By Dr. Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie
GUANAJUATO, MEXICO– My stomach knots when my gate bell fails to ring a few seconds after the 3:45 p.m. bus passes. I replay a familiar assumption: “Kirt’s mother must not have had four pesos this week.”
When I last saw 3-year-old Kirt, his spine behaved as though it was as flaccid as cooked spaghetti. He was unable to hold himself upright, and he was tiny and thin.
He had never walked. He smiled at me between gurgles that sounded like the symptoms of cystic fibrosis. Both of his legs and both of his arms exhibited the characteristics of cerebral palsy.
I had observed his abnormalities many times before, because for the last two years his mother had trusted me enough to offer her helpless son into my care for therapy. She brought him to therapy when she had 4 pesos for the hour-long bus ride.
Each time, I took him into my arms, he immediately curled his lower lip in an expression of sadness; he often cried. He was totally helpless, and therefore, terrified to be out of his mother’s arms.
His mother was not yet 30 years old, yet her own spine was bent like a question mark from years of malnourishment. Nevertheless, she was his protector.
“Who protects her?” I often thought. However, she did not appear to ever ask that question herself. She performed her parental role with natural movements like one who had years of training as a caretaker of her siblings.
She always climbed up on the tall white therapy horse to receive her son back into her arms — and he usually quieted down right away in her hold.
Most parents get a break during equine therapy, but the only break this mother got was when someone else watched her other son, an 18-month- old who traveled with her and Kirt to therapy.
They rode for an hour each way on a public bus for 25 minutes of equine therapy.
Recently, I discovered this mother faced even more difficulties. After two years of coming for free therapy, she finally allowed me to drive her home one afternoon during a massive thunderstorm that frequently reconfigured our desert landscape during summer monsoons.
We drove on the roads for a few miles and then went through cow paths, between the desert weeds, for seven or eight additional minutes in my four-wheel-drive vehicle. The entire time I pondered, “How on earth does she manage to walk to a bus with a toddler and a nearly lifeless child in her arms in this mud?”
What I saw is burned into my memory. She, her husband, and two young children lived in a lean-to shack made of wooden pallets, an old torn tarp, and a castoff tin roof – no door and no windows.
The pile of rubble they called home was about 15 feet long and six feet wide; too low for standing up. They had no water (no bathroom) or electricity, and the space was not dry or insulated.
All four of them were extremely thin, presumably because they lacked adequate food.
The oldest child suffered from cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy – at age five he was unable to sit up alone. They had no car, no money, no food, and no hope most of the time.”
Is it any wonder that families, especially those with disabled children, enter the U.S. as undocumented immigrants?
They seek sources of income, health care, educational services, and a better life overall. However, that option is not foolproof. Too often there is no dream realized in the U.S. for the first generation immigrant Latino children, legal or not. The entire family frequently faces continued poverty and amplified discrimination.
Only enlightened people who care enough to understand cultural differences will empower Spanish speakers.
With understanding, their story can have a happy ending.
Learn about Dr. Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie
Dr. Jacqueline Zaleski Mackenzie is the first researcher to permanently relocate to an indigenous village in Central Mexico. Mackenzie’s goal was to figure out why 49 percent of Hispanic students failed to graduate in the USA.
Mackenzie conducted research in rural Mexico beginning in 2005. She has combined the information she gathered: scientific research, statistical analysis, and personal exploits to produce an easy-to-read textbook titled Empowering Spanish Speakers – Answers for Educators, Business People, and Friends of Latinos.
Dr. Mackenzie’s book is evidenced-based, based on scientific research. Her approach is that by emphasizing teaching techniques that bring out the highest learning results and engagement for Latinos, more Latino students will graduate from school.
The book is owned by the nonprofit Summerland Monastery. Therefore, book sales funds building rural libraries in Mexico which should reduce emigration from Mexico (making both sides of the political fence happy).