Editor’s note: What follows is the unplanned Epilogue to our three-part series, as we followed the newly-arrived Cuban Refugees and their first taste of freedom here in the US. To view Yol-Itzma’s three previous stories, click HERE.
I got a call from the folks at Houchen Community Center, they were going to hold a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the lives that were lost along the journey.
At first I wasn’t sure I could attend, I can’t tell you how I have struggled to jump back into normal life again.
Things just don’t seem to have the same weight of importance anymore in contrast with what I’ve seen and heard this last week.
I pulled over and knew that my heart wanted to attend the vigil, I felt I should be there but my mind…my mind was afraid that I would not be able to pull the images and voices of all the refugees I’ve met, out of my head again.
As I felt the tears rolling down my face, I sat in the car debating whether to attend or not.
If I didn’t go, I already knew I would regret it, but if I did attend, could I be strong again and tell the story without letting my heart get entangled? I doubt it.
I called my Editor-In-Chief, apologized for the late call, but told him I needed his words of wisdom; he comforted me as only someone who has gone through this could.
In the end, he told me what I knew.
The choice is up to me and I decide it is only fair to the refugees I met, to the readers, and to myself to finish what I started and tell their story start to finish.
But first, I need to get all the tears out, if I am going to do this, I want to do it the right way and do the story justice, making sure I capture the moment, the sentiment and not be derailed by my own emotions.
So I cry for the families torn apart, I cry for the women raped, I cry for the children lost, I cry for all those who didn’t make it and those who did, but are walking into the unknown.
I seal up my tears, drive to the center and make it just in time; the staff and volunteers are all there. They have been through so much as well, putting their work lives and personal lives on hold; some reprimanded at work for their involvement, many of them being attacked by friends online for helping the Cuban refugees.
As the prayer service begins inside, I have to step outside. I cannot breathe the air, it is still thick with the hopes and sorrows of all those who have passed through those doors.
Those of us outside waiting, start talking over the life-changing events of this past week, and we all agree… it was worth it. It was worth it to be part of something much bigger than ourselves, it has changed all of us.
The prayer service ends and everyone starts to make their way outside with a candle. There is a cross made of candles setup outside the center, that will be lit nightly.
The Cross, in Christianity, representing two major elements, our connection to God’s love (vertical) and our love that extends out to our fellow man (horizontal. )
It is only befitting that Verónica Román, director of Houchen, who has literally fought to keep those doors open against all threats, is asked to light the first candle, in the center of the cross.
One by one the weary volunteers take their turn lighting a candle and the musicians begin to play alabanzas softly in the background.
Veronica takes a moment to thank each and every person who has been there and to verbally say the prayer for all those that were lost.
It is silent as we all remember and we weep.
The ceremony comes to a close and the night is calm as all seek comfort in each other’s embrace, it has been an emotionally heavy and physically exhausting 13 days for them.
I see two of the Cuban refugees I met earlier in the week, they are sitting in silence with tears streaming down and I ask them what this night means to them, aside from the sadness; they tell me it has given them a new reason to succeed, now it is not only for themselves to make something of their life, but also for the hopes and dreams of all those they lost, and all those fighting to become a citizen of this great nation.
And I, I am finally at peace that I was there.
Although, I feel this story is far from over, there are still questions I have that deserve answers.
I hear that the 30 refugees still awaiting their final destination in El Paso, were placed throughout shelters in the city, only to be kicked out at 6am and not allowed back until the evening.
Others walked back to Houchen asking for water, saying at another shelter they are only allowed to drink out of the faucets: still others are unable to sleep at night at the shelters because they are sharing quarters with drug addicts that wander in and out throughout the night.
But of course those stories won’t make the news; it’s all last week’s suffering anyway.
You might see the faces of the organizations claiming to help the refugees splashed across your TV screens, patting themselves on the back, all the while confiscating personal water bottles.
Meanwhile, the newly arrived, suffer silently by candlelight, their tears and emotions left in the dust by coverage of the rollover of the day or some other flash-in-the-pan story.
I want to personally thank all the readers that have gone on this journey with me. It has been eye opening and soul searching for me.
I have brought the story to you to the best of my ability and I hope this has been as profound for you as it has for me.
And to all the volunteers and Houchen Community Center family, a piece of my heart will forever stay at the center.
I want to thank you for sharing those late night talks with me and allowing me into your lives as well.
We are all now forever connected in this moment, a page in El Paso’s on-going story of the newly arrived and their travels through the Pass of the North; Cubans now connected with Native Americans, Mexicans, Texans and the long trail of all those who came before.