by Ella Mendoza
I grew up in Peru between Tahuantinsuyo and Lima, bouncing from home to home in a country divided, not just by class but also by race. In my grandmother’s house in Tahuantinsuyo, beneath a roofless hallway, I learned the value of family and the legacies of resilience in my bloodline. In Lima, I learned of the elaborate grip that white supremacy holds in the proudly colonized city.
The political climate of Peru, like the United States, focuses on pleasing its wealthy and lighter-skinned upper class, whose resources have come from exploiting labor of black and brown bodies. My mother’s lack of resources played a big role in our separation. My father, a lighter-skinned man, had better access to money and resources which made coming to the United States not easy but a possibility.
When I came to the United States undocumented, my mother stayed behind in Peru. The decision for me to come to the U.S. was made sometime before my twelfth birthday behind closed doors, softly and quickly. I didn’t choose to leave my mother behind in Peru to come to the United States undocumented, just as I didn’t choose being born into poverty outside of Lima.
For the next thirteen years, paperwork, visa applications and plane tickets have kept me apart from my mother. Over that time, we have become strangers to each other.
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The United States’ war on immigration continues to take hundreds of thousands of victims each year. Luckily, my family’s losses haven’t yet been measured in deaths, but in years spent separated. I grew up talking to my mother from behind computer and cellphone screens. I contacted her every day just to make sure she was real.
Thirteen years later, mother came to the U.S. While we embraced with love, I couldn’t stop thinking about how other immigrant families like ours also embraced with fear. All around us newspapers were announcing that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had plans to detain and deport hundreds of immigrant families from the United States.
As I lay next to my mother, we talked about our shared experiences and reminded each other of family stories. But even as I was next to her, I was always aware of her imminent departure date. I knew that she could not stay forever, just like I knew that my documentation status meant I was never safe to begin with. As much as I want to be able to stay in the U.S., I know that I could be deported at any moment. We both knew that she could not stay with me in the U.S. forever. My temporary workpass and her temporary visa only permitted us to pretend that our lives were much simpler.
Immigration is a complex subject because it is tied to a human need for survival. My family’s reunion did not stop other families from being broken apart. 1,000 undocumented people are deported from the United States each day and that does not include counts of how many of us are separated from our families, abused and killed in the process.
We turned on the TV on the night of our reunion. Our joy was interrupted by the everyday reality of living in a country that categorizes us as a threat. While conversations about immigration have recently become more visible because of the upcoming presidential election, all of the candidates have focused on estimates and promises rather than taking accountability. They fail to address how being undocumented in the United States means being criminalized for striving to have basic human rights.
As we watched, my mother said, “People back home assume that the United States is too cultured for this kind of cruelty.”
But it is in the United States that I have grown to know fear. My fear goes beyond my documentation status. I am simply too brown, too curly, and too curvy to be allowed peace of mind. It is in this pain and fear, though, that my mother and I reconnected. Being with her reminded me that we are united by blood, womb, and displacement.
As my mother left, I continued to think about the ICE raids with my family members. My uncle showed me articles raising fear that ICE could go to schools in search of migrant children. I thought about my little cousin asleep in the other room. I thought about the children that I teach at school. I wondered out loud if the deported children are given booster seats as they are loaded into the vans. Then I thought about myself in this city, in this country, inside a border.
How do we move forward through all this fear and pain?
When I asked my mother over the phone about the future, she laughed.
“I thought by now, I would be somewhere else. But everyday it looks more and more like I will stay right here in my hometown.”
“And me, mami? Where will I be? Where will I go?”
This, she told me, I must find out on my own.
Ella is an undocumented gender fluid femme, and proud representative of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. She resides in Brooklyn , NY. Her mother, and the rest of her family, still live in Lima, Peru. They all like to laugh a lot, and skype every Wednesday.
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