An open letter to the children being separated from their parents at the border

Dear dear young friend,

I am sorry. As a fellow, formally displaced child, I am sorry you have to go through this separation.

On behalf of the millions of people watching you being taken away from your parent’s outstretched arms, placed in chain-linked and concrete buildings, outraged and angry and grieving, we are sorry.

We are sorry that we are living in a country where the politicians care more about their image and television ratings and money and power than about the people they claim to serve. And I am sorry that despite the hatred and animosity shown to you from millions of people that greet you here, that your family experienced worse where you were and that the U.S. offered at least a glimpse of hope. Because as Warsan Shire said,

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

Six years ago I stood on the grounds of Ellis Island, where hundreds of thousands of people came in search of a safe place to live; the ancestors of those who are now screaming at your families to “go back to your country.” How soon they forget; that once it was their families who were the ones pleading for a chance. And the others, whose ancestors came here illegally and stole the land from those who were here.

My young friend, you have sadly joined the thousands of disappeared children, whose names and identities were changed. Who were separated from their families because of war, genocide, natural disasters, politics, religious ideology, patriarchy and above all, adults determining “the best interests of the child.” You are now part of a legacy. You have join the hundreds of thousand of us children in this country who were stolen from their families and sent to Indigenous boarding schools, or sent away on orphan trains, or brought here from other countries for adoption. You will be told it will be for a better life; it will come at a cost. You will be required to forget who you are.

It is possible that you will not see your families for a very long time. Remember their names. Remember your name. In the movie Spirited Away, the witch Yubaba changes Chihiro’s name to Sen. Chihiro is told that when she forgets her real name she will forget who she is. Don’t forget your name; even if they make a new name for you, never let anyone take your name away. Say it every day, write it down, keep it safely tucked inside your heart; it is your prayer to yourself, your parents, your ancestors.

Perhaps you, like many of us, will have adults and institutions and organizations and agencies and countries who will destroy all evidence of who you once were in an effort to make you palatable to those who hate everything you stand for – your foreignness, vulnerability, your youthful hope for a better world. Maybe you will be fortunate and have people caring for you who will love and treat you with care and compassion. Some of you will not. We, the disappeared children, know that it’s all the luck of the draw to whom and where you land.

In twenty years time, seek us out. We will be there for you. We are here now. We exist. Many people see you right now as small and vulnerable and cute; you will not always be seen this way. The bigger you get, the more they will no longer like you. Even if you lose your accent and cut all ties with your culture of origin. You will be simultaneously invisible in terms of your needs, and hyper-surveilled, in terms of your behavior. It will be a difficult journey, but remember we are here. And no matter where you end up, do what Mr. Rogers advised and ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ 

When you are ready, we will encourage you to tell your story in whatever way makes sense – through poems or music or paintings or tattoos or film or food or work or in the ways you live and love people.

We, your community of displaced children, love you for who you are and where you came from. You will never need to apologize. You might feel pressured to be the shining, perfect example of an “American.” But you do not need to lose your accent or change your name or say the pledge of allegiance or hang a flag on your house or get a specific occupation to prove your worthiness to us.

We see you

With love and solidarity,

The Current and Former Displaced Children of the World

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