I admit, I’ve done the Texas two-step more than once, trying to decide whether I had the courage to address this issue – especially because it feels so personal to me. I have no interest in making a political statement during these polarized times, but I speak from my personal experience and from the heart.
Despite reports of President Trump’s decision to halt the practice of having border enforcement agents separate thousands of refugee children from their parents, I remain concerned about how such behavior could even occur, and whether it’s symptomatic of the steady erosion of values that so many of us hold dear and what it means for the future of our nation.
My comments come from the perspective of a patriot, dedicated to the security of our nation that my husband, father, brother, uncles and grandfather fought so bravely to uphold while fighting in in the armed services. And, although I never experienced anything as brutal as being forcibly taken from my parents, I can personally identify with these children’s trauma.
When I was young, I was often separated for long periods of time from my parents, a circumstance that has haunted me throughout my life. From the time I was seven through my ninth year, when my father finally succumbed to a deadly heart disease at the age of 36, I experienced long periods apart from my parents as they traveled around the country looking in vain for a doctor who could treat my father’s condition.
While they were traveling to El Paso, Galveston and other cities around the nation, my brother and I were left in the care of loving friends and relatives, not strangers. They were often gone for weeks, only to return home and then leave again within a week or two after receiving a call that another heart specialist might be able to help daddy. Each time they came home, increasingly disillusioned, I would immediately begin to worry they would leave again, and that something would happen to them, like a car accident, or that daddy might die while they were absent from us.
Daddy felt most comfortable with a specialist in El Paso, who advised him to take an extended vacation to get away from his job as manager of a car dealership. They packed up and went off to Yellowstone National Park for nearly a month, so that he could rest. That trip seemed like forever, and I was constantly afraid something would happen to them and I’d never see them again. One specific nightmare would haunt me over and over. I dreamt that a herd of elephants were stomping across the roof, that I would wake up just as they fell through the ceiling and began to trample me. I often would be humiliated because I had wet the bed.
Years later, when my husband Larry was deployed to Vietnam, those feelings of abandonment and dread returned with a vengeance. A psychiatrist in Lubbock, Texas, recommended I go to the Menninger Clinic to be treated for clinical depression. He told me I was fixated on the idea that Larry would be killed, just like my father had died. I pointed out that Larry was in a war where the likelihood of being killed or wounded was high. He acknowledged that it was true but reminded me that there were many other military spouses with loved ones deployed in Vietnam who were able to function, get out of bed and take care of their children.
I took his advice and checked myself into the clinic for treatment. My soul felt fractured at times, because I had made the decision to leave my daughter Laura in the care of others. I knew it was the right choice but feared she would also feel abandoned and alone like I did as a child. I had left her, just like I had been left.
Just like I did then, I wonder what toll the decision to wrest these children from their parents will have on their long-term mental health. In the case of these immigrant children, they’ve come across miles and miles of dangerous territory to find their way to America and most don’t even speak the language. Separating them from their families seems like a dangerous precedent for the health of the child and parent.
Several years ago, I visited the Statue of Liberty and gazed upon the inscription at its base. As a nation of immigrants, we can do better than this.
© Tyra Manning 2018
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
by Emma Lazarus