I’m in Tucson now! I haven’t written in a while, partly because I’ve been incredibly busy with the new job, and partly because the AmeriCorps social media policy scares and confuses me. But after a little chat with my director today, I feel confident that I can safely blog without getting fired.
Quick update for those who may not know, I’ve moved to Tucson to work with the Alitas program of Catholic Community Services, which receives women and children who are released by Border Patrol, offers them hospitality, and connects them with their families in the U.S. The program has changed a lot since the time I was hired, due to some policy changes within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But all those changes will have to wait for another blog post.
Both the previous AmeriCorps volunteer and the intern that was here when I arrived were living in the house where we receive migrant families. They both also recently finished up their service, so we’re in a difficult transition period of trying to begin overnight shifts with the volunteers, since I couldn’t live in the house due to my pup. However, while we’re trying to get the overnight shifts up and running, one of the volunteers was nice enough to foster my dog, so that I could live in the house until the end of the month. He informs me she’s doing well, and has already staked out a favorite napping spot on the couch.
Now that we have a lot less people coming through than the program was seeing in previous months (due to aforementioned policy changes) the house is pretty quiet. It still can get a little stressful living in your workplace though, so I was looking forward to having the house to myself for a few hours on a Friday night while some volunteers took the teens that are living here to a soccer game.
I turned off the TV, taking in the peace and quiet, and settled into the arm chair with a bowl of cheesy puffs to start writing some emails. Not 5 minutes later, I heard someone pull in and glanced out the window to see the familiar white and green Border Patrol vehicle. Usually they call first, and in all fairness, it was probably them trying to call a couple different times earlier when the phone rang, but I only heard beeps when I answered.
I walked outside to meet them as the agent opened the back of the suburban and the steel mesh cage door. One by one, 4 children hopped down from the vehicle, followed by their mother. I welcomed them, and explained that I was a volunteer with the church and they could come inside. They sat quietly on the living room couch while I brought them water bottles and cut off the wrist bands that had been put on them in detention.
I asked where their family members in the U.S. lived, and she said they were only a couple hours away. I gave her the phone to give them a call, and she soon passed it to me, so that I could explain where they were and give the address of the house. They told me they would be on their way soon.
In the meantime, they picked out some clothes from the donation shed and took baths. I told them to let me know when they were getting hungry and I could make them some supper. After the little 10-year-old girl finished picking out some clothes, she came up to me shyly and told me she was hungry. I asked her what she was hungry for, and she told me maruchan. I thought to myself, this little girl is asking for some Mexican dish called maruchan that I’ve never heard of, but that’s probably really delicious, and I’ll I’ve got to offer her is the “fiesta chicken” Pinterest recipe I’d made in the crockpot earlier that day, some veggie stew, or whatever cans and boxes we had in the closet. I told her I didn’t know what maruchan was, and she wasn’t sure how to explain it to me. I showed her what we had in the fridge and the pantry, and she decided on mac-and-cheese.
As I was putting the macaroni in the pot, her little 6-year-old brother ran in the kitchen and said “What’s that smell?” I told him it was macaroni, and he said “It smells like maruchan. I want maruchan!”
I had visions in my head of these kids’ abuelita in Mexico making them a big batch of maruchan like only an abuelita can make. And I worried they would be very disappointed in my mac-and-cheese.
As I was serving up bowls of mac-and-cheese, the oldest sister pointed to the ramen noodles sitting inside the open pantry door, and asked if she could have some of that instead. I said sure and pulled out the package. As I looked at it, I noticed the package said they were Maruchan brand ramen noodles.
I asked her if this is what her little sister had meant when she was asking me for maruchan. She nodded.
This is why I could never remember seeing maruchan on the menu of any Mexican restaurant ever.
I put a few packages on, since it seemed to be in high demand. As they ate, the mother seemed to relax a little. At first, she had seemed a little short with me, which was understandable. If I’m traveling on any type of transportation anywhere and something goes wrong, I get short with people. I couldn’t imagine crossing the border with 4 children, spending the night in a detention center, and then spending god knows how long in the back of a Border Patrol suburban just to be dropped off to some strange woman in some strange house in some strange city. Her stress was warranted.
But as we sat around the table, laughing at her youngest son, who is quite the little ham, and finally getting some decent food in her kids’ tummies (ok, mac-and-cheese and ramen may not be a 5-star meal, or a great source of nutrition, but I remember being 11 and thinking those were the only 2 foods on earth fit to eat) she began to warm up to me.
She told me that they had lived in the states in the past, and all her children were born here, but about 5 years ago, they decided to move back to Mexico. Her kids never really adjusted to being in Mexico. One of her boys missed his home in the states a lot, and when they first moved back his clothes started to fall off him because he would barely eat, he was so unhappy. Even 5 years later, the kids still hadn’t adjusted and wanted to go back to the states. The thing that actually brought them back, though, was when the oldest daughter started receiving death threats at school. The daughter explained to me in English that she was terrified to go to school there. She told me how “people are bad there, and they kidnap you, and your parents don’t find you until you’re already dead.” For this reason, the whole family came and turned themselves in at the border, asking for asylum. The husband was put in detention.
The mother told me life was hard in Mexico. Her husband worked hard all day long, for only $5 a day. And everything there was expensive. It was hard to feed 5 kids. She asked if I had kids, and I told her I just had a dog. Her youngest son asked if he could have my dog and take it with him. I laughed and his mom said they used to have 2 little puppies in Mexico, but one got ran over by a car, and another ate a poisonous frog and died. The little boy told me he was going to get another dog and keep it in a cage in his bedroom so nothing could happen to it. I told him he needed to find a dog like Macy, because all she wants to do is lay on my bed and sleep all day, and doesn’t want to go outside or eat frogs.
Soon we heard a car pull up in the driveway, and I opened the door to let their family in. I stood aside as they ran to give hugs, with tears rolling down their faces. After the relative I had spoken with on the phone finished hugging all of the kids she turned to me, gave me a big hug, and thanked me for being here to take them in. I explained to her a little bit about the Alitas program and she said “you’re like angels…you’re our angel!”
As they got ready to leave, the youngest boy walked up to me without saying a word and gave me a firm and solemn handshake, then turned and walked out the door to the car. Then, one by one, the other kids came up to give me a hug and say goodbye. Even the shy 13-year-old boy, who had barely said a word the entire time he was there, gave me a silent, reluctant hug. I said goodbye to the mother, gave her a big hug, and wished her the best of luck with everything. I was sad to see them go. I had really gotten to like them in the couple hours we spent hanging out together. But they have our number, and I hope to hear from them in the future with good news about their case.
A lot of times, working as a volunteer doesn’t feel as rewarding as you think it should. You usually set out trying to change the world, but are only reminded how small of a person you are in a society full of big problems. But there are those moments now and then when you’re reminded why you do what you do. Those moments when all you’ve really done is make some ramen and mac-and-cheese, but someone still calls you their angel.