In the last week of June of 1998, my Nani Amma died. It was the worst pain I had felt until that moment or since. Nothing compares or prepares for the loss of a maternal grandmother. It was heart-wrenching and devastating.
My perfect summer was cleft asunder. I spent three weeks in a daze and couldn’t figure out what to do with my life. I was going to leave off for college in the fall and wasn’t sure if the 3,000 miles away from what I thought of as Orlando was such a good idea anymore.
Up until my grandmother leaving this world, I could think of no real problems that I had. Someone had stolen a brownie from my lunch bag in 10th grade. And then the Orlando Magic couldn’t figure out how to win.
Yet losing my maternal grandmother was such a shock, it hurts even 20 years later. The only way I could fathom to honor my grandmother was to wear hijab. I had also promised my mother in 2nd grade if she let me go to college wherever I wanted, I would wear hijab. I figured now would be a good time to own up to my promise. So I didn’t wear hijab out of any sense of religious duty or modesty. I wore it to shroud the grief of losing my grandmother. I spent the past five years toying with the idea of wearing it, but I never got around to actually donning it. I never wore it particularly well as I never had the fashion savvy or the time in the morning to fasten it properly. It was always falling off.
Neither of my grandmothers received beyond an elementary school education. And they both would remind me that going to school was such an honor. To learn and be able to study because that is something they could never do. They taught me to respect my writing utensils and books and never throw them carelessly on the ground.
My mother told me that I didn’t have to wear it if I didn’t want to. She told me I could still go off to California if I didn’t wear hijab. I still wasn’t wearing it all the time when I flew out for the start of the semester. But by Labor Day of my freshman year, I figured I should be less lackadaisical about wearing the hijab and keep up with my 2nd-grade bargain to my mother. My father didn’t like the idea of either – the hijab or the Berkeley. He felt the hijab would create needless problems for me. So, the hijab also became another way to tick him off for no reason. My father thought the six-year medical program at the University of Miami would have been the key to happiness instead of going to Berkeley to study literature and wear hijab.
That was how I left my parents, I went off to college. This new child separation policy is another level of trauma. I don’t know what we would do if someone came and snatched our kids away. I’m not one of those parents who shelter my kids from reality. I don’t mince words. If something is bothering me, they know it.
After they came back from Build-a-Bear workshop last week with my cousins and their cousin, I was thinking the whole time of the migrant parents and their children. I said to them:
“If you lose your teddy bear’s certificate, they may come to snatch the bear away from you.”
“Yes, Border Patrol is taking away kids from their parents. So you definitely don’t want to lose your teddy bear. Don’t lose the papers.”
“What about us?”
“I don’t know. You are U.S. citizens, but you don’t look American-American, so the police will always view you with suspicion. You have to be on your guard.”
“But will the police take us?”
“They take children or their parents who are undocumented. They don’t have what we call “a status” in this country.
Status doesn’t mean anything. It’s just legal mumbo jumbo. These migrant workers are why you have chocolate ice cream and strawberry shortcakes. Like, imagine a baby like Jihan being taken away from her parents. How would she feel? How would you feel? How would I feel?”
They look at their 10-month-old sister. Now I start to regret telling them about the new family deportation policy. Maybe the courts will do something. I have so little faith in the courts now. These courts that protect the elite and powerful and shackle the weak and helpless.
They become nervous about their upcoming trip to California. I tell them don’t worry.
“Why don’t worry? Because you’re a lawyer.”
“Yes, and I’ll use my redress control number, so they don’t bother us as the airport.” I respond. Last time I didn’t use the redress control number, our trip was a total mess. I suppose that is why they have the number in the first place.