Emma knew mothers who were too ashamed to explain to their children why they were compelled to leave, but she was accustomed to discussing everything with her daughters, down to their menstrual cycles. When she returned home, she held a family meeting and told the children, “Mama is going to go to America for a better job.”
Her youngest daughter, Ezreil, who was eleven, shouted, “No, Mama!” Her fifth-oldest daughter, Eunice, proposed that they all walk to school, rather than take a pedicab, to save money for tuition. The older girls were more cavalier. “Are you going to send us plenty of money?” one said. “So we can buy the Levi jeans?” Emma said that Ezreil told them, “I don’t need the Levi jeans.”
On August 21, 2000, Emma borrowed two service vans from her office and, with her daughters, her husband, and her brother-in-law, drove two hours to the city of Cagayan de Oro, which has a small airport. She took one suitcase containing four pairs of pants, a sweater, two pairs of shoes, two nightgowns, and a hairbrush. Virgie had told her not to take any dresses; there would be no occasion to wear them. In the terminal, all her daughters were crying. They would be cared for by their father and two “helpers,” whom Emma had hired for the equivalent of twenty dollars a week. Emma went to the bathroom to weep alone in a stall. She said, “My conscience was telling me, ‘Don’t leave your kids. Don’t leave your kids. They are young and need you.’ ”
In a political climate that has seen a very vocal minority take hold of the debate around immigration and who exactly the people are who come to the United States and for what purpose, this piece should be required reading.