“He wanted what all immigrants want: to be surrounded by all your tías, tíos, primos, abuelos, hermanos y padres. To end those long-distance phone calls and be able to speak in person; to end those feelings of loneliness, of hopelessness; to just be together in a land where hope is forever.”
These are the words of a writer who was born in this country as for the first time she meets a cousin who is held in detention. Although the writer, now in her second year at SUNY College at Old Westbury, is personally safe using her own name, she has chosen to remain anonymous to protect her family.
“Welcome Home Primo”
I’m hiding in the bathroom, holding my phone tightly. I’m trying to make sense of what the secretary at the immigration detention center is trying to say. Her southern accent was too thick for my New York self. Not trying to piss her off by asking too many questions, I’m trying to think of the most important ones, and fast.
“What legal documents do I need to bring?” I asked
“Bring two forms of identification, no jewelry, no phones, or money. Get here before five and you can see him for an hour,” she replied.
I hang up the phone. I finally walk out of the bathroom. My family is too loud for me to be making phone calls near them. I’m starting to think about the dehydration, the starvation, the exhaustion, the resentment that every single family member faced when crossing el Rio Grande. The resentment of having to leave their country by no fault of their own, a decision to leave it all: their family and memories for a country that’s said to be painted in gold. I search for mami among papi, sister, her husband, her two little boys, my tío, my tía, and my two little cousins—the stereotypical Hispanic home where we live on top of each other, invading each other’s privacy in the most satisfying way; where family ties are unbroken and laughter is the joyful music playing among el inmigrante’s pain.
I’m reminded of my mami’s stories. A story of when her little feet were torn, dripping in blood because el coyote had no way of buying her new shoes. She had no choice but to walk barefoot.
“Mami, we can go see [name removed]. We must leave now. It’s 45 minutes away and it’s already three o’clock. We have to be there before five,” I told her excitedly.
Through all the joy, I could see her pain. The last time she saw my cousin was when he was two, right before she came to the states. He’s 25 now, with a wife and kids back home.
“Well… let’s go, hurry,” my mami ordered me.
“Papi, we’re going to the jail to see [name removed],” I told him.
“¿Pero por qué? Who’s going to take you? I can’t go because I drank. Your tío is sleeping because we were up all night. Your sister and her husband can’t even step foot near immigration. And your 4’6” mom cannot drive a van,” he said. He knew mami was listening so the last part was a tease.
“So, you’re going to drive the rental? You’re not in your state. People don’t drive here the way they drive in New York. We’re in Texas m’ija. What if you crash?” My dad looked concerned.
“You know I drive great. You’re overreacting,” I fought back.
“Just be careful. Your mom has TPS. We’re legal but not permanent. Don’t ever forget that,” he said giving up.
All heads were down in the living room, bowing down to the only citizen in the room, the only one who could step foot near immigration and not worry about being detained. How embarrassing, I thought to myself, to be an outcast in this very living room. Not being able to relate to any stories about crossing the border, or reminiscing about a country that I was not born in.
We cruised down the interstate.
“You see all this monte, m’ija, this looks like when you’re coming to los Estados Unidos. Todas estas calles solas, uno solo camina con Dios,” she said as she looked out the window.
My mom is already slamming on her invisible brakes as I approach 70…80…90 mph. She’s driving with me, but I bet she wished she was driving for me to keep her little heart intact. Back home, there’s no way you can cruise down an interstate at 80 mph, especially not with my mom in the car. But here, this interstate was a temptation. It was screaming at me. “Go, press the gas, tap it, go ahead, tap it!” My little foot eagerly following directions, slowly accelerating and stopping. I’m racing. I’m speeding away from my emotions. I’m running away from my anger of being privileged by being born in the States, for not having the ability to fear immigration personally, but having to fear for the rest of my family. I kept running but my emotions kept matching my speed. It’s almost touching me, my emotions’ hands brushing against my shoulders. It’s ready to grab me, but I’m fighting.
I’m driving with God. “Caminando con Dios,” as my mom would say. I’m walking with God in this lonesome interstate, and I have nothing to say. Think. Think of something other than [name removed]. Don’t think about his kids who will no longer grow up with a father. Don’t think about his wife who pictured living the rest of her life with him. Don’t think about tía who officially has an empty nest, because all her little birds flew to the States in search of a better life. Just don’t think.
It hits me. I’m crashing. It caught up to me. I’m swerving left and right, rushing to find a solution. It’s done, it’s over. You’re panicking. You’re angry and frustrated. But, you’re right. My emotions have crashed into me, overshadowing my every thought. The anger is boiling within. My emotions like water exploding over oil. Your family has never been safe here. They’re the dark shadows, walking the streets of the United States, unrecognized by the government, yet blamed for every economic and social issue.
I’m back in reality and there are 10 minutes left until we get to the detention center. The street is so narrow I’m starting to worry a car will come causing me to actually crash this time. Trees after trees, so many trees. El campo, I thought to myself. No wonder so many people reside in Texas after their long journey from Latin America. Maybe it reminds them of their home in their new home.
We arrived with God.
“Lista?” I asked my mom
“Si, m’ija, vamos,” she confidently replied.
I press the button of the detention center. Buzz. One gate after another opens. We enter the facility. We give the secretary our driver’s license, and tell the security who we’re here to see. We sat in a small little waiting area room, just us, no one else in hope of seeing a family or a friend. The secretary or guard, whatever she was, was typing our information away. I guess checking us, who knows. The lady was surprisingly nice. I was expecting someone who was anti-immigration, looking down at all immigrants, feeling above immigrants as if they were animals. Yet, her hospitality knocked me out on my blind spot, confusing me, whether she wanted this job, or hated it.
“You see that vending machine? You can buy something for the inmate and he can eat it while you talk,” said the lady in the thickest accent I ever heard.
“Pobrecito, cómprale un agua, chips y dulce,” my mami demanded.
Her poor nephew, he probably doesn’t even know the date anymore for being locked up so many months. A man who never killed, never raped, never stole, locked up for months.
“You can go see him now. Enter through the metal detectors, please. The door is on your right,” the security guard said.
Jumping up, we rush through the metal detectors eager to see a cousin I never met, a nephew my mom hasn’t seen since taking he took his first steps. We sat down to wait for him, it felt like 20 minutes, but it was probably five. With no phones or watch, how the hell would we know what time it was?
The man of the hour arrives smiling ear to ear, like he just won one the lottery. He holds the snacks and drinks with one hand and grabs the phone with his other. He’s starring at us. He slowly but surely begins to sit down. “Tía, si me regresan, me voy feliz por tener el placer de conocerla a usted y a mi prima,” the first words fell out of his mouth, “Aunt, if they return me, I’ll leave happy with the pleasure of having met you and my cousin.”
His brown eyes, tan skinned self was overjoyed. His eyes glistened with hope. He doesn’t look like how I expected. He was skinny with buzzed hair. What happened to the guy who could eat seven meals a day? Are they starving him? Are they mistreating him? Of course they are, because in the eyes of the law, he’s a criminal. A criminal wearing a navy jumpsuit that was two sizes too big. A criminal who was looking for prosperity, chasing a dream. But, Yet the American dream is more than just propensity prosperity. This man’s heart desired unison union. His eagerness to meet his aunt, but his sadness to leave his little girls back home. He wanted what all immigrants want: to be surrounded by all your tías, tíos, primos, abuelos, hermanos y padres. To end those long-distance phone calls and be able to speak in person; to end those feelings of loneliness, of hopelessness; to just be together in a land where hope is forever.
His eyes interlocked with my mom’s, holding her attention. He’s carefully listening to her advice, “Take care of yourself in there, we’re getting you commissary but do not share your stuff.” A hand abruptly lands on the glass window. His body is craving physicality. Perhaps he wants a hug, a kiss on the check, or maybe just a hand on his shoulder. But instead, he receives a hand matching his own on the other side of the glass window. It’ll do, for now.