Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

The Kids Are All Right

Dreamers in Chicago, August 15, 2012
My baby girl turned 15 this week.  Consider yourself warned.

We have a story in our family about the stormy August day on which Edith was born that goes like this:

My water broke in the early morning and I went into hard labor fairly quickly.  This baby was coming fast.  So the Gods assembled all the angels in heaven and asked for a volunteer, "Who wants to go down and be Amy and Jaime's baby?"  The group peered down at us and raised their eyebrows.  Two rolling stones with hot tempers and an untidy one-bedroom on the edge of Miami Beach.  There was an awkward silence as the little spirits shifted uncomfortably and avoided making eye contact.  Edie looked around, shrugged, and raised her hand, "I'll go," she said.  And so it was that her fearless, independent spirit joined our family. 

Like all good family stories, this one is built on half-truths and exaggeration.  The underlying premise is that we are special, somehow different from everyone else. Jaime and I were particularly unprepared for parenthood and have wandered more than most.  Edith is brave and enthusiastic, unusually tolerant of our schemes.  Of course, we are not special.  Young parents all around the world drag their children along with them for untold adventure, fueled by curiosity and ambition.  And children are, almost by definition, hopeful and resilient.

These truths were on display for all to see last week throughout the US and, in particular, at the Navy Pier in Chicago (see photo above), when the US government began to accept applications for work and residency permits from children who were brought to this country by their parents years ago.  Young people brave and hopeful enough to come forth and identify themselves as undocumented so that they might secure the right to live and work in the US.  If you want special, here are some powerful spirits.

The similarities between these families' journeys and our own are slim to none.  My biggest concern on our journey to Spain, a trip built on the unearned privileges of race, class and citizenship, was if our bags would fit under the 23kg weight requirement.  Still, our experience allows me to see these "Dreamers" in a new light.

Our children adjusted so quickly to Spanish life that after just a few months they were dressing, talking and thinking like Spaniards, their memories of the rocky beaches of Massachusetts, the Milford Mall and life in the Elm City quickly fading.  Imagine if we had stayed there ten years instead of one.  Edie underwent the most dramatic transformation, morphing into a Spaniard right before my eyes.  She adores Spain and the possibility of living and working in this country some day - or anywhere in Europe for that matter - is a very real option for her simply because her father's spirit happened to float down to the northern corner of the Iberian Peninsula so many years ago.

The first thing that came into my mind when I saw these pictures of the people who had come forward to amend their immigration status was, "Children.  These are children."  Kids who want to hang out with their friends, go to school, get jobs, update their Facebook status.  Children who are connected to another world only by their parents' stories and fading photos hung on the refrigerator.  Should it matter if their spirits landed in Veracruz or Tulsa?  They are here now.  Let them worry about what will be on the Calculus test and if the guy at the bus stop has noticed their new earrings. We are lucky to have them.