A Long and Dangerous Journey
By Helen Dorado Alessi
A mother and her 7-year-old daughter walk into the office of Long Beach Latino Civic Association; they’ve just arrived from Honduras. While her mother speaks to our program director about some very serious matters, I walk over to this little girl and ask her if she would like a book or doll.
“¿Quieres un libro ó una muñequita?” I ask her as I lower myself to her height.
She is shy and quiet; she directs her deep brown eyes down to the floor. I reassure her by telling her my favorite book “is this one,” an enormous picture book about places around the world. On each page, we see vibrant maps of the different continents. We slowly go through each page and discuss that part of the world. As we reach North America, I show her where she is right now in the United States, and in particular New York. Then, we talk about where she is from, Honduras.
She tells me about her town and why they had to leave. I ask her about what she misses the most. It’s almost always the same: “my grandparents, my cousins and friends…” I tell her I know how she feels. We turn the page and there are Central and South America. She points to her country and starts to cry a little bit. I tell her crying is good, “it shows you have a caring heart.”
We close the book and put it away. I then show her a big box of Barbies that have been donated.
“Please look through these and pick one to take home, honey,” I said.
I return to my desk and turn my attention to the latest concept paper I am writing for a program about providing training to new citizens on their roles, responsibilities, and rights as new American citizens. Suddenly, I hear the little girl sigh. I turn to look over at her, and she is holding dos muñecas in her hands. She keeps switching the two dolls from hand to hand, putting one down in the box and then picking it back up, putting the other in the box and picking it back up.
I watch this little drama taking place and wonder what she could be thinking. Her little forehead has a deep line in it like she is in deep thought and grappling with a huge problem. I walk over and look at the two Barbies. Both dolls are identical in shape and size — you know, the look of the typical Barbie: unrealistic body type, huge head, large breasts, super thin waist, unbelievably long legs, and feet positioned and tilted as if waiting for a pair of high-heeled shoes. Ah, I think I see the dilemma. I’ve asked her to pick one doll to take home, and she likes them both.
One is a beautiful blonde, blued-eyed doll, and the other is a stunning brown doll with deep brown eyes. I ask her if she likes the dolls. She says, “Oh yes, very much.”
I say, “Do you like them both the same?”
“Hmmm, ¿Qué vamos a hacer? What are we going to do? You know…? This little one looks like you, beautiful, brown curly hair, eyes, and skin.”
I hold her up to the little girl’s arm. She smiles at me. Yup, I get you kid.
“And this other one looks a little bit like me… blondish hair, light skin and blue-green eyes.”
Again, she smiles up at me. I tell her that these dolls remind me of my sister and me. I pull out my phone and show her a picture of us as little girls.
She laughs and asks, “¿Esa es tu hermana?”
“Sí, that’s my sister. Why, don’t we look alike?”
“No, para nada, not at all,” she says smiling.
“Bueno, no sé, pero me parece que you have to take both dolls home. They are now friends and we can’t separate them, can we?”
She immediately holds out her arms with a doll in each hand, looking to give me a hug. As we embraced, she whispered in my ear, “Gracias, señora Helen.”
I tell her, “De nada, niña linda. You’re welcome, pretty girl.”
Her mother looks over. She has been crying as she explained that they have both just arrived in Long Beach from an immigrant detention center in Miami. She has traveled to Long Beach with a detection cuff on her ankle. She must appear in immigration court here on Long Island to seal her fate: go back to a war-torn country or stay here. Chances are that they will be sending them back. But, seeing her daughter hugging me and smiling makes her happy and calmness seems to take her over.
She comes over and tells her daughter that she must not be greedy and take only one doll or book. She tells her mami that she is allowed to take the book, and she shows her mom the pages of North America and Central America and says, “Mami, aquí es dónde empezamos el viaje y dónde está Abuela, this is where we started and where Grandma is…” as she turns the page, “…y ahora estamos aquí en Nueva York, and now we’re here in New York.”
I tell the mom that, if it’s okay with her, we would love for her daughter to take the book and the little dolls, that “it would make us very happy.”
As they left, I could not help but hope that they would somehow be okay.
“¡Adiós, muñequita linda! Farewell, pretty girl!”