Being a mother is like eating bread with your hands. Pulling off small chunks from the loaf. “Here, love, eat this.”
I study the picture on the cover of the newspaper. Metal slates, razor wire, Tijuana. Pink flip-flops and diapers. I look at the grip of the Honduran mother’s hands on the arms of her daughters as they run, a teargas canister exploding beside them. The mother’s shirt is riding up over her belly; pink and purple thread, Elsa and Anna, princesses that white America celebrated in their journey to a better life only a few short years ago.
“She shouldn’t have brought her children.” That’s easy, of course, for pundits like Kellyanne Conway to say.
What do you carry with you when you walk 4,000 miles for a better life? Water? A picture of home? Something that smells like your mother? A small plastic ball for your daughter? Do you carry the names of the neighbors you had to leave behind? Maybe your son’s favorite dog, your daughter’s favorite doll? Do you carry a bit of soil in the tread of your shoe? Do you carry memories of better days, days before your government forgot about you, before the gangs found your brother? Do you carry bread wrapped in an old bandana? “Aqui, mijo, come esto.”
All mothers are refugees: refugees from bad policies, bad air, bad men. Mothers in Flint drive across town every other day in an apocalyptic caravan, heaving large jugs into their cars, hoping this water won’t burn their child’s skin. Grandmothers in Akron drive three hours every Friday to bring fresh clothing, Mountain Dew, and a stack of magazines to the treatment center. Mothers working second jobs in Oakland try to afford rent where the schools are better. Mothers in San Lorenzo send their children to Tampa when the electricity won’t stay on. Mothers in Snow Hill pack up the rest of the toys into moving trucks, trying to shake the noxious smell of the hog waste before they arrive at their new home. Mothers in Burlington break the lease and crowd in with their abuelos, madrinas, hermanos when ICE has taken the fathers away. Mothers stuff Wreck-it Ralph T-shirts and Spiderman underpants into plastic grocery bags in the middle of the night, sending the children off to distant aunties, away from the yelling, the alcohol, the bruises.
Mothers are refugees from the emanation of ideology of dinosaurs and old men.
“You shouldn’t have brought your child.” Nobody was concerned for her children, for their safety, before they arrived at the border. They were not concerned about them in Honduras, through Guatemala, Chiapas. Pobreza, corrupción, violencia, nadie en quien confiar.
They were not concerned about Cyntoia before she killed a man. They didn’t care about Tamir until they had to say it looked like a gun in his hand. They were not concerned for my son’s classmates before they started a fight, when they locked their parents in jail on old traffic tickets and the landlord piled their belongings on the curb—after all, the rent was late. They were not concerned about the long lines at the food pantry or the long days in crumbling schools or the long winter when the furnace broke.
Where is it that we go if not with our children?
I learned her name is Maria. We are the same age. She is moving her daughters across a cruel, dry land away from the mud of poverty. I am trying to move my son through a harsh landscape of dying authority and entitlement, giving him a tenderness to avoid extinction. Countless other mothers are mending the zippers on old luggage, mapping their routes, wrapping bread in wax paper. A gallon of water, a prayer, and a stranger’s phone number in pockets.
All mothers are refugees. We tear off chunks of what we are given. We move toward what we must.