Many of these children, according to Terr, have fled their countries after suffering a series of macro-traumas overwhelming psychological losses. And they have had to move so fast that there’s been no time to resolve their losses. Not even time to sit and cry. So they live with what Terr describes as congealed grief. “They have lost their land, their house, their father, brother, uncle .. . their final loss is their country. And while this was happening, to preserve their own lives, they had to move, to remain alert, to react. So they were never allowed the time and place to grieve over their personal losses. “Consider the death of a member of the immediate family. In Latin America, the funeral rights of the Roman Catholic Church are a very important psychological mechanism. There is the rosary, the wake, the velorio \(a family vigil tit’. mass, and then a Catholic burial. It is through all of this that the family comes to terms with the death. But in Central America, many times, the body -is not found, or it is not returned by the authorities, or it is so badly decomposed that there is no time for the funeral. Or, sometimes, survivors have to pack what they can and flee. So part of what they bring here is an enormous sense of loss. And all unresolved.” They have had to move so fast that there’s been no time to resolve their overwhelming psychological losses. They also bring with them an irrational fear of authority. It is a natural consequence of the lives they have lived in their countries. In Central America, there is often no relationship between punishment and crime. Guilt is established arbitrarily. In many cases it is unrelated to wrongdoing. “Most of these children have seen soldiers arrive. They have watched officers step forward and select the guilty. And they often knew that those taken away had committed no crime,” Terr said. She refers to a Salvadoran child that she is counseling. “In this particular case, members of a death squad came into his house, into the bedroom where he was sharing a bed with an older brother. The older brother was taken from the house at gunpoint and shot to death in the street. Taken from the same warm bed where the little brother was left lying. Now, Celia Valdes how does this child react to authority, to legitimate and rational authority?” When anything goes wrong, when something is broken, when money is stolen, these children often fear that they will be blamed, even when completely innocent. In their country, this is rational behavior; here it is considered irrational. This fear of being singled out for punishment is almost overwhelming. Terr and other psychologists have also observed, among Central American immigrant children, what might be described as an ambivalence of memory. Arriving, they are overwhelmed with what the psychologist describes as a “brutal abundance” of food and consumer goods. After they cross their last border, they suddenly find themselves completely illiterate many were illiterate or semi-literate in Spanish and they suffer what we recognize as culture shock. So they begin to remember what was good about their country. They desperately cling to a fantasy of returning home to what was usually a rural or at least less urban existence in a place where they somehow understood why things happened. But they can’t forget the terror, insecurity, and brutal poverty that drove them from their country. Despite the fantasy, they realize that they can never go home. This is not to suggest, Terr explains, that all immigrants need counseling. Most don’t. But of those who do, few actually get it. If they are not referred by the school, or a church, most of these children will have to solve their own problems. Those who receive counseling generally respond, “even those who suffer from severe reactive depression, who come in and say, ‘I’m so sad, always, and I don’t know why I’m sad.’ Of course they have a reason to be sad. But they need to resolve their conflicts before they can adapt to their new country. They recognize that this is a much better place.” Under existing immigration law, most Central Americans, like Mexicans, will remain illegal residents in their new country. According to Paul Parsons, an Austin immigration attorney, odds are against Mexicans and Central Americans who try to enter the country legally. To qualify for legal residence they must establish that an immediate family member is a citizen of this country, or prove, through what Parsons describes as a tedious process involving four government agencies, that they have a job skill that cannot be filled by an available American citizen. And assuming that they establish an immigration benefit by family tie, Parsons said in an interview, some can face up to a nineyear wait before their visa number becomes available. Parsons, who outside the courtroom is also an advocate of immigrant’s rights, favors immigration reform “reform, not restriction.” He would not make a general statement concerning terms of departure from various countries, but conceded that many Central Americans, particularly Salvadorans, are refugees from a civil war and should be considered for legal asylum. Yet only three percent of Salvadorans filing last year were granted political asylum. So most enter illegally. In most large school districts in the state the immigrant population is increasing. In Austin 2,600 students participate in bilingual and English-asSan Antonio 9,500, and in Houston, some 13,000. Almost all are Hispanic and most are from Mexico. But program administrators report notable increases in the number of students coming from Central America. The consequences of our foreign policy are measured in the offices of public school registrars. Note: Interviews for this article were conducted in spring of this year. Since that time, Celia Valdes has been adopted by her American family and is now Celia Terry. She speaks to her mother in El Salvador, by telephone, almost every Saturday. Marta Castillo, who has designs on a college education here in Austin, is enrolled at Johnston High School. Evelyn Rocha has mastered English and left Murchison ‘s Transitional Bilingual Education program. And Samuel Rosales, after six weeks, left Travis High School and is working in Fort Worth. Surnames of the children were changed when requested to protect their identities. Pho to by Ala n Pog u e 18 NOVEMBER 22, 1985
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