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Column: Poetry collection “Abrazos” tells untold stories

February 6, 2018 GMT

A couple of weeks ago, border agents stopped a trailer carrying 76 undocumented immigrants just north of Laredo.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated story. We hear about trucks full of people turning up in Texas and the other border states all the time. What we don’t hear are the stories of pain and violence that people caught along the border bring with them. We imagine they are terrible based on a few accounts we’ve read or Hollywood dramatizations we’ve seen, but most of us don’t get to look into the eyes of someone while they explain why they were willing to risk everything for a chance at living next door to us.

However, a South Texas woman named Rebecca Padilla did. Inspired by those stories, she wrote “Abrazos,” a collection of poems through which she lends her own strong and compassionate voice to the many who found themselves silenced.

A mental health professional who worked with women detained as they were trying to cross the border into the U.S., Padilla routinely heard stories of suffering and hardship, stories that made risking one’s life understandable. She said that because she wore a shock of red hair color in her black hair, she often stood out to the women she served.

Allí está la senora de los mechitos rojos, they’d say as she went by. They sought her out to talk about where they came from, how they got there and what they had no idea they were about to face. She gave them answers when she could and, when she couldn’t, she gave them hugs, understanding and a shoulder to cry on until things seemed better.

“Yo les daba un abrazo y allí ellas lloraban,” she said, “y se contentaban.”

She said some of the women, who were running from hopeless poverty or terrifying danger, felt guilty for leaving friends, neighbors and family members behind. Others felt guilty for having a cot to sleep on or even clean water to drink. She told of a woman who for hours stared at a piece of fruit she hadn’t eaten, feeling guilty because she couldn’t share it with hungry loved ones back home.

“Abrazos” is not about detention centers, walls, immigration laws or political rhetoric. Padilla said she wrote it — and the other such projects she’s working on — with the hope of opening the public’s eyes and hearts to the accounts of people that we don’t hear about.

Please open your eyes, she says through her poetry. Open your heart.