We arrived in this country in October of last year and both of my children immediately joined a public school in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Amaranta, then 13, entered eighth grade, and Rodrigo, 6, began kindergarten. We came to the United States from a harsher, more painful, more distressing reality in Caracas, Venezuela.
We had packed our life into eight suitcases -- two per person. Once we got here, we instantly started breathing easier. We could walk around at night. As my son shouted with excitement to his sister at the supermarket on his first day, we could find “cereal and milk at the same time.”
A month later, Rodrigo surprised us. “A boy doesn’t want to play with me because he says I’m black.” I didn’t know what to say, but I felt my ears burning. My husband interjected masterfully: “Tell that boy that you are of the same color as your dad, your mom, and the president of this nation.” A smile broke out across my son’s face. I breathed a sigh of relief.
With journalists for parents, our children have heard about worries and anxieties that other kids probably don’t have to deal with. My children saw me suffer as I quit my job at the newspaper where I worked for years because of the government’s ferocious censorship. They also saw an empty table covered in cables the day my computer was stolen from our house. My daughter speaks out for tortured and imprisoned students in her country. My son repeats things that he can’t really process, but understands well enough to label them “bad.”
For example, in Venezuela there are plenty of robbers. Some pull up next to your car on motorcycles, put a gun through the window and take your valuables. “Here, there’s no more robbers, right mom?” Rodrigo asks me every time he leaves anything out in the garden or the door doesn’t quite shut all the way.
One night recently, he found his parents hypnotized in front of the TV and snuggled up next to us. Every night after that first presidential debate he asked: “Are you going to be watching Trump and the woman who fights with him?”
We have answered his questions about why the “man that insults women and people” appears on the screen so much. During the last two weeks before the election he kept repeating, “I don’t want the man who doesn’t like children to win.” Always eager to explain what is happening in the world, I said, “He isn’t against children. He doesn’t like Hispanics.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I wanted to take it back, I regretted opening a can of worms I couldn’t close. “Those that come from Latin American countries, like us.” I whispered this as softly as I could. But he heard me -- and he understood.
November 8 arrived, triggering emotions in our family over what was at stake. “I don’t want the bad man to win,” Rodrigo said.
“He won’t,” his dad promised.
The next day, after going to sleep very late after covering the election, I didn’t get the chance to talk to Amaranta, but she called me from school. “Did you see that Trump won? I’m depressed, it’s unbelievable, we need to talk later.” I told her: “We lived in Chavez’s Venezuela, and survived. We’ll talk later.”
With Rodrigo, however, it was different. I spoke to him on his way to school. He was sad: “A boy in my school said that, if Trump won, the robbers would come to this country like in Venezuela.” I replied, “That’s not true, where did this kid get that from, there are people that get nervous but you should leave all this to the adults.” The knot in my throat didn’t let me go on, but I didn’t want to leave him with his worries.
“He doesn’t like women, and you’re a woman,” he insisted, pouting. We were two blocks from the school.
I stopped on the side of the road, grabbed his hand, looked at him and said, “You just worry about being very good at what you do, study, play, and be very happy. Let the adults worry about this stuff, ok? You just focus on getting As or Bs.”
“But the teacher doesn’t give prizes for Bs,” he said.
“Ok then, As. And make lots of friends,” I told him.
I know my words only bought me a short time. And in trying to explain our new reality, I don’t know if I earned an A.