Interview with Berta ‐ Chimaltenango, Guatemala, 2018
“You want me to tell you the truth. It makes my heart break. That really hurts when you leave somebody with your own blood in another country.”
Meet Berta, a big smiling woman in diamanté earrings, a long woven skirt and red huipil (a traditional Guatemalan top) embroidered with flowers and plastic jewels, as she tells us about how the US border regime has meant a lifetime separated from her children in Guatemala and in the United States.
This brief interview took place in a small hotel room in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, during the absence of Berta’s boyfriend, and was cut short in a panic by his return. Berta spoke in English for most of the interview and I have done my best to transcribe it in her own words. However, I have reformulated sentences wherever needed for comprehension.
All person and place names have been changed in order to protect her privacy.
Berta – I was living in the US for 19 years and for me it was awesome. The first time I went to the US I was… Wow! 16 years old.
Rosie Giblin – Did you pay the coyotes (people smugglers) to take you across the desert?
B – Yes I went across the desert and I paid, everybody has to pay. When I arrived I didn’t speak any English but I learnt to speak in one year. I had friends there who I lived with.
You see I was 14 when I had my first child, then I had another when I was 16. Then I went to the US when I was 16 and my children stayed with my mother, so my second, I never raised him. I never fed him or nothing. Now I’m 38, I have 5 children, and one granddaughter in Guatemala, who is almost a year old, we will make her a birthday party soon.
Yeah 19 years in the US, then almost three years ago I was deported because I was accused of something I didn’t do. I thought it would be okay, that I would pay my time and then get out. But no. It hurts, I miss my girls. I leave three girls over there. One is 19, and the others 16 and 14 years old.
RG –Who are they living with now?
B – The second one, she is in adoption. The oldest she went independent, she is living by herself. The third, the 14 year old they are trying to put her in adoption, but I don’t want it. The DSS [Department of Social Services] they send me paperwork and they say “sign it” and I say “I’m not going to sign your papers”. I told them I’m not going to be signing. I’m sorry but I’m just not. I love my girls. The only thing I think of when I’m making a decision is my girls. I’m going to show you photos of my girls but every time I see my daughters’ pictures it really makes me cry. – takes out her phone –Look here they are. Here is the youngest one, her name is Amelia and this one is Kiera.
RG – Wow they look beautiful, do you speak to them online?
B – No because DSS doesn’t want me to get in contact with my daughters. I don’t have their phone number or Facebook they wont give me anything and I really miss my girls.
And you, you don’t have children? Why not? Come on! How old are you?
RG – Haha only 24, no kids yet. How does it make you feel to be talking about your daughters?
B – You want me to tell you the truth. It makes my heart break. That really hurts, yeah, really hurts when you leave somebody with your own blood in another country.
I tell my boyfriend: “I want to go back”. He says: “No you’re not allowed” and I say: “Why not? I’m GOING back and my reason is my girls.”
But it’s not easy for me to go back. Especially at this time because a lot of people are trying to get in and a lot of people are getting caught. For example, a girl was shot recently by a US Immigration Officer. He never told the girl ‘stop’ he just shot her. So what I’m thinking is that the officer, his position should be for helping her not for shooting or killing people. What do you think?
Also right, a lot of American people are coming here and you can see how Guatemala accepts people, they are never making no dangers. It’s when Hispanic people go in that everything happens. It makes me sad because I know that the first time I went in things like that didn’t happen and now I hear a lot of bad stuff.
Do you like it here?
RG – Yes a lot, although we only arrived four days ago.
B – When you come in here, you come with visa, right?
RG – Yes they give us 90 days.
B – They give you a stamp, no trouble, just a stamp and you get three months. Where is the next country you will visit?
RG – El Salvador.
B – You got to be carfeul, I know about El Salvador because the father of my girls is from there. He is in the US but my girls aren’t staying with him because he is in jail. He’s not legal in the States.
When I was in the States I missed Guatemala, but now I am in Guatemala I really miss United States. You know why? Because I was working. When I was there I had two jobs house cleaning and house keeping. I worked doing house keeping in a motel for three years and after that I started doing house cleaning. I know how to do room service and cleaning properly. I make it really good.
RG – Now you’re in Guatemala, are you working here?
B – Yes I have my own business, I’ve got people working for me. In the market here in Chimaltenango. I sell chuchitos, have you tried them? They’re a bit like tamales with meat in the middle. Also I make tamales con chipilín, have you tried that? With the green leaf, they are so good, oh my god! When I make them I put cheese in the middle and then put it in the grill and the cheese melts.
The thing president Trump has to see is that everybody is going over there because they want a better life, because they are poor, because they haven’t got any money. And you’ve seen how it is over there! That’s one thing and the second thing that he has to see is that if there are no Hispanic people in the United States then the United states is going down. We work, we are not lazy. – shows me a photo on her phone – Look here I am when I first got to the US.
RG – Wow that’s you when you were 16!
I’m going to try to go back in January…