EDITOR’S NOTE: Increasing immigration enforcement since the inauguration of President Donald Trump is an important story in Pacific County and elsewhere in the nation. But it’s a difficult story to tell, because the people most affected — undocumented immigrants — are often afraid to speak to authorities, including the news media. Chinook Observer columnist and retired teacher Sydney Stevens is writing this series, “Stories from the heart,” in an unconventional way that will mostly avoid specifically identifying the people she is reporting about. Their quotes are real, their stories are real. We hope it will help illuminate this issue which is having profound impacts on Pacific County’s families, culture and economy.
By Sydney Stevens
For the Observer
PENINSULA — The dog, about as big as a minute, yipped and yapped at us, standing aggressively between us and the house. Local immigrant advocate Erin Glenn called on her cellphone. I could hear the ringing inside.
“¿Muerde el perro?” she asked and then quickly assured me that no, he wouldn’t bite. We scooted onward, up the steps and through the quickly opened door and were welcomed by Maria. She seemed all eyes, this slight, young Hispanic woman. In her arms was Oscar — he, all chubby cheeks and with his mama’s same dark hair and eyes.
“Dos años,” he said in answer to Erin’s “¿Cuántos años tienes?” Two years. And he solemnly held up five fingers to prove his point. Oscar is the middle child. Curly-haired Alexa is ten months, and Joel, who was off playing with a friend, is 10 and on summer vacation from Ocean Park School. Their father, Miguel, has been gone for three months — deported to Mexico.
“It was payday and they were waiting for him when he finished his shift out on the beds,” Maria told us. “They were in front of the house, men with writing and numbers on their shirts. They let Miguel come into the house to give me his paycheck but, of course, they came in, too. They were polite. They knew who I was and they didn’t ask about Rosa.”
Rosa is Maria’s sister-in-law. She is older. And feisty. When I asked if she was fearful that they would come for her, too, she punched the air with a fist and spoke in rapid Spanish — but with a twinkle in her eye and a half smile on her lips. I couldn’t understand the words, but the gesture and her expression left no doubt — “Bring them on!” she seemed to say.
Afraid to go out
On the other hand, both women expressed concerns about going out, even to the grocery store. “They know I am getting ready to leave,” Maria said. “I am selling everything on Chinookville and they are watching.” She has a target date in mind — if they don’t come for her first. But she must wait for a document her husband is having notarized in Mexico — a document that will officially clarify a mix-up in maternal/paternal surnames for little Oscar.
“Sí,” she said. She knew there was another problem way back when she first came here. Before Joel was born. But getting an abogado, a lawyer, cost more money than the young couple had. She was 16. Was she afraid then? “Sí. But there was no other way for us.
“Everything was fine until a year or so ago. Now I am afraid every day. Yesterday, on my way to work, I saw a man with numbers and writing on his shirt. I thought it was ICE. I thought he had come for me. But it turned out to be some kind of football jersey.” There was no humor in Maria’s voice. There was terror.
Her fear is for her children. What will happen to them if she is taken? Yes. She knows about the paperwork for power of attorney. Everything takes money. There is no money. There is only worry and fear and getting through each day. August, she hopes. “I plan to leave in August.”
Maria’s time these days is spent trusting in legal advice, obtaining necessary documents, arranging for transportation, searching for a way to get her family’s belongings to Mexico. ‘In between’ she works all she can, buys whatever groceries she can afford, and depends upon friends and relatives to help out with her children. All the while, she hopes against hope that ICE will not come before she can manage to reunite her family.
“It’s all right,” she says to an offer of going to the Food Bank for her. “I can do it.” And determination overlays the fear in her beautiful brown eyes.
She doesn’t speak of yet another heavy layer of concern — her family members and friends who are also under surveillance. Although she knows only the piece of the deportation puzzle that she has just been through with her husband, others call on her to help them through their own fearful journey. Her telephone is seldom silent — advice solicited, questions asked, worry and concern shared.
Yet, Maria, like her two young children, is outwardly calm. Resigned. There is little hint of the nightmare that swallows her days and keeps her sleepless. Only her eyes give her away.
A Neighbor Speaks
I was on my way back home from Portland when my phone rang. It was my young neighbor, Joel.
“My father is being deported,” he told me. “They are taking him away today. Will you drive me to Tacoma so I can say goodbye?”
“Yes, of course,” I told him. “But, Joel, do you know what time they are taking him?”
He didn’t. So I told him that I was at least two hours from home. “I can pick you up as soon as I get there, but it is still a two-and-a-half or three-hour drive to Tacoma. And it’s Friday so there will be heavy traffic. It could take longer. Can you find out when you can see him?”
About the time I reached Astoria, my phone rang again.
“I’m not going,” came Joel’s voice.
“Why? What happened, Joel?”
“They won’t let me touch my father. I can’t hug him. I will have to talk over the telephone and there will be a glass wall between us. I’m not going.”
Now, weeks later, Joel is getting ready to go to Mexico with his mother and his brother and sister. He tells me he will miss his friends here… but he will at last be able to give his father a hug.
When Joel and his family leave, there will no longer be kids on our block. I live across the street and Joel befriended me several years ago. Never mind that I don’t speak any Spanish at all and now I’m in my early 80s. We are good friends, no matter what.
He loves music so I’ve shown him some things on the piano. Sometimes he just wants to hear me play. Sometimes he helps me if I’m working in the house or the garden. Sometimes he comes over with his cousins. Mostly, we just talk.
His father built a regulation-sized volleyball court in their backyard and got a team together. They play other teams from as far away as Longview. I often go over to the games. Maria fixes a big barbecue and there are kids running around having fun… Not any more, though. I’ll miss them when they are gone. They have been wonderful neighbors.