Carlos looked hard into his son’s eyes, noting that they looked like the deep brown of rich soil. Those precious eyes that he had tried every day to make sure knew nothing but hope were now fretful and unsure whether to be sad or scared.
He saw himself in his son. A sensitive boy who cried when others cried and who laughed at silly things. One who knew how to play and pretend and never doubted for a second that he was loved. Carlos would go through every hardship all over again if it meant his son wouldn’t have to. He would do anything to secure his son’s future, even if it meant doing something illegal.
“This must be what my parents felt like,” he thought, wishing he could ask them what to do. But his mom had long since passed, and his dad was just arrested without explanation. Even his wife was out doing a shift in the local restaurant. Until his neighbor could come act as a guardian, it was only him and the uniformed ICE officers barricading the door. And, of course, his son.
“Rico,” said Carlos, clearing the uncertainty from his throat. “Daddy has to go away for awhile. You are the man of the house now, Papi. You hear me?” He rustled Ricardo’s hair and knelt down to meet him eye to eye. “I’ll be back. I promise.” He knew that was a promise he couldn’t keep.
Ricardo nodded like he knew he should, but his face was not so sure.
“Daddy, where are you going?”
“My little man. You don’t need to worry about me.” Carlos glanced at the officers who were stirring with noticeable impatience. “Sometimes things get tricky, you know?”
The boy nodded again.
“We need to protect the family, so things get tricky. But you, Papi, you are safe, okay? You keep your Mami safe. Sé valiente, mijo.”
Ricardo started to cry. “I don’t want to be brave. I want to play with you, Daddy. Don’t go. Will you play with me?” He was backing away, as if he already knew the answer. “We can play cars, okay?”
This day was never supposed to happen. Carlos was angry at his parents for bringing him to the States. They never gave him a choice, but now he is responsible for their actions. None of this would be happening right now if they would have stayed in Mexico. He wouldn’t have to lie to his son about being afraid and not knowing what would happen to him or to his family. DACA was supposed to protect him, as if the hard labor he had given this country weren’t value enough to allow him to stay.
But he knew he wasn’t really angry at his parents. They sold themselves every day so that he and his sister could have a better chance at life. They learned how to withhold their pride and stay below the radar of Americans. They barely slept, working sometimes as much as six jobs at a time just to string together money for food and rent. None of those jobs paid what his mom and dad were worth, but they did not complain because this was la vida buena. They punished his sister and him when they ditched school or didn’t do their homework because his parents knew that they needed the grades to get better jobs than they had. They worked even when they had fevers and arthritis because there was no money to pay for medical care.
Of course he wasn’t angry at his parents. But he was angry.
“Daddy? Did you hear me? Come play with me. Please come play with me.” Ricardo was crying loudly. His body dropped to the floor, not like a tantrum, but like he could not carry the weight of his fear anymore. Carlos caught him in his strong arms, holding him tight, unsure if he would have to leave his wife and son indefinitely. The only thing he knew, he said: “Te quiero, Rico. Te quiero. Te quiero.”
Crying, he said it again and again, unaware that his neighbor had arrived. “Te quiero, Rico.” Even as the officers separated him from his son. “Te quiero, Rico.” Even as he was escorted from the house. “Te quiero.” Even as the ICE vehicle took him away and he could no longer see the boy whom he had promised hope to. “Te quiero, mijo.”
This story is fictitious, but it could be somebody’s story. In fact, I wrote it after reading an article about a man who was detained despite having proper enrollment in and compliance with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Trying to imagine what it would be like to be separated from my family and potentially deported was a heartbreaking exercise. I am mindful that for me, it was just an exercise. For others, it is their reality.