It’s estimated that thousands of immigrant and American-born children have been separated from their families due to American policies. Anyone with half a heart knows that this is traumatic—policies should not result in mass incarceration, mass deportation, or mass orphaning, as these policies do. What is happening at the southern border and in ICE detention centers nationwide cannot be called anything else but a human rights violation, a failure to recognize humanity in others fleeing desperate situations (many of which were actually instigated, worsened, or downright caused by the United States). Since writing this, I am afraid I have to add more human rights violations: mass hysterectomies and more than 500 children’s parents can’t be located after ICE separated these families at the borders.
The fact of the matter is that most Americans are unaware of these policies and their effects. They see the issue in black-and-white: if you come here illegally, you get sent back! But no issue is black-and-white, and never has been. To see anything as so means you’re missing the story—you’re missing the history, the cause and effect(s), and, most importantly, you’re failing to recognize the humanity of other people. Some people like to point out that Adolf Hitler enjoyed painting—and it’s true—but that implies immigrants wield any measure of the political savvy Hitler did.
Instead, consider this: all human beings are like us, with feelings, thoughts, and desires. (We are also all connected by flatulence, as Michael P. Branch points out in his essay collection How to Cuss in Western.)
Yes, we need policies. But our policies ought to be humane and conscionable.
Making readers see the need for better policies is part of Ernesto Cisneros’ goal in writing his novel, Efrén Divided. He writes from the perspective of a middle school boy, the son of undocumented immigrants, who lives in fear of being orphaned by American policies. One day, that fear is realized.
As the reader follows Efrén’s journey, they learn to place his story in the broader narrative—Efrén is not alone; he is not the only child whose parent was taken. He is not the only one making difficult decisions and feeling the undue burden that comes with having no recourse, but being part of an unfortunate demographic does not invalidate his experiences. Efrén and his family are more than a statistic, just as all those numbers you see in the news are never just numbers.
Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.
But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.
Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.
It is never wrong or too late to empathize. Empathy stems from recognition of humanity—recognition of the self in another person. The important thing is not to view humans and their actions objectively (that’s dehumanization), but rather pair empathy with critical thinking skills. You can use both to analyze the how and why—how do these policies affect people and why are they implemented despite clear evidence of the harm they do?
“Three years ago, my middle-school-aged daughter asked why America was so angry at families like ours. ‘Because they do not know us’ was the best response I could give her. And this is pretty much how the book came to be. Not only was it an attempt to have Americans experience America through an entirely different lens, it was also an attempt to let Latino children know that they are worthy of being included on the pages of American literature.”
You can read a cute interview with the author here.
This book is dedicated to all immigrant families who continue to be cruelly separated and, especially, all the brave children who are forced to live this story.