Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Ana's Story (Part V.)
Ana graduated from high school with her best friend, Mercedes. Mercedes is tall, with luminescent pale skin and a bob of dark blonde hair cut just over her shoulders. She is the daughter of Gail Reynoso, the friend of Ana’s family. Gail’s mother immigrated from Britain after meeting her Dad and is a vocal advocate for immigrants’, workers’ and women’s rights, an incongruous voice in a deep red town, state and region.
My daughter was in second grade and I lived on a street in town and just by coincidence Ana's Mom and Dad worked at the factory where I was working; she and Mercedes were in the same grade at school and they also lived just a few blocks from me on the same street, Gail recounts. One day my daughter came home from school and said that Ana's Mom had invited us over for dinner and that I should make something American, and her Mom was gonna make something Mexican and we were gonna eat together. And so we made BBQ chicken and corn bread and salad and went down to their house and Ana's Mom made the most amazing taquitos and it became the beginning of an amazing friendship.
The girls grew up together. One late night after our interview, Gail texted me a long series of pictures of their families together over the years, the girls hugging at a birthday party Mercedes’ house when they were little, more recent pictures from Mercedes’ wedding, pictures of Ana’s Mom and Dad when they first became friends with Gail’s family, babies, teens holding new babies, pictures of Mercedes’ son, Emmett, hugging Xavi and Gail says, we always laugh because in the pictures Emmett is hugging the crap out of Xavi and poor Xavi is always looking at him like “OK! Enough already!”
Ana and Mercedes have lived mirror lives, with sharp contrasts.
When Mercedes got a driver’s license when she turned sixteen, Ana could not. The girls graduated high school together but while Mercedes got a Fulbright to go to college at the University of Missouri, Ana had no papers at the time so could not get into higher education. While Mercedes had a good support system in her Mom and extended family, Ana’s parents were deported just as she graduated high school and she was forced into adulthood on her own. While Gail gets to hug her grandson and see him grow up, Ana’s Mom only sees Xavi in the pictures Gail sends.
Then there is the constant fear of harassment that runs deep in the Latinx community.
Our local sheriff's department pretty immediately started picking people up just for driving while brown, Gail says of the early days of Latino immigrants coming to Mexico, Missouri, some twenty years ago. Just as it happened to Ana’s family, deportation and harassment were a daily threat for the Latino community.
Since the 2016 election, the harassment has started again, and again the community is living in fear.
On Tuesday, August 27th Ana’s brother Willy was detained and arrested in Centralia, a town west of Mexico, Missouri, accused of a burglary he says he did not commit. The arresting police officer, Ana recounted, getting frustrated as Willy kept denying any wrongdoing during the interrogation, reportedly told him that if he didn’t tell the truth he would be turned over to ICE. Willy is not a DACA recipient, having spent some time in Mexico and turned eighteen there. He is living in the U.S. undocumented now, after having grown up and lived here since the age of two, because he went back to Mexico in 2011 with Ana’s mother. Maybe as a result of the hardships he endured crossing the border and the stress of his immigration status, he struggles with long bouts of depression.
Ana called me an hour after her brother was arrested with a plea for help. She started rallying up friends and activists, tried to find both a criminal and an immigration attorney to take his case, moved heavens and earth. She was going through all this while caring for a one-month-old baby; her son Mateo was born prematurely on July 19th.
Willy’s first court appearance was in Columbia, the seat of the Boone County courthouse, because Centralia is in Boone County, not Audrain County. She met the group of activists gathered at the courthouse in a show of solidarity for the video-remote arraignment with Mateo nursing in a sling around her waist.
The Boone County courthouse is a Greek revival structure surrounded by Columbia’s arts district, with a college-town predictable array of coffee houses, galleries and international restaurants.
The activists, mostly from Missouri Faith Voices, a faith-based, majority-Black social justice group, wore their clergy attire, some vividly colorful, for the occasion. They were older white men and women, most retired, they knew each other a long time and they were well-versed in scenarios like this. They chatted amicably but looked tense. One of them, the Reverend Dottie Matthews, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, hugged Ana fiercely; they had known each other through other struggles, although none feeling so urgent and wrenching.
Later that day Ana had to go to the hospital because Mateo was showing signs of heart problems.
He must be feeling my distress, she said over the phone from the hospital as we talked to assess where to go from there. I could hear her in turn talking to Xavi and soothing Mateo. Then she interrupted me and said she had to hung up, they were going to check on her baby. The next time we met she had asked me to babysit Xavi and Mateo as she wanted to go and visit her brother in the Boone County jail. I met her in the jail parking lot after work as night fell, on an unusually chilly night in the Missouri late summer.
She had texted me in the days before that she felt exhausted. The weight of uncertainty and fear coupled with the strain of caring for a newborn and a toddler were bearing down on her. She got out of her car and came around to the back to check on Mateo in his carseat, took him out and nursed him, laughing that she better let him get five minutes of nourishment or I wouldn’t have any peace while she was gone. Baby Matteo ended up sleeping through the whole visit. The weekly visit were repeated until Ana’s DACA papers expired and she had to wait for the new ones. She is still waiting.
This is where the story of Ana rests now.
She is struggling her way through opaque legal battles while caring for a newborn and raising a family, the odds stacked against her, fearful of what kind of dark tomorrow will unfold as she nurses Mateo and tries to get some sleep, as she misses her parents and worries about her baby brother sitting in jail, his fate unknown.
Valerie. I cried. Again. The last part. As if I was reading somebody else’s story. I’m filled with hope but at the same time sad that it still does not have a happy ending. What a nightmare this whole thing with my brother has been. Before, it hurt, the part about my Dad. The part about when my mother left. But nothing has hurt as much as reading about my brother, Ana texted me, in a mix of Spanish and English, after I sent her the story for fact-checking.
The story writes itself in a chorus of tangled voices, some of them shouts, others lullabies, with no resolution nor happy endings. The story is a piece of fraying fabric incessantly being knitted back together in multiple strands of colors only to be torn apart again.