UndocuAmerica: ‘The Meaning of Courage’
A story of enduring courage in the journey across the border, through threats, and towards liberty.
When I was my sister’s age, 10 years old this year, I didn’t have many worries. It’s funny because my baby sister D’naayi is an American citizen, so it should be easier for her. But it’s not. It’s not right now, because the people she loves most — my mom, our other sister Beba and I — are all undocumented.
When we are threatened, she is threatened. My baby sister is forced to bear the burden of attacks on immigrants under the current administration.
I remember election night 2016, my mom and I were in complete shock, trying to absorb what had just happened to the country, trying to strategize about how to handle certain possibilities.
I remember frantically Googling, “what happens to a U.S. citizen child if an undocumented parent is deported?”
My dad died young, so I needed to assure myself that if my mom was deported I could get custody of Dnaayi, who at that time was only 8. But then, of course, what would happen if Beba and I were both deported?
My mom and I totally lost track of time during our election night panic, so when hours later I came downstairs, I was surprised to find my baby sister, D’naayi, wide awake, sitting in a corner by herself, crying. Red-faced, with puffy eyes.
With my dad gone, I’ve always had to be the big brother — or rather father figure — since my mom was always working. I help D’naayi with her homework, we read each other bedtime stories, play games. I answer those unanswerable kinds of kid questions, and comfort her when she is scared. But I’m not used to trying to comfort her when, in reality, I needed so much comforting myself.
I remember tilting her chin, glistening with streams of tears, toward me, looking into those deep brown eyes and trying my best to give her soothing answers to her questions and just repeating:
“Don’t cry. Baby, don’t cry. It’s going to be okay, I promise. It’s going to be okay. Listen… why would you be deported? Do you even know what that word means? You shouldn’t have to.
Listen to me. You are an American citizen. You will never be deported…You’re right. I’m not a citizen, but I’ve got DACA. They can’t deport me… I know mom doesn’t, but mom is going to be okay. She has lived here for decades. She is not going anywhere.
Baby don’t cry. Please.
I promise, whatever happens, we’ll be together. Always. I’ll be there to put bandaids on your scraped knees. I’ll be there to help you with your school projects. Yes, we’re going to finish reading Harry Potter together. And I’ll be by your side when you need help applying for college. I’ll be there for you when you fall in love for your first time. When your heart is broken. I’ll walk you down the aisle one day. It really doesn’t matter where we’ll be as long as we’re together… And yes, of course, the puppy is coming with us if we go — Lulu is part of this family too, I’ll have you know.
Yeah, that’s the dimply smile I like to see. It’s going to be okay.”
At least that’s what I told her. I did my best to offer her what I wanted to hear; what I wanted to believe for both her and our entire family. Because how do you talk to a child about being taken away from their parent or siblings without terrorizing them and stripping them of their innocence?
With each day of this administration — the increased deportations of parents like my mom, the attempts to end the DACA program that protects me and my sister Beba, the willingness to end rules that limit how long children can be detained, even threats to strip children, like D’naayi, of their citizenship — and all the mounting threats, it feels increasingly cruel to offer my little sister a fairytale when she might need great strength to overcome great threats.
So tonight, I offer her, and you, another story. This story won’t kiss it and make it all better — but I’m hoping it will help us stay strong regardless of the challenges we might face.
I was three years old, and my sister Beba was just one, when we crossed the border with my mom. We walked together with a group of people, maybe 10–15, across the desert. We walked for hours and hours at night. I remember we were out in the middle of nowhere following a dim silver light in the distance. I imagined we followed it because it meant we’re going the right way, some shining city in the distance.
We finally got to a raised road, lined with street lamps. To avoid walking over the road that night, and potentially being seen, we crossed through a drainage tunnel under the road. Mom had me walk through the tunnel in front of her, and she crawled behind with my sister in her shawl.
Beba and I were wearing those little kids light up shoes that everyone was going crazy over that year. Mom had saved up a lot of money to buy them because we were going to be seeing our dad after a year of him being in the U.S. on his own, and she wanted us to look our best. The shoes were actually super helpful in the drainage tunnel to light the way for mom and all the people crawling through on their hands and knees. But of course, in the dead of night, they were a dead giveaway.
When we were finally able to see the moonlight at the end of the tunnel and catch a whiff of fresh air, the coyotes urgently requested that my mom take off my shoes. “There’s a Border Patrol car parked outside,” he whispered.
The drainage tunnel emptied out right next to a gas station, where the Border Patrol car was parked. The officers were inside, we assumed, so we waited for a while, hoping they would return to their car and drive away. But no one was coming out. For some reason, the coyotes grew impatient and abruptly told everyone to move.
In the chaos, everybody immediately scrambled, crawling behind tall grass on their hands and knees as the coyotes gave us voiceless commands with their fingers on their lips and pointing to the ground.
But the ground was covered in cactus thorns and prickles and I didn’t have any shoes. While everyone crawled my mom stood up, carrying both Beba and me in her arms, and she just started walking.
At first, I thought she was giving up because we would surely be seen. Everyone else was still crawling on the ground, but she stood up tall and walked with a defiant pep in her step as if she belonged right there where she stood. That’s when I realized she hadn’t given up. She just had faith that walking quickly and quietly was her best strategy to protect us. She was resolved that somehow, somewhere, we would be okay and that we would find a home where our family could thrive.
I have never forgotten the look on my mom’s face as she walked down the street and out into the dark of an unknown country. That is when I first learned that the real meaning of courage is not to pretend to be immune from fear, but rather to calmly and steadily take action in spite of it.
Our current President might caricature my little 3-year-old self as a diseased-toddler-criminal-murderer-rapist-gang-member in the making. He might try to scare people who don’t know undocumented immigrants into thinking that a mother carrying her children to safety is nothing less than an invasion. But Beba and I grew up beloved by our friends and neighbors and are strong members of our communities. We both went to college. I even became the student body president of my university. I’m not part of some invading army fighting against America, but, like many of you, I’m fighting for the American ideals I think we can live up to.
He may want to take away my baby sister’s right to citizenship but I remain hopeful that maybe D’naayi or some other young girl might be our future President and help lead us to a future where we live up to our ideals to truly have liberty and justice for all.
But that is going to take a lot of hard work and not just on my part, or just on the part of the immigrant community, but hard work on your part too. As Anne Frank once wrote in her famous diary: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Cristian Solano-Córdova is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica Monologist. He is the Communications Director with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. He is a Denver native, born in Chihuahua, Mexico. He began working for the immigrant community in 2015 when he ran and won an election to become a Student Body President at MSU Denver. Cristian is a proud DACA recipient and hopes to continue his education and one day work in health policy advocacy.
You can listen to Cristian read his own story on the Motus Monologues Podcast, here.
Or, hear culinary innovator Jorge Ramos read Cristian’s story, with musical response by Yo-Yo Ma, on the Shoebox Stories Podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Cristian Solano-Córdova in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors.