“So much pain has made me stronger,” writes a student at Westbury High School, as she unravels the story of her father’s arrest and deportation and her parents’ brave decision to remain separated to give their children a better life. This is a coming of age story that will speak to so many as they struggle to find courage and hope.
If someone ever told me my life would change or that it would be filled with emptiness, I wouldn’t believe them. In my eyes everything used to be so perfect. Even though my parents had their discussions, they would always figure out a solution. They were united no matter what. My family will always be everything to me.
It was April of 2014, I just arrived home from Ecuador. As I entered the room I noticed my small bed, my huge pink teddy bear in the same corner as always, my parents bed and the ugly beige rug. I sat on my bed. It felt good to be home, but one thing was missing. My dad– he wasn’t home to welcome me. I asked my mom where he was, and I saw a tear drop slowly down her cheek. I kept looking at her wiping her tears off. I knew there was something wrong. She tried to deny it at first. I knew she didn’t want me to worry, but I did.
When she finally decided to tell me the truth, I didn’t know what to say or how to react. I was confused and scared. So many thoughts went through my head. Her words kept repeating in my head. “He is in jail, but not for a long time” she told me. The only thing that came out of my mouth was “¿Qué hizo?”. I didn’t want to hear anything bad it terrified me. She explained everything to me and felt relieved. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since that day, I felt like everything collapsed inside me. I didn’t even get to say goodbye he was just not there for me anymore. My mother would always tell me that everything would be fine, but it wasn’t. I didn’t feel comfortable at home, school or anywhere.
Months passed and he was still locked up. I would go visit him in that place but I wouldn’t manage to get any words out. I couldn’t even hug him, because it was not allowed. My mom had hoped he would get out and come back to us. She did everything she could so we wouldn’t be separated. So much money was wasted on lawyers who did nothing for him.
A year later my father was deported to his country. My mom only had me and my brother. She was all alone with the responsibility to take care of us. There would be times where I pretended to be asleep, so I could hear their conversations. I would always hear her crying, telling my dad we were all going to leave soon. He told her that there was nothing for us in Ecuador. There were no jobs for them, and he wouldn’t be able to provide for all of us. I giving her reasons why we had to stay here in New York. My dad cared about us having an education. He would always encourage me to read books, study and obtain good grades. I guess that is how he convinced my mom, by telling her we needed a good education, but he said that one day we would be together as a family again. I am still waiting for that day.
As years passed by, it became harder to talk to my dad. I could tell by his voice that he was sad when he talked to me. Every time it was the same conversation. He would start with “Hola mija, ¿Cómo estás?” and I would lie and say, “Estoy bien.” We were so far away from each other and it hurt me so much, but that wasn’t the only thing. Me and my mom also grew distant. She worked long hours and would leave me at the daycare that was in the front of my house. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I felt so much emptiness inside me.
As I grew older I felt like I had to remind my brother about my dad. He would never say a word to my dad, probably because my brother felt like he was talking to a complete stranger. I showed him many pictures. My dad always carried his camera with him. He thought that every moment should be captured. The picture I like was the one that included me and my brother. I even remember that nice summer day. We were all at the train station on our way to the parade. I was wearing a striped dress with many colors and my hair was tied in a ponytail. Next to me was my brother and to his right was the person with smooth black hair, dark skin and his very small eyes, holding his hand, my father. I felt like I was drowning inside as I heard my brother say “I don’t remember him.”
Even though I would cry most of the times I had the same hope as my mom. One day I would see him, I used to tell myself. My mom is the strongest person I’ve known because after everything she has been through she is always here for us no matter what. There would be times I would cry for my dad or when I could not sleep, but my mom would be there to make me feel better, even though she was tired. She has given me everything I have needed for the past four years. Even in her worst times she would worry about us before herself. I admire her for being strong and never giving up. She is a hard worker and the best mom I could ever have. Every birthday wish I make is to see him again, or for us to be together like a family, as before.
On July 1st of 2018 I had the opportunity to see him again. Seeing his face after such a long time and being able to hug him made me feel safe. I thank God, me and my brother had the chance to see him and spend time together. I was glad my brother finally saw who his father was. Before, I would be scared because I thought that I would never have the chance to see him again. I hear my parents talk and they always say the same thing “Ojalá algún día volvamos a estar juntos.”.
So much pain made me stronger and I still have hope that day will come. One day in the future we will all be together. I want my parents to be proud of me. I want my mom to see that it was worth staying here so me and my brother could be successful at some point in our lives.