At times in the essay, Luiselli hints at the crisis in its broader historical context, though it resists a rational explanation. She writes of the Salvadoran Civil War that spanned thirteen years, in which the United States “funded and provided military resources to the government that massacred so many, and led many others to exile.” She writes of the birth of gang violence in Los Angeles in the 1980’s and the resulting deportations in the 1990’s that exported this violence back to Central America, and of the anti-immigration strategies adopted in Mexico which made a migrant’s safety much more tenuous. She writes of continental arms trafficking and how drug consumption in the U.S. fuels the drug trade across the continent. In essence, Luiselli conveys the perpetuation of a tragedy, and the root causes that would force a child to attempt such a dangerous journey. She writes, “The whole story is an absurd, circular nightmare.”
The real emotional impact of Luiselli’s writing comes as she describes her personal involvement -- sitting across from a child, asking them questions. She remembers asking two girls, age five and seven, in dresses “Did you stay in touch with your parents?” and of a young boy telling her why he fled (“They kicked my door open and shot my little brother.”) There is an emotional difficulty of listening to these stories, and she has to remind herself “to swallow the rage, grief, and shame; remind myself to just sit still and listen closely.” Later, she asks “How do you explain any of this to your own children?”
“Tell me how it ends, mamma?” her young daughter inquires. Luiselli does not know the answer. She does, however, get us to ask ourselves the crucial questions: what is our collective responsibility towards these children, and, what can we do? This is a heartbreaking and essential piece of writing. If there is going to be a semblance of a happy ending to this story, Luiselli suggests, it will have to be a continental effort and an acknowledgement of our role, and each country’s role in this humanitarian crisis. In effect, we are still at the beginning.
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on May 12, 2017.
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