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BRIClab Essays:

Her Departure, The Gap, Testimony

By Andrea Nikté Juarez Mendoza

Her Departure

A volatile mix
Dimes and quarters and nickels
It was freezing
I felt like an icicle
I see
The body knows
And here you are by yourself
Churches and children
Bars and fences
Paperwork in a language you don’t understand
Every minute
That discomforting feeling
Spirit torture
My child
My child
Torn from me
My grip forced to release
To State violence
I’m silenced
In the name of “freedom”
My child
My child
For you I leave, I stay, I stand still
By any means necessary
And I want her to know
I have always loved you
I love you
I love you
I love you

Sometimes it’s boarding a plane, other times it’s a boat ride across the ocean, and for many it is a 3,000 mile walk across borders and boundaries most of us will never have to encounter. For those who leave their homelands seeking something else, pushed and pulled by social and political factors that span centuries of colonial and imperialist presence, the departure of migration carries a unique heaviness. The weight of goodbyes between kin who understand that they may never see each other again is carried deep in the spirit where soul memories of the intergenerational experiences of family separation move across space and time. The departures of migrating people are pregnant pauses in these stories where mothers who have left children behind hold their breaths as they labor in cities across the United States hoping to gather just enough for remittances and one day to send for their children who will arrive four, five, or nine years later. Departure like parturition, is both the end of one life and the start of another. It is here in between worlds that the heaviness fills the gaps of the unknown and migrating people create lives in two lands at once.

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Sanctuary, video still, 2021

The Gap

4, 5, 9,4,5,9,4,5,9
The years spent apart
Things left unsaid
The gap
A chasm
The middle space
In between
So full of why’s and how’s and when’s
Where questions take up landing space and love awaits an arrival
Who are you?
And yet, I want her to know
I see her
I see her despite the blinding distance
No land mass or deep sea can separate
What spirit has connected
In the soul plane is where we meet
In dreams and reveries
Imagining tomorrows
I’ve seen you abuela
I’ve seen you mama
I have your eyes
So in the mirror I stand
And I see you looking back at me
Your love is in the schoolbooks
And the good cooked food
I felt your embrace in the warmth of new blankets
And heard your footsteps as I walked in shoes you sent to me
I have seen you in all the ways one sees without eyes
Knowing you have loved me in all the ways one loves without touch
we filled the gaps

What happens to the time between the departure and the arrival or reunion so many hope and plan for after migrating to a new place? How are relationships affected and how do we nurture connections across borders beyond the politically drawn boundaries of nations that keep us separated? Migrating people and those left in waiting must continue to build lives in the spaces of our hearts and minds where imagination creates unions in the here, now, and tomorrow. It is the active process of hope and radical imagining that weave the threads between people that maintain relationships through distance, but it is not without an undercurrent of complex emotionality that these relations must survive in waiting for reunion. Children left in the care of grandparents or other family may wonder if life would be so different had their parent remained. Holding both gratitude and deep pain from that sacrifice is part of the unspoken familial negotiations created by the circumstances of forced migration and family separation. In the waiting, in the gap, in the space between today and tomorrow, we hold testimonies of a complex love beyond borders that is a key to our healing.

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Sanctuary, video still, 2021


But she never told her story
Delayed memories
Tell me how you remember me
I was angry
But I had a reason to be angry
Understanding was lacking
But I want her to know
My back is a bridge between generations
My tongue testifies
My words help people find the words for their experience
They fill the gaps of unspoken truths
And memories in waiting
Seeking the arrival of healing
from old wounds
Still fresh from
Her departure

Each of us bears an untold story within. When I was four, I migrated to the United States with my mother as did millions of others from Central America at the height of a thirty-year civil war. I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time we both would see my mother’s mother, my grandmother alive. I can only imagine the emotional weight my mother carries in her spirit. Thirty years later and she has yet to tell me her story of surviving through that separation and death. My experience of migration and family separation has sparked a lifelong journey to reclaim the missed memories and lost lullabies my grandmother would have shared with me. Through storytelling in poetry or prose, I have found my healing. As a scholar of migration I tell the stories of structural and state violence that create the conditions for forced migration and family separation. And while it isn’t my right to tell other’s stories, through the telling of my personal life experiences and the witnessing I’ve been allowed to participate in as others share their stories, I’ve found the words to fill the gaps of separation by imbuing my scholarship with political testimonies of shared experiences. Perhaps through the telling of our stories, the bearing of our testimonies, and only when we are ready to do so, may others find a healing tongue and the courage to speak their own truths.

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Sanctuary, video still, 2021

Andrea Nikté Juarez Mendoza (she/her) is an NYC-based Guatemalan scholar-activist, artist, and organizer from San Francisco California, whose work centers on community-driven change. She uses arts-based and healing-centered methods through an approach she calls collective Testimonio-Art. Andrea’s current research broadly looks at immigration, family separation, dehumanization, decoloniality, social movements, and scholar/activism. She has worked as a translator in detention centers with the Feerick Center for Social Justice; accompanying families and individuals to court; and as an organizer and graduate researcher with the APA, CUNY, and the Public Science Project on local, state-wide, and national projects documenting and archiving immigration experiences.