how do you explain to a child what it means to be undocumented juanofwords

A scene from ‘Bajo la Misma Luna’

This week, we finally connected the internet to our television at home.  Don’t ask me how I did it.  The truth is I don’t actually remember.  I just kind of kept pushing buttons until it worked.  Still, once we got the connection going and we were able to login to our NetFlix account Edgar and I couldn’t agree on which movie to watch together.  He likes family and kids movies, which as you all know are mostly cartoons and super hero stories.  Not really my cup of .  I prefer comedies, dramas, thrillers and action movies.  Think stupid funny.  That’s usually my guilty pleasure.

Esta vez, though, we settled on Under The Same Moon.  You remember… the mostly in Spanish film about family separation and immigration starring Kate Del Castillo, Eugenio Derbez, America Ferrera, Carmen Salinas, and others, that was so critically acclaimed just a couple of years ago.  I’ve seen it myself probably a half dozen times.  Each time I can’t stop myself from tearing up like a big old baby when Carlitos finds his mom at the end of the movie.  It’s that good!  I think so anyway.

Watching the film with Edgar, however, was kind of an eyeopener for me.  I guess I’d never really given much thought to what his notion about immigration really was.  Sure, he knows that my parents and Anjelica’s parents both came from Mexico to this country as immigrants and that a lot of our relatives still live there now.  We’ve explained to him what “crossing the river” and “crossing the border” mean.  He’s heard the story about my mom crossing the Rio Grande river with me in one arm and my older brother in the other, sitting on nothing but a rubber tube, over and over again, and he’s probably going to keep hearing about that one forever.  We’ve even sat down and talked to him about why some of our family members refer to themselves as mojados. 

Sin embargo, I don’t think it had ever fully sunk in.  Watching the movie, though, he started asking things like: wait, so if you have papers you don’t have to cross the border?  just because he doesn’t have papers he has to hide under the seat?  wait, why doesn’t his mom just go back home?  why did they just let him get arrested?  why didn’t they help him?  We tried  our best to answer his questions, but the truth is for some of them we just didn’t have the right answers.  I don’t know that anyone does.

It got me thinking.  I don’t remember my parents ever really sitting us down to explain to us what it meant for people to refer to them as “illegal.”  We knew la migra was who we were supposed to hide from.  We recognized their green and white trucks when they would drive by and we would always run away from them as fast as we could.  We knew that because mamá y papá didn’t have papeles we couldn’t travel past the border town we were living in.  They could be captured and deported at the next closest immigration checkpoint.  We knew that when we had to leave our home in Texas to try and start a new life in Mexico it was because our parents weren’t supposed to be here… but I don’t think we ever really understood why.

I’m kind of glad they let us figure it out on our own.

Now that begs another question in my mind.  How do you explain to a child what it means to be undocumented?  Is there really a right or wrong answer?  Is it a matter of personal choice?  I don’t know.  ¿Qué me dicen ustedes?