He was 12 years old, slight of build and scrawny. He’d left school some years before, he told her, and worked full-time in a florist shop back in Guatemala. Now that they were at the border, the terrible journey behind them, he was worrying about his future job prospects.
“Please tell me how to get a job in the US,” he asked her.
Elisa was nonplussed. “You can’t,” she told him gently. “You’re too young.”
“I am the man of the family,” he corrected her, the grand words at odds with his childlike voice. “I have to provide for my mother and sisters.”
Elisa shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “You’ll have to go to school.”
Some of our readers may remember Elisa O’Callaghan, a North Central Texas JFON board member, who was featured in The Children of Matamoros Bridge from September of last year.
Elisa has made it her mission to bring “calm dolls,” books, toys, and art supplies, to the children waiting with their asylum-seeking parents in Mexico, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Now she was in Nogales, Mexico, a week before most of the U.S. would go on lockdown, and it was, she says, “like day and night from Matamoros.”
“Matamoros is a well-oiled machine,” she says. “Among the community of volunteers, there are groups of attorneys, psychologists, educators…everybody has a part and everybody does something. I think it’s much harder for migrants in Nogales.”
So, of course, Elisa had to go to Nogales.
She’d packed up her van with husband, two kids, 300 early-learning books, 400 calm dolls, various art supplies and food. A local Muslim women’s group had donated packages of masa corn flour—for making tamales and pupusas. A friend had baked a thousand cookies for the people at the shelter. When there was not even a cubic inch of space left in the van, the family carefully pulled out of the driveway of their North Dallas home and began the long, lumbering drive to Arizona.
Every day, the comedor (dining hall) operated by the Kino Border Initiative feeds 350 people. Some of them are asylum seekers heading to the United States. Others are recently deported from the United States. All are in need of food, shelter, and comfort.
After Elisa had delivered her supplies, she volunteered to help sort and fold donated clothes. She began talking to some of the children and soon, just like the ones in Matamoros, they were coloring together—Elisa is an art teacher—and reading the books she had brought them.
“They opened up to me,” says Elisa, “and shared some of the agony of what it is to be a migrant child. But they also shared the joy.
“This is what this journey has given me,” continues Elisa. “I have learned so much about forgiveness from these children. They receive so much ugliness from this world, and yet they still know how to forgive, to feel joy, and love.”
Elisa has been forced to postpone—indefinitely—her plans to return to Nogales while the pandemic rages on. She finds the waiting very difficult.
“I have to go back,” she says fervently. “I have about a thousand books to bring them next time. You know,” she adds, smiling, “they don’t have much in the way of a library …yet. “