Emily: A Reflection from the Border
Written by Lydia Weisenberger
I went into the Border Immersion trip very excited, but I was also not quite sure how I would feel coming out of it. I knew I was walking into a culture and a place in the world that I had no first-hand experience with. I also knew this trip could have a big impact on my world outlook and change my perspective on our human condition, especially being a white, upper-middle-class woman studying at a university, without many odds set against me.
We went to a shelter in Nogales, Mexico to meet some of the immigrants that were waiting for their asylum case to be heard and I couldn’t help thinking: What will these people think of us, a group of white Americans that obviously carry many privileges? Would they want to meet us or were we just interjecting ourselves into their lives to make this all real-life for us? How will I be able to look them in the eyes and know that I will never have to suffer through what they suffered?
Then, we went inside. Standing in their dining room area, I saw a little head poke out through the doorway. She was standing next to her mom, but every so often she would move enough so that we made eye contact. I smiled and waved to her, and she smiled and waved to me. It was such a simple action, but it gave me so much joy to see that we could connect.
As we went downstairs to another gathering area, another little girl named Emily (pronounced “Ah-muh-lee”) came and hugged every single one of us as we were walking down the stairs. No words and no warning; just an immediate sign of acceptance and understanding that we were there to meet one another. She was not scared of us at all. Once we got downstairs, Emily came over to me in the corner of the small room we were in and she immediately stood right in front of me, looking up at me. To preface, I know zero Spanish, but she started speaking to me in Spanish, and if you’ve ever tried to talk to someone in a language you’re unfamiliar with, you know it can feel like one of the most helpless feelings in the world. All I knew how to say was “Me llamo Lydia” and after that, I was lost. I turned to my friend Emma next to me and she helped me figure out that her name was Emily and that she was seven years old. From that moment, she grabbed onto my hand and never let go. It didn’t matter to her that we couldn’t communicate with each other; she just wanted to be friends. We danced and I spun her around, meanwhile still holding hands. She would look up at me, I would look down at her, and we would just smile, which soon after turned into laughter. It was one of the simplest forms of communication but it worked.
I then started thinking about how to show my appreciation for her friendship. So I asked Rodger (the shelter coordinator) if I could give her a piece of gum. He said sure, and before I knew it, I handed a piece of gum to every kid in the shelter. It was such a sweet moment, even if it was just sharing gum. I also ended up giving her some of the string bracelets I had hanging from my water bottle and I could not have been happier to give her these small and completely insufficient gifts of appreciation.
I’m not sure that Emily knows how much it meant for me to meet her that day. I’m sure it was just her normal reaction to meeting someone like me, but I don’t think I can or will ever forget Emily. She will be a constant reminder that there are human beings to fight for at the border and who could be better to fight than us?