Mother’s Day Stirs Painful Memories for Undocumented Immigrants


Joyce Bolaños
Special to 
For most, this Sunday, Mother’s Day, conjures up images of flowers, cards, perhaps even breakfast in bed for Mom, or a day spent relaxing with family. But for thousands of mothers, Sunday will be yet another painful reminder of the sacrifice they made to provide for their children. They are the undocumented immigrants – mothers – who desperate to feed and support their family, make an agonizing decision to leave their children behind as they put themselves in harm’s way to make a harrowing, dangerous trek to the United States.
These mothers yearn to be with their children every single day of the year; Mother’s Day is a stark reminder of their loss.
I recently spoke with one of these women, whom I will call Mariela*. Her story is the everyday reality of many undocumented immigrant mothers. A young Salvadoran in her 30s, Mother’s Day is one of the saddest and most painful days of the year. Instead of smiles and rudimentary attempts at breakfast in bed and handmade cards from her 5-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, Mariela will be alone with tears and a sadness that never leaves her. Her children are still in El Salvador, where they try to understand why their mother is not with them.
What Mariela had to do to get to our humble shores illustrates the extent of the sacrifice she made for her son and daughter. Mariela traveled thousands of miles to reach her first stop, where she was then told to get into a container, packed with other immigrants also searching for the American dream. The trip cost $7,000, and she is now paying that money through her meager earnings and with constant threats from those she owes that if she falls behind in payments, her children will be harmed.
It took months, but she finally made her way to southern New England more than a year ago, where she found work as cook.
But while Mariela has sacrificed so much for her children, she admits every day is a struggle for her. She agreed to speak with me on the condition of anonymity – she, like all undocumented workers, lives in the shadows in fear. Here are excerpts from her conversation.
What is your existence like?
I feel alone and sad, it has been a year since I have seen my children. When I call them, all they tell me is that they miss me and want to be with me. My only happiness will be when we will be together.”
Do you think your sacrifice was worth it? That being here made your situation better?
No… I don’t know. I’m not sure. I just know that I love them and only for them I keep going forward. . . I miss them every day, and love them so much.”
Do you ever think of giving up and going back?
I think about it, but I do not know when, maybe one day.”
She pauses and looks directly at me; I can hardly speak, I feel the pain coming from her eyes. They start to water. I am speechless I try to comfort her and tell her about the longest months when I came to Hartford without my children… she stops me.
It is not the same, you knew you were going to be together eventually. You had “ESPERANZA” (HOPE) ….I have none.  I would tell any mother that it is not worth anything in the world being apart from your children.”
We stare at each other in silence.
There are so many things I can say, but at the moment words are unnecessary.”
Mariela gets up from her seat emotionally drained, she says she needs to go back to work, she takes a moment to reassures me.
“Esta bien, it’s alright.”  
Mariela says she has no hope of bringing her children here. She can’t imagine how she could do it. She alsosays she is not really aware or paying attention to the immigration debate in our country. She concentrates only on surviving day to day.
But Sunday, she knows it will be a heart wrenching day for her.
Joyce Bolanos is President of Viva Hartford! A native of Peru, she is also a member of the International Fencing Federation, board member of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, author of children’s books and a businesswoman.