Student Meets Mothers Affected by East Austin Deportation Raid
Photo courtesy of ice.gov
By: Amy Gu
I planned to spend this past winter break exploring the roots I came from, my roots being immigrants fleeing their home country just for the selfless wish that their children will live more comfortably than their parents did. Living only a 7-minute drive from the women’s and children’s refugee shelter, Posada Esperanza, I hoped I might find appreciation for my origins and see myself in the bilingual children of the mothers, all halfway between two cultures and never fully in one or the other.
On the last day I was at Posada (which happened to be New Year’s Eve), I heard a staff member say over the phone, ”Patti, a lot has happened in the last couple of minutes… we just received a deportation notice for Hilda…”
The very first time I saw Ms. Hilda a couple weeks earlier, she smiled widely with a tiny bow of her head. I knew she didn’t know me or knew of me, since I was only oriented with the shelter a day ago. However, she sent me a smile with such immediacy and honesty that from then until her deportation, made me forget the hardships she had endured and still endures. The chunky cuff on her ankle seemed like some kind of health-related monitor to me. I didn’t even realize what bitter strength she had to meet me with unhesitating welcome, the bitter strength to endure the temptation to resent all Americans after what xenophobic law enforcers had done to her hopes.
Miss Hilda came in half an hour later holding another lady’s daughter that she was babysitting. “She… is… Chinese!” she told me, referring to the baby’s smooth-lidded eyes and straight black hair that looked like mine. Miss Hilda seemed so bright that I assumed that a deportation “notice” was an empty threat and that Hilda would stay at Posada with her son Ivan.
Minutes later, a tall woman with gray hair came to the office and read a long list of statements in American-accented Spanish. More minutes later, the staff member asked me to wait to get a board game for the bored girls next door. Three hours later, I learned that Hilda had to make the trip back to the country she fled.
A week later, in my comfortable home, I saw that the Posada Facebook page shared an NPR release about Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE). The link had a picture of Miss Hilda and her son. I skimmed the accompanying article and listened to part of the auditory report on Hilda and ICE.
Miss Hilda’s ankle cuff was a tracker for ICE to know where she was at all times. Miss Hilda wasn’t a monster or animal likely to run away to harm anyone; she was a 28-year-old mother who stayed in the shelter all day and was hesitant to ask for any supplies for herself and her son. What monster could dehumanize a mother like her? A woman who became a mother at 19, whose abuse in her son’s grandparents’ house was worse than the trek from Guatemala across the Rio Grande and half a year in the ICE detention center?
It fills me with deep shame that Hilda and Ivan were fleeing from tyranny but only met more terrorism in a country they thought was an asylum. But I hope that the care they received from such a wonderful organization like Posada will at least soften the blow of this horrid dehumanization Miss Hilda faced. What will happen to her when ICE sends her back to Guatemala? It’s with a heavy heart that I push away my worries that she’ll end up like the woman on the cover of Time magazine, brutally tortured and left to die after she was sent back to her abusive family-in-law.
I couldn’t go back to the shelter again, knowing Miss Hilda would be deported. The shelter would spawn questions in my mind of what Miss Hilda would endure when ICE sends her back across the Rio Grande and to the home she couldn’t sleep thinking about. Since then, I’ve tried to pluck up the courage to make the seven-minute drive to Posada, but not yet can I face what shame I feel to drive in my spotless car as the blissfully ignorant daughter of two immigrants like the ladies of Posada.
Every day I was at the shelter, I tried my very hardest to understand the Spanish spoken by women from countries’ whose accents and colloquialisms I’ve never learned. A woman whose Elsa-fanatic, dress-wearing son I took a particular liking to tried to converse with me and show me a picture of herself in a uniform holding a pistol. I thought she was showing me her Halloween costume from when she was younger, but only weeks later did her narration of her photo pass through my gringa language barrier—this was not a dress-up costume but a very real militant woman her home country trained her to be, and my ignorant smile at her “costume” had erased her chance to release a sad memory to a companion.
Every day I was at the shelter, I tried to gather the children to do some crafty activity while their moms and the staff could sort out issues I would never understand. I thought I would see children with cultural ambiguity like mine in their faces, but I saw maturity far beyond their ages forced onto them, a numbness to profane language and hateful remarks that no 9-year-old should know. I saw in their differences from me a mirror reflecting myself: I was the lucky one. I was so ignorant and shocked by how much pain these women and children had endured. If they had grown up in circumstances like myself, they would be no different than myself (one woman was only one year older than me and already a single mother of 6).
Miss Hilda is woman who became a mother before she was a woman. She is the reflection of the woman I might have become if my parents were not so lucky as to have escaped the cultural revolution and for me to have been born after climbing to socio-economic ladder into a suburban two-story house. Even though I had spent years fervently hating my family and the “tiger mother” presence they had on me, ultimately we are the lucky ones. Maybe even rightfully did I feel such anger for their constant disapproval of me, but nothing measures to the bitter strength Miss Hilda and the other residents at Posada had to smile at strangers like me, to see their humanity and inherent goodness despite all the monsters and evil they had known.