Many were alarmed when Jeff Sessions announced a new policy of separating children from parents who were caught crossing the border illegally, but that alarm escalated to full-throated outrage when it was learned just weeks later that some 1,500 children are missing.
Calls for rallies to demand answers soon followed with Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro being one of the first to step up when he tweeted, “I will help organize a #WhereAreTheChildren rally in San Antonio this week. This inhumanity needs to stop.”
Like so many, Joaquín and his twin brother Julián (former mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of HUD) have a family history that features an American dream component, but theirs is more relevant than most to the shocking scenario unfolding in front of us.
It doesn’t take much googling to trip across references to the Castros’ immigrant grandmother, such as this one shared by Julián:
“Now I want to tell you about my grandmother, Victoria. By the time she was six years old, my grandmother was an orphan. She had to leave her home in Mexico to come to San Antonio with relatives who had agreed to take her in … She spent her whole life working because of her lack of education as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter — barely scraping by but still working hard to give my mother a good chance in life, so that my mother could give me and my brother an even better shot.”
It seems all politicians have an origins story, but this is more dramatic than most. A six-year-old orphan crossing the border? I decided to investigate, and discovered that the tale is accurate. To begin with, here’s Victoria’s baptismal record:
She was born in San Pedro, Coahuila, Mexico in 1914. It would appear that she was named after her father as her parents were Victoriano Castro and Anastacia Alvarado, but given the circumstances of her life, it’s entirely possible that she never saw this document because she was indeed brought to the U.S. at a young age.
This arrival record is one of several documents that show Victoria(na) being brought to Texas by an uncle in 1922 — a journey that seems to have been carefully coordinated by a cluster of relatives, a couple of whom already resided in San Antonio. The manifest notes her age as six. She was actually seven, but even she and her relatives didn’t know that — a then-common situation that 21st century descendants sometimes find difficult to comprehend.
I followed her forward in time and winced when I discovered that the substitute mother who had taken Victoria in as a child died while she was a teenager — twice deprived so young. But it was also clear that she had a safety net in the form of her extended family.
So Rep. Castro’s family lore holds up to scrutiny. His grandmother, with a family tree extending back to Coahuila and Zacatecas, came here as a young girl and was taken in by relatives. Two generations later, her Stanford and Harvard-educated twin grandsons have both held public office serving their city, state, and country in various capacities.
Not that any compassionate human being wouldn’t be moved by what’s happening now, but I would imagine that Rep. Castro immediately thought of Victoria when news of the 1,500 missing children broke. What are the odds that a seven-year-old Mexican orphan would be welcome to cross the American border now and that she would make it to her destination safely?
Once you’ve done as much research as I have, you become hyper-aware that many of our immigrant ancestors came here as minors. Even Annie Moore of Ireland, the first to arrive at Ellis Island, was a teenager who came here with two little brothers in tow. We celebrated her arrival then, but in today’s environment, she might have been “disappeared.”
We gave Victoria and Annie a chance. Why not today’s children?