'Take care of your mom': A teen's story of losing his dad to deportation
PHOTOS: JOSHUA HUSTON
For seven years, students at Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds have written honest accounts of their difficult life experiences. Led by educator Marjie Bowker, the school’s writing program aims to promote healing and literacy through personal storytelling. Seattle’s Child is honored to reprint three abridged versions of student essays from the 2019 collection Listen: Young Writers Reflect on Chaos, Clarity, Action, Balance.
Respeto Y Responsabilidad
“Be confident,” my dad says when I hesitate at the edge of the river. “The horse will know it if you’re feeling nervous or scared and will not do what you want.”
I poke my horse until he starts to go. I can feel his muscles flex as he walks on the rocks, the cold water splashing on my boots and jeans.
Halfway across, my dad turns to wait for me. “Come on,” he says in his deep voice.
The sky is bright blue and the grass is lush and green on the other side. I take in the moment because I can’t believe I am actually here, heading to my grandfather’s cabin with my dad for some target practice.
For the past two years all I’ve had is a picture of him from my fifteenth birthday. We had just gotten out of Mass and my dad was wearing a nice button-up shirt, a jacket, and snakeskin boots. My mom looked like a queen in her long, beige dress with silver sparkly trim, and I was standing in the middle in a shirt and tie, completely unaware that in a few months my dad would be gone.
Whenever I look at the picture all I see is something I will never get back.
But I’m with him now, for five days, in Jalisco. El Chilacayote is the small town where my mom and dad met before they came to the U.S., where I was born.
He’s been back here since he was deported. When he left, I took over his landscaping business. For the past two years, I have gone to work every day at 7 am, no matter what. I pay bills, look after my mom, and don’t do the things my friends are doing, like go to parties and stay up late. He also told me that people would try to take advantage of me because of my young age. Of course, he was right. It happened just like he said it would, just a few months into taking over the business.
I had always heard stories about this place, but now I’m seeing it for myself — the town where everyone knows each other. It takes one and a half hours to get to a city for groceries from here, and four hours to get to Puerto Vallarta for a pizza.
I’m trying to enjoy the moment, but how can I when deep inside I know that I’m going to have to leave in a few days? How can I feel good if I have been feeling horrible at home without him?
“I’ve been through things that I won’t never probably heal from” — the lyrics from “Dying Inside” by JayteKz go through my mind. I don’t think I will ever heal from the day that ICE surrounded us and took him away.
My dad waited for me outside wearing his black-and-red checkered pajamas and worn old slippers. The air was cold and I could see the cloudy reddish sunrise behind him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m warming up the truck for my Prince,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. Oh my god. Why do you have to call me your Prince?
On our way to school we had to stop for gas, so we turned left at an intersection. In my dad’s rearview mirror, I saw four black cars race through the red light behind us.
What’s going on? Why aren’t they getting stopped? I thought.
I turned to get a better look at them when I realized that all four cars were circling around us. My dad swore. We stopped.
When the officer approached the window I knew he wasn’t a regular cop because he wore all black: a black vest, black boots, a rifle strapped around his shoulder and a black logo that read “ICE.”
I froze. In a panic, I looked at my dad, who was staring at the officer. The cop shined a flashlight in the window at us and around the inside of the car, then tapped on the window with it. My dad hit the button to roll down the window.
“Are you Juan Hernandez*?” the officer asked. My dad looked from me to the officer, then back to me again. I usually spoke English for him.
“Yes,” I answered quickly. “Why, is there a problem?”
“Sir, please step out of the vehicle. You have a deportation order.”
My dad turned to look at me, and I realized that days before, when my dad told us he saw ICE officers waiting outside the house, we should have believed him. My mom and I told him that it was probably the cable guy. But here they were, surrounding us. I knew by the look on his face that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a long time.
I felt tingly, light, and filled with butterflies. Is this really happening?
As two officers opened my dad’s door, he got out and gave me a serious look, like he was letting me down. He took his phone out of his pocket and put it on the car seat, then handed me money from his wallet. “Here’s some money if you need it,” he said in a low, sad voice. “Take care of your mom.”
Another officer came to my side and opened my door and said, “Will you please step out of the vehicle?”My hands got sweaty as I grabbed my dad’s phone and wallet, then stepped out. Two officers handcuffed my dad and led him to one of the blacked-out Tahoes.
As the four cars drove away, I paid closest attention to the Tahoe that had my dad in it. In seconds I couldn’t see the car anymore; it just blended with the darkness of the morning. Everything started to sink in.
I turned and started to walk home as the sun rose, tears running down my face. Deep inside I felt like I was dying. My only thought was How am I going to tell my mom?
“Be ready because we are going through a place that is blocked by a log,” my dad tells me. “Make sure to duck your head and move your rifle to the side so it won’t pull you away.”
As we get closer to the log I try unsuccessfully to stop the horse. I panic. I duck and move my rifle as fast as I can, but the old rotting log knocks my hat off as I ride under it.
My dad stops, dismounts and picks up my hat because he knows I struggle to get back on the horse. He hands it to me and says, “There’s a clear path up ahead.” We move on and I take in the beauty; everything is so quiet and peaceful. We go around a curve and find ourselves in a clear opening — we can see the town, which is a long way from where we started.
We are surrounded by bright blue sky with no sign of clouds. I’ve never seen anything like it.
My dad used to always talk about his vision of him and me running the landscaping company together. “I will be the old grandpa with a bald head driving the big trucks around and you can collect the checks,” he would say. “Just give me my $500 and I’ll be set.”
As we stare at the view, I feel lost knowing I’m going to have to leave soon, and that his vision can never become reality. My dad won’t be there to guide me, or to see my success. I’m scared for what will happen to him, and I’m nervous about my family’s future, my future.
“You didn’t do too bad for your first time. You’ll get used to it,” my dad says, breaking into my thoughts. For a moment I think he’s telling me I’ll get used to life without him. Then I realize what he’s talking about.
“Yeah,” I answer. “I will.”
*Name has been changed to protect subject’s privacy. Brian plans to graduate this year and attend Edmonds Community College for Landscape Design and/or aeronautical engineering.
Note: These essays have been edited for length. "Listen: Young Writers Reflect on Chaos, Clarity, Action, Balance" can be purchased at Edmonds Bookshop (111 5th Ave. S.) or on Amazon.com. All proceeds from book sales will support future student writing programs at Scriber Lake.