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With courage and patience, two migrant mothers share their stories

By Ora DeKornfeld

“Well, I speak a little Spanish,” I said to myself as I set out to meet Fatima, a 15-year-old Salvadoran girl. Fatima recently made the solo journey from Central America to live with her mother in Reseda. I met her mother, Miriam Dueña, several days earlier through El Rescate, a legal aid nonprofit group that serves the immigrant population in Los Angeles.

The thousands of unaccompanied children who made similar journeys across the southern U.S. border have been a huge news story this summer. But these kids aren’t truly alone. They often have parents here, anxiously awaiting their arrival, and grandparents back home, praying for good news. It seemed to me that, despite the extensive coverage on minors crossing, family members on both sides of the border were largely excluded from the conversation.

Quieres fruta?” Miriam asked, offering me a hearty chunk of watermelon. We entered the living room and I made myself comfortable on the sofa, clearing my throat to recite the spiel I had Google translated the night before. Perched on a couch uncomfortably far away on the opposite side of the living room, Miriam and Fatima were looking at me expectantly.

I explained to them that I wanted to tell their story and why I thought it was important. The basic transference of information was there, but it was forced and awkward. I returned on another day with a translator who was able to connect with Miriam and inspire the candid honesty that cuts to the core of her story.

I was particularly drawn to the narrative of the immigrant mother. Often single and left to bear both the economic burden as well as domestic responsibilities, these women find themselves caught between the pull of two opposing forces. Miriam made the difficult decision to leave her children behind so she could earn higher wages in the U.S. and send money home. The pain of living without her children never faded. For Guisell Martinez, she made the treacherous journey north knowing that, ultimately, it would be the best decision for her unborn children.

I wanted to tell the story of Miriam and Guisell because their stories are both timely and timeless. Every parent experiences moments of uncertainty: Am I terrible parent? Have I failed my children? Am I doing enough? But for these mothers, these natural uncertainties are magnified by their lost homeland, fragmented families and legal limbo.

1 Comment

  1. October 4, 2014, 7:54 am

    Where are the men in this story? What has become of the fathers? The lives we see here, and in East Palo Alto and in East Oakland and in Ferguson are largely struggling for the lack of the family–a mother and a father. Therefore, girls; think carefully before you lay with your boyfriend. Boys; be a man and take only she whom you can commit to.

    By: Ramon L.

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