This Mother’s Day, we can’t help but reflect on the children we have helped reunite with their mothers this year. In 2014, you stood with us as we attempted to help the hundreds of unaccompanied minors who fled to the Dallas area from Central America. Often these children came with just one goal in mind – to be with their mother. Today we share with you a story of one such family – the Pineda* family from Belize.
*names have been changed to protect privacy
Late on a Wednesday afternoon I watch the Pineda family walk up to the HRI offices. Mom is attempting to herd her three kids, two girls and a boy, to the front door. The oldest, wearing all black, walks next to her mother quietly holding her arm. The middle brother walks slowly behind them clearly tired from a long day of school. The youngest, a ball of energy, skips alongside her family, talking non-stop. Mom nods along, looking over her shoulder to make sure her son is still behind her. I walk out to our lobby to say hello and the Pineda kids look at me with excitement in their eyes.
The Pineda kids, Adela (16), Henry (14) and Alana (13), came to the United States in 2014 from Belize, joining more than 68,000 unaccompanied children who crossed the US-Mexico border last year. When they were just toddlers, their father abandoned them, leaving their mother, Karen, to be their sole parent. Karen is a natural mother – she is warm and nurturing, but also fiercely protective of her three children, a trait I imagine comes from her time apart from them.
Unable to find stable work in Belize, Karen left her children in the care of their uncle in 2010, to move to the U.S. In the United States, she found a job and sent money home each month. Soon after Karen left, the children’s uncle became abusive toward them. He used the money Karen sent to fuel his drug and alcohol addiction, providing very little food and clothing for Adela, Henry, and Alana. He supervised all calls made between the children and their mother and beat them with a rope when he felt they had disobeyed him. Then one day, the uncle sexually assaulted Adela, the oldest sister. Adela knew she did not want her younger sister to endure this same fate, so she took a job and saved money to get the three of them to their mother in the United States. It took a whole year, but Adela was able to earn the money necessary to pay a smuggler to bring her, Henry, and Alana to Texas.
Adela, Henry, and Alana wanted nothing more than to be with their mother. After three years apart, weeks of travel from Belize, through Mexico, and into the United States, the kids were desperate to see their mother. Instead, they were sent to a different state to stay in a shelter with hundreds of other children. Upon arriving to the U.S., children were separated from each other– Adela was sent to one shelter and Henry and Alana to another. Henry and Alana were placed in a large shelter for nearly two weeks before they were flown to Dallas to reunite with Karen. Adela had to stay in her shelter for one month.
When Henry and Alana finally reunited with their mother, they described it like something out of a movie – at the airport, a rush of hugs and kisses, and a feeling that everything would be ok. Karen asked her youngest children what they wanted her to make for dinner, and as a testament to their quick assimilation to America, they asked for pizza. As Alana describes it – it was the “best day” filled with, “pizza, ice cream, and shopping for clothes.” Adela was reunited with her family two weeks after her brother and sister. She was quick to tell me that she asked for her homemade favorites – “rice, beans, and eggs, made by Mom.” She reaches for her mom’s hand as she says this, and mom looks at me with a big smile. I looked at Karen in that moment and saw a look I recognized – the same look my mother gets when I go home – a mixture of contentment and pride that only a mother could have.
When asked what they missed most about being away from their mom, all three children said, “everything,” without hesitation.
This year will be the first Mother’s Day the Pineda family will spend together in the past five years. So many of the unaccompanied minors who flooded our borders last year were trying to do exactly what the Pineda kids did – find peace, love, and safety in the arms of their mothers. And yet, many of those children were separated and remain separated from their mothers today.
I asked the Pineda kids what Mother’s Day will be like for them this year. Alana, the youngest, turned to me, tilted her head to one side, closed her eyes, and said, “perfect.”
by Kavita Khandekar Chopra, Marketing & Development Director
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