The boy was barely 10 years old. Wakened from his sleep.
Told he was ‘going away’. Bundled onto a train.
Then another. Jammed in with other kids of all ages.
Hour after hour. Switch to another train. Endless.
Arriving … somewhere. Stood on a stage with countless
other kids. Grown-up Strangers looking at them. Staring.
Pointing. Rejecting. A chosen kid leaves. Another. Then,
his turn. Taken to a family with a boy his age. Sharing
his bed. A chamber pot. It was the longest night of his life.
in a life full of endless nights. 14 hours since he woke
and heard those words ………..
Beside me as I write this is a copy of the Globe and Mail from June 19, 2018 showing a half page photograph of a Honduran immigrant boy surrounded by US Border Patrol agents near Mission, Texas, their holstered revolvers dominating the picture as they prepare to take the boy, his expression blank, away from his parents and into custody. He looks to be about 8 years old. Remember these lyrics? ‘America, America, God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to sea to sea.’ Tell that to this nameless boy whose family had trekked hundreds of miles through Mexico in search of a life. A better life. America. I saved the photograph, wondering how that boy is doing, now separated from his parents, unable to speak English, flown to another part of the USA and, yes, imprisoned with hundreds of other young refugees. In some ways, I can identify with him. I was that kid on the train.
I was growing up in England, a 1940s war-time ten-year-old (not to be confused with a 10 year old of today), who, as with thousands of others, spent night after night in a cold, damp air-raid shelter – at one point for 57 nights in a row – during the Blitz then, later, defying the V1 flying bombs. But it was the V2 rockets that was the game-changer, descending with absolutely no warning from 60 miles in space at 1,801 mph. Chillingly frightening. Never knowing. When? What I do recall so vividly all these years later, is being wakened and told I was going away, winding up in a small village in South Wales – an evacuee living with strangers whose Welsh accent I didn’t understand – nor they mine.
But, compared with the Honduran boy, my experience was nothing. The cruel and inhumane treatment of refugees by Donald Trump is beyond immoral. It’s obscene. For so many years the USA was the envy of much of the world. As a child leading up to D-Day, I recall so clearly the Yanks arriving in our neighbourhood with their snazzy uniforms, informality and generosity. American gum? Oh so civilized. Candy? Their fabulous, huge cars? Convertibles, for goodness sake!! Did I mention Lucky Strike? Yes, at 10 years old, sneaking not just a fag, but an American fag given with a wink! But, looking back, within that 14 hour day of train rides, my war was over as I adjusted to a new, overwhelming life, quickly creating an out-of-nowhere, coping personality change. I can only imagine how that Honduran boy is doing.
For years, the world has been fooled by the United States, seeing it through its movies, television, advertising; the glamour of New York or Los Angeles, its sports teams, Hollywood, the Oscars … until Trump won the last presidential election (through an antiquated electoral system) ripping the festering scab off a nation of violent racists with, at the time of writing this, 5,591 gun deaths, 20,808 suicides and 16,238 homicides so far this year – and an ignorant, bigoted fool as head of state. This is the country that desperate Honduran boy and his family was fleeing to. Ahhh, Canada. (Chillingly, as I was writing this paragraph, five more people were shot to death in the newsroom of The Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland)
Some trivia: In 1885 a 16 year old German boy sailed the Atlantic to New York City – and the promised land – where he was welcomed with open arms. His name was Friedrich Trump. If only he’d stayed home.