One year ago, Hortencia Mancilla and I were cooking together.
In a facebook post, Middle Daughter, Deborah, noted that this picture is of “The mothers making the dishes they are famous for: fried chicken and mashed potatoes and chorizo y huevos.” And she tagged Youngest Daughter, Rachel, and our “almost a daughter,” Yajaira. Hortencia is Yajaira’s Mama.
What this post didn’t show was two breaking hearts, for it wouldn’t be too long until Hortencia and her husband would be moving from our rental trailer and flying to Guatemala to be with their 27 year old daughter, Yajaira, their son in law, Ervin, (whom they hadn’t seen in over seven years) and their two grandchildren, Nichole and Joshua (whom they had never seen). On the night this picture was taken, Hortencia had come to our house, bringing the ingredients for one of Rachel’s favorite Mexican dishes, chorizo y huevos. (We call it “eggs and pork,” but I don’t know if that’s literal or not.) It isn’t something I enjoy, but it was eaten that night by Youngest daughter with big blue eyes bright with tears that wanted to spill over, and memories of happier times when it seemed like life could just go on like it was — forever.
And then there came the day that Hortencia and her husband came to tell us a final “good-bye.” The next morning, they would be leaving. It was an incredibly difficult time in my life. My Sweet Mama had already fallen and was in very poor condition. My heart was torn in a thousand directions. I could scarcely assimilate the pain that was crashing around my heart. Once again, prevented from saying what was truly on our hearts because of the ever present language barrier, Hortencia and I spoke heart language in hugs and tears and gestures. Then finally, reluctantly, they began their last trek across the yard to their trailer home. I stood at the door of our garage, watching them go, tears flowing down my cheeks as I realized that the time of having them as our neighbors was coming to an end. And then I heard a sound that still wrings my heart and brings tears. I heard this little Hispanic Mama, sobbing huge wracking sobs as she picked her way across the lawn that we had shared for over twenty years. America had been home to her for most of those twenty years, but her own homeland was calling. She had children and grandchildren here. Family in Mexico. Her youngest girlie, in Guatemala. Somewhat broken in health and saddened by life, she was heading towards a lot of unknowns.
I could not bear the sound. Hortencia is feisty and loyal and determined. She has been strong when I would have crumbled, resourceful when it looked like there was really no way through. She held on to a marriage and made it work when lesser women would have given up. And she has almost never allowed me to see her cry. But that night, as I listened to the noise of her grief as she made her way through the twilight to a trailer that had already been pretty completely emptied except for boxes that were to be shipped, my heart ached with the sisterhood of motherhood and loving and losing and change and farewell.
She is often in my thoughts, even now. And I realize that I am probably going to be judged for my stand on this whole thing. I know that there are people who come into this country and live here illegally and collect undeserved benefits. But I’m going to say it again. Illegal immigration looks so different when it has a face that you’ve learned to love. Illegal immigration tastes totally different in your mouth when it’s chorizo y huevos, made by people who feel like family. Illegal immigration sounds totally different in your ears when it’s the laughter of a baby that seems like one of your grandchildren. Illegal immigration is easy to dismiss unless you put faces, voices, fiber and family stories to the issue.
I didn’t do it on purpose. I would probably been far more comfortable for these last twenty plus years if I had never rented my trailer to a family on a dark night when they came knocking on the door, asking for a place to live. I didn’t realize how things were. By the time I did, it was too late to undo my heart.
Tonight, this family I love is no longer in the USA. Yajaira is in Guatemala with her husband and two children. She is expecting her third. She has made a life for herself and is happy. Hortencia and her husband, Christino, are in Mexico. Are they happy? I don’t know. I hope so.
Part of my heart is, and will always be with them and Yajaira. And even though seeing pictures like this hurts, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I have loved and I’ve been loved back.
And that is good.