To The Children Of Refugees And Immigrants: You’re Worth It

I wonder what will be remembered; I know what will never be forgotten.

T o the children of the water-crossers, the refugees, the immigrants under siege, this will be a lot of words to say a simple thing: You are worth it.

I am on the other side, but right here with you. I am the child of a deported father, a family member of the undocumented. I know the costs. I have seen the journey end well, and I have collapsed in on myself when it didn’t. I know that some of you are so scared and knotted that you won’t get past this paragraph.

It’s okay: If nothing else, I want you to know that you are worth every emotion, every breakdown, every fear, every coping skill that you are using right now.

I am on the other side, but right here with you.

I have written and rewritten this with blood in my mouth and fire in my chest. How do I put this thing into words? You know what thing I mean: the performance, the show, the razzle-dazzle of proving we deserve to not be in constant terror.

We’re dedicated students, hard workers, non-complainers, “good” children of immigrants. Please don’t deport our families, we say, because we’re worth it.

Worth it.

Our last president deported more immigrants than any before him, and our current president is creating an entire office to track their allegedly bad behavior (never mind that immigrants commit fewer crimes than people born in the U.S.). Raids have become common, and will likely only escalate. And then, of course, there are the discriminatory travel and immigration bans that also sever families, like the one signed just this morning.

As “anchor babies” born to these immigrants, we live in the in-between. We aren’t immigrants; we aren’t undocumented. We know that better than anyone else. But we translate for immigrants, we make phone calls for immigrants, we write letters for immigrants. We help them clean houses, or sit quietly with them in restaurant kitchens, in garages, at work sites, at aunties’ houses, at immigration and law offices. We are masters of our special brand of omnipresent invisibility, unobtrusive until useful.

We know that it only takes one phone call from a jealous auntie, annoyed teacher, abusive partner, or someone who doesn’t like your attitude, and people can be disappeared.

In the midst of ever-present threats to their livelihood, we watch as our family members make calculations and pull strings. The “felonies” they commit just to eat, to go to school. How they must ask family members to get them things, and how they listen to funerals over the phone because they can’t leave their job.

The people we love are prisoners in the land of a better life — and we know how much they give and how they worry because it is worth it.

It is worth it because, even in the face of racism, colonialism, and poverty, there is a sense of possibility in the U.S. And that is worth the pain, worth the crossing of oceans and deserts. We see this when our parents smile while watching us do sports or theater, when that wasn’t available to them. We hear this in the strength of their voice as they say, “You can be that here.”

The people we love are prisoners in the land of a better life.

And so yes, we tell ourselves, it is worth it for our loved ones to be reduced to the people who “do the jobs others won’t.” For them to have to tell a family story over and over again, hoping people will understand that tearing a family apart isn’t just a distant theory. For them to accept help no matter how condescendingly it’s offered, knowing the terrified unknown around the bend.

It’s worth it even though, after all that, our family members may still be deported. And it’s worth it despite the profound difficulty of the after, when we must peer into the empty closets of loved ones, and feel the chasm left behind.

No one prepares you for this After — for the drinking, the drugs, the cutting, the bad decisions, the depression, the panic, the numb. More than that, no one prepares you for the rage.

This rage still hits me now and again, and as it does, I circle back to the question at hand: Was it worth it? Really?

What do you do when managing your emotions and your visibility isn’t just about societal expectations, but also about your family’s safety? And when, ultimately, it doesn’t work? How does this affect the narrative you and your family have so carefully constructed?

To those losing their family to deportation, I am telling you it’s okay to feel rage — the kind that doesn’t present nicely. The kind that is all-consuming. The rage of wanting to take up every bit of space you sacrificed, every opinion you had to pretend had merit because you were trying to be a “good” one, every plea you ever made — and now wanting to set the world on fire.

To those losing their family to deportation, I am telling you it’s okay to feel rage.

You will never be the way you were before, and you can mourn that. There is no script for what “good” is, and you are learning that. You won’t be the you you hoped for, before deportation or the EO. You are learning to be a new you.

Feel your rage. Feel all of your feelings because you need them. The possibility you dreamed of and the show you put on to preserve it may be gone, but the reality of you is here.

As I watch Jacqueline Rayos Garcia, the daughter of a woman deported to Mexico, I feel my rage give way to love and wonder. I want to hold her. I want to tell her I never meant for her to join this club, to feel the shock of a parent taken, the freshness of that violence. I want to protect her as she continues to perform the show: calling, petitioning, planning, advocating, don’t take my family. I still can’t remember the night my father was taken fully. But I remember afterwards, saying similar words, making similar pleas.

Feel your rage. Feel all of your feelings because you need them.

I wonder what she’ll remember; I know what she’ll never forget.

I want to tell her what I want to tell all of us in the in-between: Whatever you had to do was worth it because the lives of your family members are worth it. And your life will always be worth it, too.

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