ON MARCH 2, 2017 Los Porteños, a group of Latino/a writers in Portland, Oregon presented Hechos Alternativas/Alternative Facts at Literary Arts. Los Porteños read original poetry and prose in response to the preponderance of “alternative facts” shaping the current state of affairs. In a climate rampant with fake news, unsubstantiated statements, and the denial of evidence, join us for an evening of resistance against the disappearance of truth.
Pat Rumer, writer, BECOME AN UNDOCU ANGEL! - Term from Mo Goldman, Tucson immigration attorney.
“I’m so excited about seeing my father after 18 years,” a vibrant woman with dark-hair tells me over a cup of coffee. We are sitting in the basement of a United Methodist church that has opened its doors to shelter women and men travelling with young children. It is a large room with mattresses on the floor and suitcases and clothing scattered around. Graciela is from El Salvador and is with her four year-old daughter, who shares a shy smile from her mother’s side. She has the same dark beautiful eyes as her mother.
“We had to leave El Salvador. The gangs demanded that I pay half of my rent to them. I couldn’t afford that. It wasn’t safe so I left my husband to travel north to reunite with my father in New England. My father has worked in a hotel for twenty years and he has a job for me. I am going to work hard for him and my daughter.”
What will Graciela find in cold New England? Like most immigrants she is prepared to work hard, enroll her daughter in school and study English. She is definitely motivated. Will she be safe? Each person before leaving the shelter receives information that advises them to show up for their court date and how to avoid deportation. ICE gives each parent and child six months to apply for asylum or to get an attorney in order to remain in the USA. But now the new ICE priority is to deport immigrants who’ve been in the United States for less than two years.
Another person in the shelter is Juan, a short, sturdy man with Mayan features. Juan is travelling with his five year old son who loves to play soccer. He and another boy kick a big ball in the empty basement space – laughing and shouting “Goal!” Juan continues, "There is no work in my rural northern town of Guatemala. I have to support my family - the most that I could earn was $5 a day. My mother is a legal permanent resident.” He tells me proudly, “my mother is a pastor of a Pentecostal church in the Southeast. She urged me to come north to join her. I need to work – what kind of job do you think that I can find because as soon as possible, we will bring the rest of our family."
Juan is determined to build a better life. He has hope that he can do that in the USA. I don’t tell him that most of the jobs will be low-paying but what do I know? He may find a way to save money and send for his family.
Casa Alitas is another shelter in a nondescript house. It is smaller with room for only four families, but it is more intimate and welcoming. I talk with Juana, a young indigenous woman from Guatemala.
Juana speaks quietly, "I am going to meet my sister in the Middle West. In my poor rural village I was living with my mother-in-law and two daughters. My husband is in the United States but he has found another woman.
She leans towards me, "I am nervous about the bus trip because we will have to change buses in Dallas, TX. I don't read or write but I know that my older daughter will help me. I look at two 7 and 8 year old daughters playing next to us with wide smiles. Confidently, she says “my daughters will learn quickly and have a better life in the USA. And I am getting on the bus!”
Later, she shows me how to make Guatemalan rice - I chop tomatoes, onions and garlic. Her face lights up and she laughs, "I love to cook and did all the cooking for my mother-in-law and children."
She like the other recent arrivals committed an illegal act by crossing the border, it is a felony. If she is deported and crosses again, she will serve time in a federal private detention center. I sense her strength and courage to have travelled from Guatemala to the United States alone with her two beautiful daughters. I am hopeful that her sister will support her but she may not qualify for political asylum as the federal government will say that she is an economic migrant. Will her six month humanitarian parole paper from ICE protect her from the increasing raids by ICE?
TO BE CONTINUED:
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?