At Our Backdoor: News From the Front Lines, published August 2018

By India Aubry
A young asylum seeker from Guatemala pens the name of his favorite song on his arm.
Photo Credit: India Aubry

Through the community activist group Voices From The Border, a few friends and I have been going to help the Central American asylum seekers arriving since May 12th at the Port of Entry in Nogales, Sonora. The following are excerpts from my journal entries:

I am at once heartbroken, hopeful, devastated and inspired. Though terrified, the asylum seekers are impossibly resilient and courageous. I promise myself I will maintain equanimity and then fall helplessly in love. I love them because they are just like me. And you. And most of the people I know.

I deliver socks, underwear and toiletries to people who receive them so gratefully it breaks my heart. The indignity is too much to comprehend. I notice that each person only takes one or two things from our donations of clothing. I am humbled by their restraint in the face of such gaping need.

We met a 14-year-old unaccompanied minor from Guatemala who made the dangerous journey on top of the fast-moving train, ‘La Bestia’. He’s smart and savvy or, perhaps, falsely confident. If he is sent back to Guatemala, he will likely be killed by the gang that tried to recruit him, the same gang that killed his father. When asked what he wants to do in the US, he replies in English, “I want to study” and, with a big grin, “go to Nueva York”. I notice that he wears a rosary underneath his shirt, so I give him my Guadalupe milagro and tell him that She has travelled with me for many miles and many years. Now She will make the rest of the journey with him. He looks away so that he does not cry. Later, he pulls up his sleeve for me to reveal the words, “All we need is love”, written carefully in pen ink on his arm. He says it is his favorite song.

In English he says to me, “You need to learn Spanish.” This cracks us both up. He is not impressed by my mongrel blend of high-school, college semester, Rosetta Stone Spanish. I ask him to write down his full legal name: Anibal Manuel Perechu Ixquiactap. He writes slowly and thoughtfully. Perhaps later I can locate him in some database, find out where he is, write to him, help him in some way. And so begins the practice of asking many of the asylum seekers to write down their full legal names and country of origin in my notebook. As with Anibal, they each write carefully, nervously, deliberately. I am surprised by my own emotional reaction to it.

In this one simple act, such intimacy and vulnerability. This is who I am. I exist. I matter. At this moment, my name is all that I have. And I hope that I matter. I hope the lives of my children matter to someone else who will determine our fate.

I take the notebook and thank them, always making eye contact. I want them to know that they are seen, witnessed. This is one of the few things I can offer besides socks and underwear. I feel fiercely protective of every one of them and then feel the weight of my own impotence in this sea of sorrow. I must find my way out of that drowning darkness quickly.

So, I go home, tear the pages from my notebook, and put them in my altar drawer where at least their names will be safe, honored, tended to.

I light Guadalupe’s candle on the altar. Maybe She will protect them in all the ways I cannot.