My mother, Dania, is eleven in this photograph. It was taken in the Dominican Republic in 1965, four years before my father married her and then brought her to New York City, separating her from her family. Her parents were the ones who made her do it, though she was still a child. They did it because it would eventually mean the rest of the family could immigrate, too.
This photograph is one of the few of my mother at that age. She’s wearing her Sunday dress and knee-high white socks. On her left are her three brothers: Rolando, Johnny, and Andres. On her right is her sister, Isabel, smiling, embraced by their father, who looks off in the same direction as the littlest brother. What are they looking at? Who else is there? They are all dressed up, so it’s either one of those rare planned visits or a festive occasion. Perhaps it was one of the many times my father would stop by with his entourage of brothers to woo my mother. On these visits, they were fed by my grandparents, who looked up to the brothers who traveled to New York City to work at restaurants, factories, and hotels. My grandmother would make my mother dress up and sit pretty for him. In this photograph, my grandmother, Leoncia, turns her body away from the camera, looking sternly toward my mother whose body is stiff, her arms long and straight, by her side. My mother’s dress is a little girl’s dress with its high waist, square neck, and puffed short sleeves. The hemline, midthigh, looks like she’s outgrowing it. My mother’s focused, soulful eyes look straight at the camera. What does she know? More to the point, who is she looking at?
I was reminded of this picture, and this moment in my mother’s life, the other week when children were separated from their parents in Mississippi during ICE’s largest statewide scoop in U.S. history. Eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio was captured crying on camera, advocating for the freedom of her father, who was taken away along with 679 other undocumented immigrants, many of whom had already established their lives in the United States. She’s wearing a striped pink-and-white T-shirt, her long dark hair pulled back away from her face. A 12 News microphone is recording her, most likely without parental consent. She says to the world about her father, “He’s not a criminal.” When I look at the video of Magdalena, I see a child who needs her parents.