My son is Guatemalan. I am not.
He became my son through adoption, when he was 10 months old. When I see photographs of crying children detained at our border, they remind me of my son.
Could I have been that brave? When I see families that have risked their lives and walked for hundreds of miles in the searing heat of the desert, swam across rivers, witnessed unspeakable violence and stowed themselves away in the trunks of cars, under the floors of truck beds or on top of freight trains just to try to save their children from a life of real hunger and chaotic violence, I somehow feel like it could have been him. But I’ll never know if it could have been me.
What would have happened to me if I had been born in Guatemala? I was born in 1977. In 1977, Guatemala was in year 16 of a bloody 36 year-long civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The war started when the democratically elected government was toppled by the CIA to protect United Fruit holdings of indigenous lands in Guatemala and guarantee cheap fruit prices for the U.S. In the 36-year war, more than 200,000 Guatemalans were “disappeared” — executed, tortured or massacred by death squads.
Guatemala is known as the Land of Eternal Spring for its beautiful rolling mountains, its Californian climate. Before the CIA, it was the Spanish. Then briefly, the Germans came claiming land, enslaving the indigenous peoples for fruit, coffee and spice plantations. Guatemalans are Meso-American royalty, guardians of the true America. Despite 500 years of genocide and repression, Guatemalans still speak more than 26 different native languages and proudly wear the beautiful woven clothes that they have worn for millennia.
Now MS-13, the Zetas, the 18th Street Gang, the Sinaloa and Calí Cartels bring violence, murder, corruption and terror to Guatemala as part of their route to smuggle drugs and people from Colombia to U.S. streets to feed our massive market for sex, marijuana, cocaine and pills.
So, what would I have done if I had been born in Guatemala? What would you do? What you would want for your child? To stay? Or to leave everyone you’ve ever known to try for a safer life in the U.S.?
As I hear the audio of children crying, children that look and sound like my son, children who have been separated from their parents because those parents made the choice to come here, my son listens with me. As I look into his innocent eyes and try to explain why his country is doing this to his other country, I realize that it really is time to become the kind of country we claim to be, the kind of country that can look itself in the eye. It’s time to own what we have done to our nearest neighbors. The ultimate test of our greatness is how we treat every human being.
So, I ask in all sincerity, can we please make America great again?
This post originally appeared in our sister publication, Baltimore’s’ Child magazine .