Guest column by D. Dina Friedman: Where have they taken the children?

  • The detention center in Homestead, Florida, that D. Dina Friedman visited. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • D. Dina Friedman SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • D. Dina Friedman, of Hadley, and others from the Valley, recently visited the detention center in Homestead, Florida. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 8/21/2019 5:11:21 PM
Modified: 8/21/2019 5:11:11 PM

The detention center where I witnessed two months ago in Homestead, Florida has been emptied. There’s no more noise in the old gray Air Force buildings with mold on the walls, and (I imagine) rot and Florida cockroaches inside. Will the tents soon be transformed to big ghost sheets? Will the fences be torn down, too, the black covering over the mesh removed?

And what of the blue-shirted workers who would not look at us when we said good morning, who took the job because they had to support their own kids, though those were good kids, not these bad kids, as they were told by their superiors. Bad to the core.

These kids punch walls. They cut into their skin with their plastic ID cards because there is no other means of consolation from the pain of not having mothers, or not knowing where their mothers are, or of seeing their mothers killed by gangs, shot randomly, stabbed, raped, sliced, or simply disappeared; the pain of crossing into a country with blank-faced guards who stare into the desert and bark at them in a torrent of undecipherable words, when they only thing they said was, “save me.”

We can find consolation in distraction, in our own spaces that are verdant August green. We can find consolation under the leaves of cucumbers and zucchinis, in that giant miraculous growth that sprouts from the bright yellow flowers, in the deep red of ripe tomatoes peeking out under the jungle, the long purple eggplants filling out, like a child growing into adolescence.

But these string bean children in their orange hats were shriveled. I could see their roots loosening from the earth as we waved at them while standing on stepladders so they could see the big red hearts we held over the blacked out fence.

My heart stops when I see these children — my heart and the hearts of my ancestors who were forced out of their empty villages and loaded onto trains. Where did they take these children? No one asked when they cleared out villages in 1940s Germany or Poland. No happy hippie white middle-class older ladies standing on ladders holding big red hearts. We would have been shot if we’d asked in Germany. Perhaps we would have been shot by the immigrant-hater in El Paso if we’d been witnessing near that border. State-inspired killing is just a small spark away from soldier killing.

My daughter tells me about going to court with a man in Manhattan and a blank eyed ghost judge applying the splinter of the law — the man had only been threatened by gangs, the judge said, not physically assaulted (or killed) and therefore not eligible for asylum.

My heart stops. The red heart held up on the ladder is melting in the heat. The children in orange hats are gone, the prison space that offers no consolation empty. Where did they take the children?

My precious children are always only a touch away from the device in my pocket. And even that space is so scary sometimes when the phone rings and rings and rings and I don’t know where they are, and I have to troll their Facebook page for a post to know that two hours ago, at least, they were alive.

Once, from the ladders, we heard the children singing. Religious service, a policeman told us. Could God give them consolation? Where are the mothers? They get just a few minutes twice a week to speak with someone they love. They cannot hug new friends or sisters, so they punch walls and dig ID cards into their skin because they are bad children and they need to feel something. In Holocaust Europe, before the cattle car trains, there were trains that mothers put their children on, sending them to safe and empty countries. Their hearts stopped as the doors closed.

D. Dina Friedman, of Hadley, is a member of the Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice, as well as the author of a young adult novel about the Holocaust, “Escaping Into the Night,” and a book of poetry, “Wolf in the Suitcase.”


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