We enter 2018 with more uncertainty than ever for those who have managed to establish strong roots in this country. Minute to minute, day to day, and month to month, one cannot know what protections will be taken away, as countries of origin affected keep changing—to be used as political footballs—with the fate of DACA Dreamers, and those who are under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after natural disasters or political violence, unstable, uncertain and chaotic.
How then do we balance realistic caution and increasing our resilience, resistance and hope? These are the questions that confront Helen Dorado Alessi in her dual role as Herstory program consultant and bilingual workshop facilitator and Director of the Latino Civic Association of Long Beach, as she poignantly captures a day in the life of so many caregivers and helpers.
“TPS… Vaya Con Dios”
By Helen Dorado Alessi
I’ve got to get a move on. Running late to the office. Park in the median… my usual spot. Look across the street to the Bank of America building and I am already imagining myself running up the stairs to the second floor. First, need to check the mail box in hopes of a letter from Josh, our immigration attorney, or a check to pay for our work in Puerto Rico. Damn! No luck. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like we are going to stop anyway. Take a breath and walk quietly up the stairs, past the yoga studio and ambulette company.
“Hi, Nelly. How are you?”
“What’s on today’s agenda?”
“Helen, I have to talk to you about something.”
“I saw Angie today…”
Angie’s face comes into my mind: round face, deep brown eyes, long straight jet-black hair, and laughing. This kid is always laughing. When she worked in the office, I had to constantly tell her to quiet down and be serious.
“Yeah? How is she?”
“She’s a kid and you know she’s TPS…”
How awful to be referred to as a label. Dreamer. Undocumented. Illegal. TPS. T-P-S, I have come to hate those three letters of the alphabet. Temporary Protected Status. I especially hate the T because time is up.
How in the world do we help everyone under the threat of deportation? And what about all the children who were born here from families who came during an emergency?
“Nelly, Angie is only one person, but I know her fear is real. Now, how do we get her to come out of the shadows safely?”
Safely… is there such a thing? I feel my own anxiety rise and I am under no threat. Angie and all the children of immigrant families under threat of deportation have to be a special kind of brave and smart. Their influence on their families is huge. But, the adults are definitely in charge!
I move from not wanting to scare them about how real the threat now is, not wanting to panic them and fill children’s lives with more anxiety. But, I must. They are adults who need to control their destiny the best they can. Let’s face this together, I think.
And even when families and their kids are willing to tell their stories, they can’t claim them. It’s too dangerous! Stories of how they were tricked by a lawyer into thinking they had the legal paperwork to be in this country. Stories of how they didn’t know that they only had a year to put in their documents to be able to stay. Stories of murder, incarceration, torture and disappearance. Stories of children thinking, “You’ll see, Papi, when I turn 21 I will claim you, and Mami, so that we can stay.”
My attention gets pulled to the front door of the office.
“¡Hola muchachitos! ¿Cómo están? Yes, yes, the Three Kings left you presents just as they did Baby Jesus all those years ago in the manger.”
I am looking at two beautiful families. They’ve come to spend some time with us at Long Beach Latino for the holidays. They are happy and shy at the same time, super well-mannered children. Children we want to protect and keep here, here in this country.
I begin to tear up as I sit with them to help them make the most awesome decision: which toy will they pick out? Fabian, 6, Marco, 5, and Mercedes, 3, are so sweet and appreciative. Their parents prompt them, “¿Qué se dice? What do you say?”
“Gracias, Sra. Helen y Nelly.”
And then the oldest one says, “Que Dios las bendiga. May God bless you.”
With that, I begin to feel joy and sorrow at the very same time. As I look at their moms I ask, “How is everything?”
Almost in unison, they look away. Mercedes’ mom says, “Not now. I will come back when the kids are in school.”
Nelly and I know what that look means: she is scared, without resources and does not know what to do.
“Nelly, how do we get them to look at the situation squarely in the eye and begin preparing?”
“Helen, preparing for what?”
“For life in their home countries after deportation.”
I sit thinking about what it is like in El Salvador… Honduras… Haiti… right now. What are the dangers, the possibilities, the realities?
“No matter,” I tell Nelly, “we must transform this moment of fear into love and hope for our families and for Angie, Marcos, Mercedes and Fabian.”