|BROWNSVILLE, July 20 - Sara is from San Pedro Sula, a large city in Honduras. She has wiry hair and a four year old who has figured out how to knot one of her bags to her small backpack.
I met her in Brownsville, as she was waiting for a bus to take her to New Orleans. After visiting for a while, I asked what was it that made her take the decision to come to the United States. “The local gang threatened me,” she said. “How did they threaten you?” I asked her. “They stopped me on the street and told me that they wanted my thirteen year old girl to work for them. That very afternoon I sent my girl to my sister’s house. The next morning, they set my house on fire.”
Sara’s bus departure was announced, she thanked me for visiting her, picked up her bag, and she and her little girl headed off to New Orleans.
I didn’t get to ask her what had happened to the thirteen year old.
Mariay (I didn’t get to ask her how to spell her name, but that is how she pronounced it) is from El Salvador, from an area called Usulutan. She, too, was at the bus station, waiting to take a trip to Baltimore. She, too, had a little girl with her. The little girl was quite taken with a stuffed toy monkey that someone had given her. Mariay said that she was going to live with her brother and his wife. She wasn’t excited about the prospect (“the woman is mean!”), but she said that there was no way she could keep living in her village. “The gangs moved in and took over everything. They kidnapped my husband, even though we don’t have any money. All we did was raise corn and beans.”
I didn’t ask her about her husband, but talked instead about Baltimore and that it was a lovely city.
She seemed to appreciate the encouragement.
I saw Gloria the day after my bus station visits. Gloria is from Valle Hermoso, a little town in Mexico just about an hour’s drive south of Brownsville.
Valle Hermoso is at a crossroads on a major highway and has been the scene of narcotics violence for nearly four years now.
I asked Gloria how things were, and she shook her head and showed me a photograph. “They took this poor kid last week. He was a good friend of my son and was just the nicest boy. They killed him and left his body on the highway. No one knows why. He was only 17 years old.”
The politicians have come and gone to our region over the past four weeks. Only a handful (Congressional Representatives Vela and Hinojosa from our area, to name two) have shown the courage and the compassion to speak in defense of the victims of a kind of violence that requires a new vocabulary (for example, “cook” refers to the person charged with dismemberment and with placing bodies in acid baths; “pick up” (levantón) means a kidnapping for the purpose of terrorizing–no ransom asked, just torture before murder; “the 72” refers to the 72 immigrants who were shot to death after refusing to work for the cartels). These representatives have been unnerved, rightly so, that this sort of violence is visited upon children—and that there are political leaders in the United States who are scheming to send these children back to the cauldron of evil fueled by US drug consumption.
Alongside this border we have been receiving thousands of child victims of violence. The numbers and the needs have tested local communities and government agencies, but, eventually, soon, the children and the families move onto other parts of the United States. They are immigrants, refugees, new people coming into our communities. They have left the familiar and the known, their language and their people. They have come to our land with hope.
If you notice one of these folks, and if you have the resources to reach out to them, please do so. They will need advocates, people who can offer medical, legal, and educational assistance. They have been through hell; they don’t need to think that they have arrived to yet another hell.
If that opportunity doesn’t present itself, a letter to the editor or a note to your congressional representatives (I like to send them faxes–better than an email, although a phone call works wonders) commenting on the ethics of hospitality would be welcomed.
In any case, thank you for visiting. . .
Michael Seifert is a community leader in the Rio Grande Valley. The above column first appeared in his blog, which is titled Alongside a Border.