In a post published by the Psychology Benefits Society, (1) an associate professor of counseling from the Rhode Island College, Kalina Brabeck, Ph.D. was co-facilitating a community meeting when a Guatemalan Immigrant mother shared that, in response to the election of Donald Trump, her 8 year old posed the following question: “I was born here in the US. But I am Latina, because you are from Guatemala: Does that mean even though I was born here (in the U.S.), I don’t belong here? Behind that question there were myriad feelings: Fear: can I be forced to leave? Insecurity: Do I deserve a punishment for being your daughter or, for being a Latina? Shame: I am not the same as other children born here. I do not deserve being here.
Those are probably the painful and damaging feelings of thousands of children of immigrants in the same situation. That parent was fortunate that her child could articulate them, so they could discuss them. Many are probably walking around without knowing quite how to put them in words, or afraid to hurt the parent if they ask those questions. But as a parent, (or as a teacher, or counselor) you can use this story to start the conversation, scary and hard as it may be.
One of the most difficult things to do in a situation like that, but actually important, is not to jump into answers, but open the door wider to the child talking, so she can express herself more, either then, or later. Because you, as an immigrant parent are burdened with the same feelings inside your heart, plus enormous guilt for being the adult that had to make the decision to come to this country, this may seem like a formidable task. Remind yourself how such decision felt so difficult and very much the only way out of an intolerable situation in your life at the time. Listening to your child may require great courage and ability to remain calm. Perhaps you will need some help with this from someone you trust.
Can you find the courage in yourself to ask in a calm voice: tell me honey, how does that make you feel? It makes me feel so sad to hear it from you. Tell me more. But do not push him/her if she won’t say more. Remember also: it is OK to let the tears fall together with hers. Nothing wrong with that! It will draw you and her closer.
Then, you can go into facts: for example, that the law protects her because she is a citizen born in this country. Furthermore, neither you, nor her, deserve a punishment for doing something that you, as a parent, could not avoid because the situation was so difficult in your country. All people going through similar experiences understand that nobody who chooses to leave their country does it easily. It is a very hard thing to do, to leave your family and friends behind and go through so many dangers to get here. It requires tremendous courage. You can add: “I am proud of my courage in going through with this”. The fact is: “You are a good person and so am I! I work hard and honestly every day and obey the laws of this state in my day to day life. And I am proud of that. All of us in this family are doing our very best.” “And, I am also so very proud of you!” “There are people out there who just don’t know and don’t understand some of these things. However, there are also people who do understand and support us. And these people are in positions of power too and they are trying to protect us.”
- Psychology Benefits Society “Beyond the “Melting Pot”: Why We Need to Support the Multicultural Identities of All America’s Children.”