Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
As thousands of children seek refuge in the United States from horrific conditions in Mexico and Central America that this country helped create, the response here has ranged from compassion to apathy to unbridled hatred.
I refuse to use the term "illegals." It is beyond me to classify another human being as an outlaw for wanting to stay alive.
Children making their way to the United States from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are not immigrants. They are refugees. They are part of a forced migration due to poverty and exploitation that began long before the establishment of NAFTA.
Most of these children have not seen the inside of a classroom, have witnessed horrific acts of violence, have been threatened and have suffered unthinkable harm, often including sexual abuse.
These children have unfathomable courage and perseverance.
Can we even begin to imagine what mastery of intellectual and intuitive skills a child must have to make it to U.S. soil from a village in the depths of Honduras?
Can we even attempt to grasp what levels of sacrifice are needed, what horrors experienced, what trauma endured to find a way to bread and freedom?
Many of these children are not thinking only of themselves, but of the families they leave behind. These children are heroic. Aren’t these the same qualities we laud and hope for in our own children, our leaders and our citizenry?
Instead of turning away from them, we should learn from these children and find out how they have developed the character, will and principles that have compelled them to survive despite incomprehensible odds.
We see them from the distance of our relatively comfortable lives. They are a blur in our collective consciousness, streaming into our backyards, faceless, nameless — another inconvenience, a taxpayer’s burden.
The kinder among us are glad to know they will potentially be housed in barracks until they can stand in front of a judge who will decide their ultimate fate.
But what happens after that?
I imagine the disturbing dream world of a 13-year-old lying on a cot in a strange, institutional environment, where he doesn’t speak the language, has witnessed a murder and there is no one to hold and comfort him.
I imagine what will happen to the dehydrated 12-year-old girl who sold her body to predators for a bottle of water and in a few months will discover she is pregnant.
We must ask ourselves, would our U.S.-born and U.S.-raised children show such courage and perseverance in similar circumstances?
Could they make the journey?
And if they did, how would we want them to be treated?
That child at the border is mine.
Magdalena Gomez is a performance poet, playwright, arts educator, columnist, and the co-founder and artistic director of Teatro V!da.