Before I go on to describe more fully the experience of the reunification of these youngsters with their parents, allow me to “prepare your mind” if you will, by taking you through an experiential exercise. My experience has shown me that people react strongly to issues of family separation. “How can they leave their children behind? That’s horrible! I could never do that! Well, could you?”… So in the early 90s I wrote this story to present to audiences that came to my workshops to learn about the reunited immigrant family. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine an event as horrible as the September 11, 2001 tragedy. That experience tints this exercise now in a very different way: this story now reflects our deepest fears. I beg your pardon for it. It is not my intention to feed those fears, but my hope is that what you are about to read never, ever happens. In fact I trust it never will and therefore, it is in that sense that I present it to you, in the hope that by stepping in this story you will personally experience what it is like to be in the place of the different members of the reunited family. So allow yourself to step into the story for a while, long enough to feel what they have felt. So, maybe you would never separate from your family, or maybe you would. Let’s imagine the following scenario:
…”It’s 2035. Repeated confrontations and mounting tension between the U.S. and the New League of Nations have resulted in a declaration of a war against the U.S. by their leaders. The way this war now unfolds involves a violent and vast eruption of terrorism in all major cities of the U.S., which continues in spite of retaliation by the Pentagon. It is like fighting an invisible, amorphous enemy that comes from all directions at once. Life for families in urban centers is just not safe anymore, and many of them start immigrating away to smaller towns where life may still be more peaceful. Meanwhile, the world markets react strongly to the state of war, and the dollar plunges to its lowest value ever, crashing the economy of the United States. The financial crises, the destruction of major production centers by the enemy and the fleeing of scared citizens away from cities, create a total crisis in the job market. As depression sets in, thousands of people find themselves jobless. The government, succumbing to financial pressures, is unable to operate.
You and your spouse live in the U.S., and have lost your jobs. When you feel no longer safe in your home, you decide to move in with your parents or relatives living in a small town, as many other people are doing. Your children are now safer. However, there are no possibilities of jobs in this new place. Poverty is now a reality.
Rumors and stories in the newspapers indicate that China, now a nation in a race to become the most technically advanced, needs a large labor force of professionals and technicians. They are willing and able to hire already trained foreign workers. However, traveling to China is a very perilous and expensive journey, because terrorists are managing to set bombs in planes leaving the U.S. Expensive, not only for the high cost of the tickets, but also because once you are there, you have to pay very high fees for special documentation that allows you to work in the country as a foreigner.
Nevertheless, many U.S. citizens are leaving to go work in China. Their numbers grow each day, as the situation worsens. Families are now faced with a hard choice. Because of the economic strains and risks involved in selecting this course of action, they decide on only one of the spouses leaving at first; then he or she will send the money for the other spouse to travel. When they both are working, they will be in a position to save enough money to bring the children over. Thus, families separate and their members have to emigrate at different times. Their last savings are all thrown into this last chance out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
Please take the time to carefully and honestly reflect upon the following questions while trying to fully place yourself in the above imaginary situation:
1. Given the described circumstances, would you as a parent leave to secure a better future for your children?
2. How would you explain your decision to your children 5 years later?
3. Now, how would you feel if you were:
a) The spouse leaving?
b) The spouse that stayed behind?
c) If you were joining your spouse after a long separation?
d) If you are the oldest child (10) left behind?
e) If you are a three- year old child left behind?
f) If you are the parent of two adolescents coming to join you, your new spouse and your younger children born in China?
g) If you are a single mother bringing in young adolescents to the USA?
j) If you are the grandmother or aunt left in charge of raising those children left behind?
Thank you for answering thoughtfully and honestly!