Most folks involved in this kind of work have a connection to the experience of immigrants and refugees. For some of us it is lived experience.
I have lived in this great nation for the past 25 years of my life. For the first 15 years I was not allowed to go back to my country. This was not the plan from the beginning, of course, and being only a child at the time, I did not fully understand what was happening let alone why.
I knew that the weeks became months and the months became years. I longed to see my family and friends again. I longed for that. Longed. I have though so frequently of the meaning of this word. It immediately conjures a dull pain in me that may never be relieved. These days however, I can visit my family and friends and I often do. Things are much different now, and so simply going to Guatemala does not alleviate that longing or dull pain. That which I longed for is long gone. I stood on a metaphorical bridge for years watching the water slipping away taking time with it and now that I can climb off that bridge, the landscape is much different, never to be the same again.
I took my first trip to Guatemala since my young children were born (ages 4 and almost 1) a few weeks ago. This was a loaded experience. As a social worker, many of the children I work with are from Guatemala also. I feel I have a fair understanding of why children from Central America are fleeing and moving to the U.S. often without a parent. So much of it of course stems from the collective and transgenerational trauma the country has experienced. The effects and sequelae are so evident to someone visiting, especially if you work in this field. Villages were burnt down, communities destroyed and devastated, men and women were disappeared and displaced and the heightened sense of vigilance remains. Mere survival is still the mode of operation in many parts of the country. The collective effects are like a low frequency hum that is so ever present that soon you are likely to adjust and it just seems to fade out.
Beyond my understanding of the experience of Guatemalan youth fleeing the country, I have deep family roots in the most affected region in Guatemala, the Ixil Triangle, located in the Deaprtment where both of my parents’ lineages begin. The Ixil triangle saw the most violence during the 36-year old civil war.
I had a number of tasks at hand on this particular trip. I had come among other things to pay respect to my beloved, departed uncle. Initially the plan was to arrive and feel his hands and kiss his tired eyes, but we did not have enough time – he passed before I arrived. I also wanted to visit the land where he came from, the land where I came from. The same land my children came from. The same land where many of the children who trek to the U.S. on their own have come from. I knew this would be a grounding experience and I had felt a calling to this remote corner of the world. I believe it had something to do with that longing I spoke of in the paragraphs above.
As planned, my wife and I parted ways shortly after we arrived. Our boys stayed with her and I spent a few days on this self-finding journey, and it was grand, humbling and healing in the most beautiful sense of the word.
…To be continued!
By R. Bernal Cruz Munoz