Original.png

José Muñoz
 

is a Chicano author of the novel, To See It Through. His imagination was nurtured while growing up in the agricultural town of Lamont, California.

The Separation


     “¿Vamos a cruzar ahí?” asked the wife with a frown on her face, as she pointed towards freedom.

 

   “¿Has olvidado que tenenos la niña?” The wife looked sternly at her husband, then at the passage they’d have to take if they wanted a better life. “¡Increíble!” she said as she walked away from her husband and hugged their daughter.


   Her husband understood her anger, but he did what he thought was best so they could have a better life. He looked up at the hills and the desert floor they’d have to cross—it would be a challenge, but without risk there is no reward.

 

                                                                               #    #    #

 

     Three hours into their trip to freedom, the wife began to believe they would make it. They traversed up and down the hills and the desert, the father carrying their daughter when the passages became too steep. They were on a steady pace, not too fast that their endurance would wain, but not too slow where there was a lot of wasted energy. The group of people stayed together, each step closer to a better life.


     After another hour they stopped to rest. The family huddled together, excited about the prospects of a better life. The wife smiled at her husband, giving him a look that said she was on board with his plan. The father reached into his backpack, took out a canteen of water, and offered it to his daughter and wife, making sure they would not become victims of dehydration. When the break was over, the family got up and joined the group, then resumed walking up the steep hill in silence. For the next hour, nothing was said. The only sounds were the groups footsteps on the soil and heavy breathing as they walked up the mountain; the admission fee for those seeking a better life. 


                                                                                 #    #    #


     “A la chingada,” said the father as he and his wife raised their hands to the US Border Patrol Officer who was pointing to their group, their five-year-old daughter did the same. The Officer pointed gruffly to line up by the rocks, expecting everyone to understand what he meant. The group of nine finally lined up with their two wrists facing down. Each person was zip tied, including children. The fathers quickly shushed the tears and cries from their children, no need to make matters worse for them. “Todo va estar bien mijita, no llores,” said the father, trying to silence the crying that disturbed his thought process.


     The dream of bringing his family to America had blown up in his face. His vision of what could have been didn’t last long. He, his wife, daughter, and the others had been in the United States for less than thirty minutes before they were captured. It was like having a possible winning lottery ticket that had been drawn, and then finding out it was worthless. What hurt him most was the fear in his daughter’s eyes, and the blank look she gave to her parents. He was angry with the authorities for tying up children, despite the fear on their faces as they tried to process what was happening to their family.


     His wife looked over at him, standing with her hands zip tied, trying to read her husband’s face. She never truly believed that they would make it, she wanted to believe, but in her heart, she knew they wouldn’t be successful. The coyote guiding them never made eye contact with anyone, and the wife had learned long ago to be wary of people who couldn’t look you in the eye when they spoke. It was no surprise to her when she, her husband, and child were detained, and that damn coyote fell back into the shadows and retreated to the safety of the desert floor, waiting to prey on the next group of immigrants seeking a new life in the United States. They were led to a dirt road next to the dried riverbed. They walked in single file for ten minutes, her husband, then her child, and then her. They were the last of the detainees. The terrain was uneven, causing the people in front of her to appear like they were bobbing up and down. The wife was angry at giving her blessing to her husband’s risky move. The coyote was a young teenager wearing a black Snapback cap to the side. The wife didn’t have a good feeling about him being their coyote, but she was tired and prayed they’d be lucky enough to make it. When they were apprehended, the wife was at least grateful that their family was still safe and intact. 


     The families were composed until they got to the temporary makeshift detention facility. The usual protocol called for families to be detained together, but here the migrants were lined up by sex; males sixteen and above went to the left, while the females were sent to the right. The children were instructed to line up in the middle. The entire point of entry sounded of heartbreak, with cries from the children trying to reach out to their parents. The mothers tried to put on a brave face to reassure their children. The fathers on the left side of the entrance could hear their children crying, as their wives tried to calm them down. The men shouted their promises to their children that soon everyone would be together again, and that they would see each other in a few hours, before being herded through the heavy metal door painted in gas chamber green.   


     The men walked through an entrance that was just five feet wide, both walls were chain link fencing, and the electricity buzzed from the ceiling with the other pipes that were encased in tubing. It was stuffy in the tunnel, and the men walked as fast as they could to escape the menacing noise, which was just the way the Border Patrol wanted. The men crossed through the tunnel and were tossed a silver emergency blanket packed in a small box. A fat white officer gestured with his short sausage-like fingers towards the open gate, sneering at each man as they walked past him. Apparently, their new living quarters would be a cement floor with a few picnic tables to eat on or to lay under, depending on the hour. The chain link fence was topped with spools of razor-sharp Concertina wire, for those entertaining thoughts of escape. The makeshift cell was seventy feet by one hundred, and it was only a third full at present time. Once the men got their bearing of their new environment, they all marched to those who were already in the cage and asked how long they had been there. 


     Some fathers would not look up and most of their eyes were bloodshot red from obvious heartbreak. One of the men who’d been rounded up, explained that they had been put in this place for three days without a word from anyone. That father’s despondent look sent a shiver up every father’s spine. This was not the normal practice to be kept for more than a day; he had been told if they got caught, they would be released after they promised to make the required court appearance, plus families were always kept together. The man was even more disturbed seeing one of the father’s, probably pushing forty, crying out loud as others tried to console him. It made the man think of how his wishes for a better life in the United States had led him to this cell; not knowing how his daughter and wife were doing, and the peril he had put his family through finally hit him and he broke down sobbing. He tried to keep his emotions inside by punching himself in the chest, but he was filled with sadness for what his wife and daughter were being put through. He was filled with rage at the cruelty of being separated from his family and angry at himself because there was nothing he could do about it. He found an empty table, sat down with his legs facing the outside, and put his head in his hands pondering on his options. All he could think about was the blank look on his daughter’s face as he was being led away.


                                                                                  #    #    #

 

     After the women were taken to their cells, the new prisoners asked those who had already been in the cell where their children were. There was hate in many of the voices, as they heard a Latina Border Patrol officer say their children were safe and happy. Nobody believed her, and others asked when they would be reunited with their children, but the officer repeated the same line as the mothers hissed her away. The mother prayed her daughter would be safe, and she hoped there would be no long-term trauma. She was also angry at the United States for having such an inhuman human rights policy that separated children from their parents, and she seethed with rage that anyone would find this acceptable. She also felt sadness for her husband because she knew that he would put all this on himself. He was probably already beating himself up mentally for putting them in danger, but she’d made the final decision to go; she could have objected to the trip and her husband would have canceled it. Her husband always did the best he could, and when he told her of the trip, there was excitement in his voice, and she wanted to support him, so even as she had a sick feeling in her stomach, she kept it to herself. She looked down and around at her surroundings, then shook her head at the bad decision that led to the family’s current situation.


   Cries came from a group of mothers, the youngest was eighteen, distraught at having to relinquish her one-year-old child to authorities. She shrieked horribly at the thought of the confusion her son would have. The mothers lined up and waited to give the distraught mother a hug and encouragement, reminding her to have faith that God would keep all the children safe. The mother waited her turn and then gave the distraught mother a tight hug, with three pats on the back that she hoped would signal that soon all families would be together again. They could all hope and pray that everyone would be back together, but the mother picked up on law enforcements body language, like if they knew a secret that others didn’t, and that gave her a sick feeling in her gut.


     The children who had been in their cages for two days now, were instructed to help take care of, and cheer up the new children being brought in, and when someone balked, the Latina Border Patrol officer sneeringly reminded the children how scared they were when they first arrived. Many children nodded their head and looked down at the ground. The daughter looked at the cage that she would be going in. She was given a box as she stepped into the cell and stared at it. A girl a little older than her, noticed her confusion, walked up to her, and told her it was her blanket. She opened the box and showed her the foil blanket. The daughter started to cry from the newness of it all. First, she was arrested with her family, then separated from her parents, and now she was put in this cage like a wild animal. She wondered why anyone would do this to children and babies. She missed her parents so much that her vision became obscured from the nonstop tears running down her face. While the mother and father prayed for their daughter’s safety, all the daughter could do was cry because she was as confused and scared as the other children. They could not understand why their parents weren’t with them, and the sound of misery and fear permeated thorough the cage. The daughter was lost in her thoughts, thinking of a time when her family was together, back before the big trip, back to a time when they were in their small village, a time when everything was perfect for her, not like it was now.


   The family remained incarcerated for three days. As they waited, both parents hoped their daughter was doing well. They asked God to hold their daughter in his hands and protect her from danger. Both parents had nothing but time on their hands, so they replayed the whole painful scene that had transpired. The father was angry, sad, and felt shame for getting his family into this situation.


     In another section of the facility, the mother was thinking about her family. She understood her husband would be hard on himself, but she did not blame him for their predicament. She knew he was trying to improve their lives, so how could she be mad that that? This was the most challenging situation of their lives, and the mother hoped it would bring them closer together.


                                                                                    #    #    #

 

      The father was awoken at three-thirty in the morning. Today was their release date from Federal Detention. The father was taken out of his cell, walked to another section of the facility, and was placed in a small room with a table and three chairs. He’d been waiting for an hour before the door opened then his wife passed through the door. They embraced and kissed, then said a prayer thanking God for keeping them safe. They sat down and waited for their daughter to join them. After another hour they grew inpatient, and the father got up, pounded on the metal door, demanding that their daughter be released to them. Nothing. There was no answer, so the father pounded on the door even harder. Two more hours passed before an embarrassed Border Patrol Official came inside the room looking white as a sheet. “Lo sentimos Señor y señora, pero tenenos una problema, no podemos encontrar a su hija.”