Thursday, August 22, 2019

NY Grandmother Gives Account of Conditions at US/Mexico Border

'Going to the Border and Seeing the Conditions with My Own Eyes Was Shocking'

By Rachna Daryanani

I’m a grandmother of four, but all the kids in my neighborhood in Queens, New York, seem to believe I’m their grandma, which I encourage.

In the last few years I have become aware of the rise in an attitude of “you versus me.” The “us” in U.S.A. seems to be slowly fading away, and it bothers me tremendously.

I came to the United States in 1984 from Mumbai, India, as a young mother of two, and have worked hard to thank the country of my choice for giving me the chance to better myself.

The Partition of India in 1947, one of the largest forced migrations in history, divided British-controlled India into the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan. It forced earlier generations of my family to become, as my grandma used to say, “refugees in our own country.” I grew up hearing from extended family members and friends about how they were forced to leave their homes, and everything that was familiar, in search of safety for themselves and their loved ones.

Just over a year ago, I heard about the worsening conditions at the U.S./Mexico border — families being separated, children in cages — and it traumatized me, bringing back memories of what I had seen and heard of as a child in India.

I didn’t know who to believe or what to do, and I wanted to see for myself what was going on. So I requested to join members of Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden on their journey last summer to McAllen, Texas. I’m blessed they accepted me.

Going to the border and seeing the conditions with my own eyes was shocking. When did the American dream turn into a nightmare? How can we keep quiet and let this go on?

Since I returned, just over a year ago, from that week-long, 6,000-mile journey, I’ve tried to be as active as I can, to play my part in restoring sanity in the craziness around. I’ve always tried to include volunteer work in my routine, whether in the pediatric ward of a hospital, in a veterans home or a homeless shelter. Now, I am writing letters, making phone calls, talking to whomever will listen and joining protests.

Recently, I traveled to Homestead, Florida, where I joined protests at what was the nation’s largest location for detaining immigrant children. (While it was shut down a few weeks ago, and children were removed, the for-profit center is reportedly expected to be back in business again as early as October or November.)

I also recently volunteered, serving asylum seekers, at a bus station in New Orleans with the Grannies Respond Overground Railroad. These experiences were simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.

In New Orleans, it was heartbreaking to see the conditions of the asylum seekers, especially the children. On the last day I was there, a young mother with a baby, just a few months old, got off the bus. Both were crying. I’ve never seen a small child cry silently. The child’s diaper was loaded. The mother was so sad, she couldn’t remove the soiled diaper as she didn’t have another to put in its place. After helping her clean the little one, she let me hold the baby so she could go relieve herself. One of the other passengers from the bus, not an asylum seeker, came up and thanked us for all we were doing. Another lady came forward and took information on how to be a volunteer, too.

At Homestead, we usually stood on ladders to watch for the kids. The minute some were sighted, we raised our hands to wave and make hearts, and we sang to them. Some of the children waved back or made heart signs with their hands, too. It was great they were happy to see us, but so, so sad that children need a sign from strangers to reassure them. Also they mainly responded only when the guards were not facing them.

Just watching the children, we were able to make out if the guard was a kind one or a disciplinarian. (Have you ever seen a group of children silently playing soccer? Not even a "yay" for a goal scored.)

The best thing that happened while I was there was when I heard that some of the Democratic presidential candidates who were in Florida for the televised debate had decided to visit the detention center in Homestead, and would bring the media with them.

While it was not easy to be present at these places, and to see what I have seen, I truly believe that to be free, we must all assume responsibility, and in a democracy, being silent about the ills of the world makes one complicit. 

Photo credit/article source: Grannies Respond/Abuelas Responden 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't begin to thank you enough for all you do and have done for children. Bless you.