Stories For Liberation: Now Is Our Time

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(Painting/"Now Is Our Turn"/Gwynne Duncan)

This story from a Long Beach High School student leader is dedicated to every young person who has found a connection with a family member, biological or chosen, and faces irrational loss of those ties. We cry out with the young author against the forces dismantling our most basic human needs and desires.

Now Is Our Time

The day my mom told me she had a boyfriend, I was extremely hesitant and worried about meeting him. I feared the idea of a new man entering our lives. My doubts were very quickly proven wrong because when he became part of our family, it felt natural. He was caring and it was clear that he wanted to have a happy life with us as a family. He provided for us, not financially but emotionally.

Through all of the struggles I faced with my biological father, he was there as a shoulder to cry on. He was the one who cheered me on and supported me through my accomplishments. He bragged to the people he knew about how smart I was and everything I was doing. He was proud of me. He and I had a good relationship. I knew him better than the man who brought me into this world. I had already lost my biological father to his alcoholism and uncontrollable anger; I felt like my soul would shatter if I lost my stepdad, too.

He worked every day to give his family the good life he didn’t have. His life growing up in Honduras was extremely difficult. Honduras was in extreme poverty and was being run by corrupt politicians who cared more about money and power than they did about their people. The streets of Honduras were being run by ruthless gangs that killed anyone who opposed them, and this issue has only gotten worse.

My stepfather lived in poverty until his family was able to bring him to America. His time in America was spent working tirelessly to provide for himself and his family. When he eventually became part of our family, I thanked God every night for finally giving us someone who could love and care for not only me but also for my mother.

It was always a worry for us that he could one day be detained, but we did not think it could really happen.

***

The night Donald Trump was named President of the United States I cried myself to sleep in fear of what could happen to my family. I stayed up to watch the results until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I watched as states changed from blue to red and then back again all night. There was a moment when Texas was a blue state… how was that possible? Of all the places in the country you would expect to be blue, even if just for a moment, Texas was not one. I ended up falling asleep before I could see the final results.

I woke up and found out the worst news I could have heard in that moment: He won. Donald Trump had taken the election and was now the President of the United States. The bigot who brought fear into the lives of countless minorities and their families was now the most powerful man in America.

We always knew there was a possibility that our family could be affected by an immigration crackdown, but it wasn’t something we discussed. The results of the election made this an issue we couldn’t avoid. Every day we saw more and more stories of families being separated, and the worst part was that we didn’t realize that, eventually, that would be us.

***

My stepfather was arrested by ICE on January 19, 2018. I was sitting in my bedroom when I heard my mom on the phone crying. I went to her room to find out what was wrong. She told me my aunt had just called to tell her that ICE had arrested my stepfather while he was at work. My heart suddenly dropped, I had no idea how to react.

We couldn’t get in contact with him for 48 hours. We didn’t know why this happened. When you see these stories on television you sympathize, but when it’s happening to you it’s different. Once we were able to find my stepfather, we found out he was in a detention center in New Jersey. He was taken to Hempstead, New York! I’m not sure why he was taken so far away, but that was the least of our worries. My mother and grandmother went weeks meeting attorneys to find one they could afford and would actually help us.

Once we found one, all we could do was wait. The first of three court dates was in February, more than a month after his arrest. I was in school and could barely focus because I was waiting to hear from my mom to find out what happened with my stepfather.

The court date was moved to May. We had to wait three more months to find out what would happen to my stepfather. While he was in the detention center we spoke to him when we could, but the phone prices were high. Typically, my mother would spend $50 a week so he could call us—that did not include the money she gave him for commissary.

He told us about his experiences through the months as we waited to see what would happen to him. He told us that the people in the cells were not allowed to have blankets, a rule established by the guards. His cellmate was leaving, so he gave my dad his blanket. When the guard saw this they took the blanket away. Can you believe that? He couldn’t have a simple sheet for comfort. I call it a blanket loosely since it was almost as thin as paper.

My dad had long nice hair until it started to fall out while he was in the jail. He explained to me that since there was little to no soap, his hair began to fall out in chunks and as a result he had to shave his head. He even told us about the food in the cafeteria. How it was so grotesque that animals wouldn’t even eat it. How can our government have more restrictions on how animals are to be treated than they do on how prisoners can be treated in these detention centers?

He told us about all of these issues and all we could do was cry and hope for the best. Eventually, May rolled around and his court date was here. Once again, I waited impatiently in school to hear the results and, guess what…? The court date was moved again. This time it was moved to June.

As we waited for what felt like the slowest, most agonizing month of my life, the attorney asked us to write letters to the judge. Our attorney told us we had a harsh judge, the type who thinks all immigrants are stupid and good for nothing.

We heard this information and knew we had to prove him wrong. My guidance counselor wrote a letter highlighting my accomplishments and my 4.0 GPA. Isn’t it unbelievable that we have to prove to this man that my dad is “worthy” to stay here?

After writing various letters and receiving letters from his friends and family, my dad‘s final court date was here. My mother testified on behalf of my dad explaining how hardworking and good hearted he was. The judge finally decided to let my dad out on bail because of the high risk of death he faced in his home country of Honduras.

This news gave us more joy than I could ever explain. I was terrified of losing my father figure all because he wanted to escape the violence in Honduras. He wanted a better life, and now he has an opportunity to have that. But not everybody is as lucky as my dad. How is a system like this—that punishes people who are seeking a safer life—an acceptable way to run things? We need change!

***

Donald Trump is not the first bigoted harmful person we’ve had as a president, he’s the 45th. This country and its leaders only feed into prejudice, and there needs to be a way to change that. Every single American leader has only made this harmful structure stronger, and it is time that we, as a people, rise up and create a world not ruled by money or greed.

Children and young adults, we are the future. Our time to start fighting is now, and we cannot stop until we have achieved our goal. Our goal is change. Our goal is equality and happiness for all. Every mouth is to be fed. Every single body is to be clothed. Every home is to be filled and every person is to have a home. There is no way to fix society if we do not first fight the system that created it.

Now is our time!

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