Other People’s Children

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” — Mathew 25:40

Last May, when the Trump administration starting separating children from their parents and housing them in hieleras (ice boxes) and cages, under deplorable conditions with no clear intention or process for reuniting them with their parents, I could not sleep for many nights. You see, although thanks be to God I never had to flee my country, I was married to a Venezuelan immigrant, and many of my good friends are immigrants — some would say refugees, who fled Venezuela because of the insanely high crime, lack of food and medicine, and general suffering. Also, because I care for people, and love strangers as Jesus Christ did (who by the way, was an undocumented immigrant in Egypt). I am not saying that we should “let everyone in,” and I believe in immigrating through the legal channels. However, torturing innocent children — and yes, it is torture and trauma that will live with those children for the rest of their lives — and making parents suffer who are coming here to LEGALLY apply for asylum, in order to send a message, is absolutely indefensible.

This video is of me and my dad playing at the 2019 Alaska State Folk Festival here in Juneau. I wrote the song, titled “Other People’s Children,” and my father Tom Koester accompanied me with some beautiful guitar picking. Thanks, Dad! At the bottom of this post I have shared the lyrics with you all.

For the 10 plus years I lived in California, all my friends were immigrants, mostly from Venezuela. They were the warmest & most fun people I have known. One of my friends had crossed here illegally and ended up in one of those ice boxes in Texas for three months as a result. This was no ordinary jail. They were treated like animals in there, it was freezing, & he got very sick. He called us asking for money just so he could buy some soup. He was one of the nicest people I had ever met & certainly did not deserve this fate. Eventually they deported him. He, like my other Venezuelan friends, came from a country where the odds are pretty good that you will end up robbed and possibly murdered. There is a huge food & medicine shortage there. Any one of us would have tried to have escaped a living hell, even if it meant coming here illegally.

Married to a Spanish-speaking, dark-skinned immigrant who spoke little to no English for 8 years, I witnessed the racism first-hand. I know what it’s like to be treated like cattle as we waited hours & hours in several lines at INS to get our cases heard, just to be sent home because our paperwork was insufficient. Even with a masters degree I had a hard time understanding all the paperwork, & we eventually had to spend thousands to hire an immigration lawyer. Although I would never compare my experience to the horrors of being jailed or separated from my children, I know what it’s like to be treated like dirt by ICE. When my husband left his green card behind as we were crossing back into the US, they acted like we were illegals trying to sneak into the US. 

Sometimes it just takes getting to know the “other” to develop a little bit of empathy. The best way is to travel abroad (all inclusive resorts don’t count, sorry) and if you can, live abroad for a bit. Get to know the locals. (Trust me, that’s the best part.) There is nothing to fear. People are mostly good. In the meantime, I will continue teaching Spanish, and in doing so, teach children about the wonderful “other” people out there.

“Other People’s Children”:

Every night, every morning, every time I hold my kids,

I think of my sisters wondering what la migra did

With their babies, their vidas, the reason that they did

What they had to do, and I can’t sleep because of this.

I stay up late looking for their babes,

I ask NPR, New York Times and RAICES,

I listen to their stories to hold space

For these children, I see their face, I see their face…

Oh baby, where are you? Are you ok?

Did they take your rosary? 

Do you still have the belt with my name on it?

One day we will meet and I’ll hold you–

I’ll take the fear away.

I pray and pray,

Oh Mother God, with your love embrace,

I pray and pray, please keep my babies safe.

Dry her eyes, make her strong,

Someone please pick up the phone,

Bring my baby home.

I hear my babies crying at night–

Are they sick, are they all right?

I hear my babies crying at night–

Trying to safe a save I lost their life.

I search the news, keep hoping they’re back in mama’s arms,

But they’re not, they’re still missing

And the world goes on.

Running late, lots to do, work the nine to five —

First world problems, but someone still can’t find their child.

How can I pray when they took my rosary?

How can I breathe when they took my babe from me?

How can I sleep when I can’t stop crying?

This is my story, please don’t stop listening.

I hear my babies crying at night…

Trying to save a life I lost their life,

I hear my babies crying at night…

Trying to save their life, feels like I lost my life.