Stories for Liberation: What about Humanity? by Heydi Portillo

With all that is happening in our worlds, we must tune our hearts to the plight of the detained, unprotected from illness or danger.  This story, by a girl from Patchogue/Medford High School who has joined Herstory’s online summer writing program says it all.  To find out how to join the program click here. 

I woke up to her talking. The clock read 1:11 pm. I started to walk silently and spent about 15 seconds reflecting on whether I should listen. I placed my head against the door.  I heard, “Quiet! Right now, what you need is to calm down. Let’s pray and you’ll see that everything will be fine.” Suddenly, the voice froze. My mom opened the door and surprised me. I thought she was going to scold me, but she refrained and did not say a word, and I could only see her worried face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked

“Your aunt is not well. She is alone in El Salvador and someone is at her door. It sounds as if she is being tortured.”

My mind didn’t think about what was happening at the moment. I just thought about the times when I would go to sleep at my aunt’s house so that she wouldn’t feel alone. Sometimes, she would come to my house and say to my mom, “Nena, can you lend me La Ale so she can sleep with me?” And I was delighted to hear her say those words. Her whole life is really a drama, that if I tell the whole story you end up crying. I have not met a person with such misfortunes, and I adore her. Six months ago, she migrated to the United States with a backpack full of hopes and dreams after the disappointment of having been denied a visa twice. 

September 2019, the alarm wakes me up. Today is the day that my aunt begins that detestable journey to come here. I know it from experience. On the one hand, I feel happy because I imagine everything that we will do together: go shopping, go for a walk, and tell her many things. But on the other hand, what if it doesn’t happen? What if something happens to her?

Well, that’s what happened. Not even a month passed when the coyote left them in the Rio Grande. I don’t know how, and they didn’t tell me, but they had to swim across. I think that her desire to come to this country is really immense, because she doesn’t know how to swim and she is also a very nervous wreck. When they crossed the river, immigration was already waiting for them, and no matter how far they ran and ran, there always comes a point when your legs betray you and the breath is gone. However, what hurts the most is losing your direction, hope, dreams and the opportunity to see your children. She told me that as she ran, all she could think about was that she was going to be with her children—her ex-partner had taken them from her.

October 2019, my aunt is in a hostel in Mexico. The misfortunes are beginning to appear one by one, but these are not in a hurry. The immigration officer said that if she really wanted to cross, she had to fight her asylum case from Mexico. On January 23, 2020 she was going to have her first court date, which by the way, was exactly the date of my birthday. I think that if birthday wishes really existed, I would have wished that my aunt would have been able to enter, because every time I talked to her, I couldn’t help but feel pain when I ate or laid on my bed.

Those hostels are hell on earth. They wake you up at 5:00 am to work and clean up. In the beds, they sleep like sausages glued on top of each and tossing and turning. To keep them alive, they are given sardines to eat, only twice a day and one can has to feed two people. If you have a cell phone you can only use it for a couple of hours and then you must hand it over to the guards. If you really need to bathe you have to get up at the crack of dawn because there are too many people, there is not enough water for everyone and the water freezes even the pupils.

My mom helps her when she can with a little money. Besides, with the arrival of the coronavirus my mother lost her job and we cannot help her now. Yesterday we went to buy some blankets and coats for her because winter is already looming. I chose some hats and gloves because she and I have the same tastes and I know she will like them.

It’s been years since it snowed in Mexico, but like I already told you, when misfortunes come, they come like a wild storm. All the people in the hostel are not used to the cold. Our countries are warm. The innocence of children gives me tenderness. A few days ago, I spoke with my aunt on the phone and she said, “Ale, notice that it is snowing. I always wanted to see the snow, but not in this way. It is very cold. The children were excited playing with the snow. I could not believe it, but now they are bored. The cold keeps them very calm. Some of these children were chubby when I met them and now even their ribs are marked. These children are very malnourished.” I thought, and how can they not be? Living only on sardines.

My heart shrinks and between exhales, I hear my aunt say, “You know what hurts me the most, Ale?” My voice remains silent. “It hurts me to see that my children have changed. Now my girl no longer looks like a baby girl, now she is a young woman and even my son’s voice has changed. Tomorrow is my girl’s 15th birthday and I won’t be able to be there to accompany her or give her a hug, but what hurts me, is seeing that she won’t have a party or friends to accompany her, just a mother who is trapped.” 

Then, the call is cut off. Time to hand over the phone.

The misfortune of some is lamentable. Some laugh, others cry, some are born, others die. We do not choose where to be born, nor do we have the option of choosing a bunch of money to solve our lives. We can only fight for our dreams. Thousands of people do not understand what the American dream means to some and why it is so important. And I’m not asking them to understand it, but it’s not fair how they treat us either. Now with the arrival of COVID-19, many immigrants have died because, let’s face it, the border authorities don’t give a damn that an immigrant dies. Them or the President. 

What about humanity? My aunt and thousands of immigrants are suffering in ICE shelters and detention centers. 

Why? Because there is no food for them. They also don’t want to help with medicines, masks or gloves. 

Do you know how much measurements are they taking? Zero! This is nothing more than the violation of human rights. 

Like my aunt and many immigrants, they have been waiting with false hope for their political asylum. There are many people there who are always telling them that their plans are laughable and worth nothing. It’s that, judging is easy if you don’t live it. I tried to contact organizations or someone to help them with food and blankets, but no one can, or at least not to immigrants in hostels. The coronavirus came to take away the last hopes that immigrants had. It is the drop that spilled over the glass.