Amidst the hysteria over cantaloupe-calved human marijuana “mules” you might miss the voices from children like Victor found in the recent NPR story about unaccompanied minors and the ways the Oakland Unified has adjusted to, and tried to support them. And while I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these brothers and sisters are called “mules” by some, when you hear from children about their struggles and traumas, you can’t help but feel their humanity.
Here’s Victor’s story,
“In Guatemala, my parents were homeless. They had nothing,” he explains.
When he was 5, Victor’s parents found work in a nearby village and left him with neighbors. They said they’d come back in a few weeks.
“Months and years went by, and my parents never came back,” he says.
Victor’s neighbors took him in, but they couldn’t protect him from the violence that plagues Guatemala. He remembers once being beaten by police until he lost consciousness.
At 12, Victor ran away, crossing the scalding Sonoran desert by himself and getting lost for weeks at a time. He’s lucky to have made it to the U.S. alive. Once here, Victor turned himself over to immigration authorities. He now lives in foster care and attends high school.
Other students spoke of their traumas, losses, and the ongoing debts to smugglers, of the beatings, rapes, and forced participation in drug gangs. Mind you Guatamala has a murder rate 10 times the United States’.
Thankfully, Oakland has really tried to get out in front of these issues, providing legal support, and garnering County resources for mental health supports. But, as you can guess, there is still a lot more to do.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
That is what we said to the boats coming into New York from Europe, emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. I am Proud to be in Oakland a City and District trying to take these words to heart. I just hope that these sentiments are contagious, and that as a country we can empathize with these children and find ways to support them. In a time of division and deprivation, we need humanity, above all, and to see and treat these children as our sons and daughters, to do less dehumanizes, both us and them.