“The Not Knowing Tears” by Gustavo Barahona-Lopez

Gustavo Barahona-Lopez


7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in Border Patrol custody is identified …

Each day I open class with a morning circle.
Nineteen 7- and 8-year-olds sit
on a colorful rug. Talk about
their favorite color,
ideal superpowers, how they feel
or who they will be when they grow up.
I tell them I wish I could teleport. Cross
walls without a second thought. Be
one blink away from my family.

At recess I read about a 7-year-old
who died in border patrol custody
after navigating the New Mexican desert.
Her name is Jakelin Caal Maquin.

I begin to wonder:
Did she make walking through the desert a game?
Count the number of cacti. Make
messages with stones in the sand.

I wonder if she went to school.
Did she have to leave midway
through the year to work
picking strawberries
or donkey dung to sell
like my father?

I imagine my classroom with 20 students.
Would she color in desert sunrises?
Or would the deep sunset reds and oranges

be her inspiration. I wonder
if she knew where she was going.
What was America to her? I wonder

if she spoke K’iche’ or English or Spanish or Mam.
What would she write about?
One of my students wrote,
Another word for ordinary is God.

I prep the math Do Now on the white board.
My students are learning multiplication.
I wonder if she knew her times tables?
What is 15,000 children times two parents
in a different detention facility?
My students know any number of bottles of water
times Border Patrol boots equals zero.

Did she know the definition of terror,
or did she call it fear?

The not knowing tears.

I wonder

I wonder

I wonder

I wonder

Who she was
and who
she would have become.

from Poets Respond
December 16, 2018


Gustavo Barahona-Lopez: “During the last two decades, undocumented immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border has become increasingly deadly. This is in spite of the fact that actual levels of migration into the United States continue to fall. With unaccompanied minors and families traveling with children becoming a greater proportion of migrants, particularly those from Central American countries, this also means that cases like that of Jakelin Caal Maquin will become more common. As an educator and human being, I find this appalling.” (web)

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