Dear Children Seeking Asylum in the U.S.,
These past few days, I have drafted several letters to you, children and youth, who have walked thousands of miles north from your countries of origin to ask for asylum in the United States. I can only imagine the difficult, very difficult, circumstances that your families must have sustained to decide to leave behind everyone they loved, everything they knew and owned and walk into the unknown.
In these unfinished letters, I tell you that I think your parents are so brave. You and they have shown the world what courage looks like, what hope and determination look like, the raw wish to live. Life seeks always life—your parents want to live, they want you to live, to see you grow up and prosper. Your parents love you. That is what I see in the pictures of all of you walking thousands of miles, enduring hunger, thirst, sleeping on sidewalks and plazas.
In these drafts of letters, I tell you that like some of you I come from El Salvador, that like some of you, I was 14 years old when I fled the violence and terror of the Salvadoran civil war. I tell you that I did not leave on my own, that I was with my mother, father, and younger sister. I shared how, at first, my family struggled mightily in the U.S., but eventually each of us learned English and found our way, in the same way I know you would also learn English and find your way. However, given the intransigence and active refusal of the U.S. government to recognize you in your hour of desperate need, given the choice the U.S. government has made to thwart your human right to seek asylum, I found it difficult to maintain the upbeat tone and the spirit of hope I’d hoped to convey. As my hand moved across blank pages trying to find the right tone, the right message, I fought the futility of my action and, given the inhumanity of the U.S. government, felt my effort to be risible at best. I don’t see how I can say anything that will, in the slightest, soothe the stress, shock, and suffering you have lived, are living, and most likely will continue to live.
Long ago, I found a book in a Goodwill store that I read to myself every year on my birthday. It is a beautiful book with beautiful words and images, and when I read it I am filled with gratitude for having been born a human and thus able to experience the gifts of nature and of the Spirit. The book’s title is This Is My Wish for You. Borrowing from this book, I offer you here my deepest and most sincere wishes:
That the United States remember its imperialist history in Central America. The U.S. government inserted itself in the life of Central America as far back as 1912 when it invaded Nicaragua and was fought by that country’s Augusto Sandino, in 1914 when it built the Panama Canal to facilitate its trade, in 1954 when it removed the democratically elected Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala and replaced him with a military man, when it supported dictators and murderers such as Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, when it for years trained the region’s military in the nefarious ways of torture and political repression in the School of the Americas in Columbus, Georgia, throughout the 1980s and ’90s when it fed, sustained, and armed despicable men in El Salvador to suppress and exterminate Salvadorans’ desire for democracy and economic reform, when it exploited land and politics in Honduras for decades through the United Fruit Co. I can go on and on. The U.S. has disrupted economic and political life in Central America but now refuses to see in your tired faces the outcome of its opportunistic history in the region.
That the current administration acknowledge, and own, this hand in creating the current destabilization of the nations you are fleeing. No matter what the U.S. government does: If it rejects your humanity and throws tear gas your way, if it slows to a crawl the process to file asylum claims, if it insists that you rot in makeshift camps, it is too late to turn around and pretend that our fates are not inextricably linked.
That the U.S. recognize its moral responsibility toward the children of Central America for all the killing, for all the violence from the economic and political manipulations it has nurtured in your countries for well over a century.
That the words of Chief Sealth, the great chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish people, ring loud and clear: “Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
That you may know that there are millions of people who understand where you have been and what is necessary for your survival. Across the world, they wish for your asylum claims to be recognized, that you and your parents be allowed to come into this country as many of their ancestors were permitted to come in.
That your days may soon change, that the love your parents and relatives feel for you glow inside you to give you strength and mitigate the great pain you are being forced to endure.
This is my wish for you.
Claudia Castro Luna
Claudia Castro Luna currently teaches at Seattle University and serves as the poet laureate of Washington State.