Today, I hold my country responsible for Donald Trump’s rise to power. Decades of greed and organized ignorance brought him there. The greed of a U.S. that has decided to no longer support public education, viable health care, or decent housing for all. The greed that would require that the poor and working classes never grow to full citizenship, never become a politically astute collective body of voters and voices that would insist on a quality of life that eradicated poverty and the racism it engenders. The greed that makes immigrant detention centers where human beings are caged good business for private prison companies.
In the eyes of the United States, the enemy is always elsewhere. From 9/11 to this most recent act of violence against immigrants. The U.S. always remain blameless, the “good guys,” even when its foreign policy has contributed to mass dislocations nearly everywhere, from Syria to El Salvador. Had the U.S. not invaded Iraq . . . would there be a thriving ISIS today? Had Ronald Reagan and his CIA never supported the genocidal dictator Ríos Montt, what would Guatemalan immigration look like today? What initiated the propagation of MS-13 in El Salvador if not the expedited deportation of convicted gang members into the civil war-torn country, during the Clinton Administration? NAFTA completely reconfigured Mexican agriculture, disappearing the small subsistence farms in the countryside and forcing massive dislocation of Mexicans first to the maquiladoras along the border and then into the U.S. How is it that there is freedom for goods and U.S. dollars to cross the Mexican border but not people? The U.S. imagines it can execute profit-hungry foreign policies, watching them explode into warfare in multiple continents, while somehow its U.S. borders are to remain sacred, sacrosanct.
“Vermin,” Trump calls los inmigrantes – ‘banging at the border gate’ to get in. But, these are people forced into migration, leaving their homes and the world of their native tongues because their native land has become unlivable. The U.S. government’s collusion with the corrupt governments of Mexico and Central America have brought asylum seekers and the just plain poor to the U.S. border. How is it, as a country, we believe that others should suffer at our expense; and yet we owe them nothing?
This new immigrant crisis may be “fixed.” Compromised policies may continue to emerge to take the public sting out of the travesty of state-sanctioned child abduction. And the vast majority of American citizens will return to their lives and forget what Trump and his cohort has exposed of our country’s historical character.
Many children and families may never be reunited; and even if united, the damage has already been done. Anyone that has ever experienced the loss of their child; or as a child, experienced the sudden death of a parent, remains wounded. They return to that moment of rupture at every important juncture of their life. Some remain there, stunned, unable to move.
This morning, unexpectedly, I cry on the phone to my own son, “I know how it feels to almost lose you.” His fragile life threatened for endless months by a very pre-mature birth twenty-five years ago. My body has not forgotten, as the news of these criminal separations erupts the susto (terror) once again inside me. I am average in this way. The daily dance between lost and found, between life and death is not exceptional, but each death, each loss matters to each one of us with equal force. A documented U.S. life does not matter more than that of an undocumented Honduran. This is called humanrights.
“These children are ours,” a journalist—a woman and mother—on the ground in South Texas pleads from my TV screen. The cry of La Llorona is every woman’s lament. How I still wish that such a sisterhood might cure this nation of its ills.