How can families comfort their own, when there is such sorrow and cruelty all around them? What happens to those who have made it to temporary freedom when they extend their hearts and hands to those who have not? Francis Madi, a longtime community organizer and advocate shares part of a longer work in progress in which she returns to her mother after a heartbreaking experience volunteering in a detention center. Francis currently works for the New York Immigration Coalition and is a Herstory Facilitator in Training. She will be working with DACA recipients through the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) to help them write their personal stories.
A Mother’s Love
By Francis Madi
It was only when I came back from Texas and I arrived home that I finally allowed myself to breathe. The entire time I was away, I felt like I had gone underwater, to a place that was not my element, and I had been holding my breath.
I didn’t realize it until I arrived and my mom asked me how I was doing. Or maybe, I assumed she did because all I needed in that moment was to feel safe again, safe enough to be able to talk about my experience as a legal volunteer at the South Texas Family Detention Center and the Karnes County Detention Center.
I tried to look for a place in my head where I could start telling my mom my experience. Where could I start? With the reasons that push people to seek asylum in the U.S.? Murders, domestic violence, dismemberments, sexual abuse? The actual trip they made to cross the border? The moment they arrived in the U.S. and were thrown into detention? Or the moment when border patrol left these mothers and their children hungry, depriving them of calls, bathroom access, depriving them of their humanity?
“It was horrible Mom, it was horrible. I heard dozens upon dozens of stories, so much pain, trauma and suffering.”
There were so many women whose stories would pop into my head, but only one that kept coming back to me because I saw my own mother in her:
Rosa. She was from El Salvador, a mother and grandmother who grabbed her daughter and grandchild and a few personal things to escape up north. She was the business owner of a restaurant that, among other things, sold pupusas. She was well known in the town for making the most delicious pupusas. She and her husband worked hard, saved money for many years to be able to afford her little store and put their children through school. She experienced how her own town, her store, her life were being taken over by forces outside of her control. First, it was the random sums of money she had to come up with at the end of the month. Then, it was the murders she had to witness in front of her store, of people who happened to be at the wrong place and time. Sometimes, she would witness them with her grandchildren, too.
Finally, the personal threats came:
“If you don’t pay us this sum by the end of the month, we will kill your daughter, we will kill your husband.”
“But, I don’t have that money, I can barely pay the rent of my store and feed my family.”
“Figure it out” they would say, “and if you bring the police into this, we will kill you and everyone you love.”
She had no other choice, she had to go, she had to leave. It was taking this risk or staying to wait for her own funeral to happen. She took one of her daughters and one of her grandchildren, and escaped one night into the unknown, leaving her husband, the rest of her children—and everything she had ever called home, everything she had ever loved—behind.
I think of Rosa often. I think of my mother, all migrant mothers who risked the unimaginable to cross borders and create new futures for their families. I had absorbed so much, I couldn’t keep myself together anymore. I sobbed as I continued to tell my mom Rosa’s story, and she cried with me as she held me. That’s all I ever needed in that moment, to be held, and be reminded that regardless of the darkness I had experienced, she was still my light, she was my lungs and I could come up for air again, if only momentarily.