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I Spent My 18th Birthday In An Immigration Prison — And It Was Hell

In 2016, “Valeria” was handed over to U.S. Border Patrol 21 days before her 18th birthday. She is one of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who have traveled to the U.S. from El Salvador to escape violence or family abuse since 2013. This is Valeria’s account of her experience of turning 18 in an immigration detention center for children overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She prefers not to publicly disclose her last name out of fear that her story could impact her legal case, which is still pending.

Just a week before my 18th birthday in April 2016, a counselor told me that if I still did not have all the necessary documents to be released by then, I could not continue to stay in the immigration detention center for minors.

This would mean that I would be moved in with adults.

About a month before, when I arrived at the U.S. border, I was sent to an immigration facility for children in Houston. The children’s center reminded me of a gated private community, with security at the main gate. We were not allowed to leave, but we could move freely inside.

Most of the buildings inside this gated community felt like a person’s home, with a small living room, a dining room and a kitchen. The rest of the house had bedrooms with two bunk beds in each — enough space for four girls.

When they told me that I was going to be sent to the adult facility, I was very frightened and I had many questions. What would the place be like? Would it make it more difficult to leave the detention facility to live with my mother? The only answer I got was that it would be the same as the current facilities, but the classes I enjoyed with other kids would be over.

Every morning, young people at the children’s center and I would go to a building where the classes were held. Every day we were taught English and math. I have always liked English. It was one of favorite subjects at my school in El Salvador.

Courtesy of The Chronicle of Social Change

Days before my birthday, I was given five minutes to call my mom and tell her that I would be moved to the adult facility as soon as I turned 18.

The year before, my mother had fled El Salvador because of domestic violence. After I faced physical abuse at the hands of my father, I decided to leave the country, too. When I crossed the border, I hoped that I would soon be able to reunify with my mother, who was now living in Houston.

The day before my birthday arrived. I had everything ready to go, and I packed my few possessions in a suitcase provided by the facility. I said goodbye to my friends. I was so nervous about not knowing what would happen to me that I spent almost all day crying. I think my sadness spread. All the other girls were weeping, too.

Later that day, when the federal immigration agents came to get me, I asked if they would transfer me that same night. They told me that transportation would not be ready until the morning but that they needed to move me to another part of the gated complex, away from my roommates. That’s because they were not legally allowed to have an adult sleeping with the minors in the same room.

So I was sent to a different room, to spend the night of my 18th birthday alone.

A Bus With One Rider

On the day of my 18th birthday, at 5 a.m., federal immigration agents came to that solitary room.

It was time to join the adults.

I was told that if I got handcuffed not to be frightened or become rebellious. But that scared me even more, along with the realization that the bus that would take me away had bars on the windows.

When I got onboard, one agent wished me a happy birthday. She made me feel a little bit better until I saw the inside of the bus. It had cameras, and iron bars and a door separated the agents from me.

I felt horrible. I wondered what I had done to be treated like this. They already had my information. They knew that I’m not a criminal. My only offense was to turn 18.

I cried all the way to the adult center. I was scared and thinking about how my family would be worried about me and not knowing when they would be able to hear from me.

I remember thinking how turning 18 years old changed everything completely. I was the same person. I had the same personality, the same thoughts and the same desire to reunite with my mother, but just being one year older had changed so much.

After hours of being on the road, we arrived at a place that said “detention center.” As I was about to find out, it was identical to a jail with bars.

I got off the bus and passed what felt like a thousand armored doors before getting to a small room. The agent who had accompanied me on the bus left me there with another officer. None of the officers spoke Spanish or did not want to speak Spanish to me.

In The ‘The Fridge’

Illustrated by Yuri Jang

On entering the center, the agent gave me a uniform and underwear. He told me to take a shower and put on my uniform. The clothes I was wearing would go into a separate bag.

I come from a warm country where we put on a sweater when the temperature drops to 70 degrees. But from the time I walked in the door, the whole place was cold. It felt like a fridge, which is what all the people locked up called it. When I took a shower, the water was cold.

I got out, and an agent asked me many questions. Then, she told me to stand next to a white wall that had numbers and took a picture of me. She announced that I was now in their custody and gave me a little book with the rules of the facility.

I got even more nervous, which caused me to cry. I asked her what I had to do to get out of the jail and how long I would be there. The agent told me that I had to see a judge first and depending on what I said, I would be told how much longer I would have to stay there.

I asked her when I would see the judge.

The agent said she did not know, that they would tell me later. It usually takes several weeks or months because there are so many people waiting, she said.

After that exchange, the agent took me to a cell that was empty, except for a few benches, and locked the door. Later, she said, they would come to take me to my room.

The uniform they gave me was blue. It was identical to the orange uniforms of inmates I had seen in the movies or television series like “Orange Is The New Black.” Even with the uniform, I still felt cold.

New Roommates

About 10 hours later, they came to get me from that solitary room with bars. I thought my new sleeping quarters would just be a room with a bunk bed, like the room I had slept in at the juvenile facility. I was surprised to see that it was an immense room with tables and a television in front. In the back, separated by a small wall, were about 60 bunk beds.

The officer explained to me that I was entitled to a phone call, but that my family had to send me money for those calls and to buy food at the facility.

The only food provided tasted bad and was served in only very small portions. Breakfast consisted of a single hard-boiled egg and a glass of milk. That was it, until lunchtime, when a small, cold sandwich was provided.

Even worse was the situation with my new roommates. The women in the room looked at me like I was fresh meat. All of them were much older than me, and most had a criminal record.

Luckily, three women helped me during my time at the prison.

They defended me from the other women when they mocked me and when they wanted to molest me in the shower. There was also one occasion where someone put a knife under my mattress when the guards were doing inspections. One of my new friends removed it so that I did not get in trouble.

In the end, I was in the prison for 40 days, the longest 40 days of my life.

Now, I’m much happier. I’m going to school in the morning and working in the afternoon. My goal is to become a pharmacy technician.

But many memories remain from my time behind bars.

It’s been two years since I left that hellhole, and I still wonder why I had to pay such a high price for crossing the border, when the only thing I was looking for is help.

Valeria was reunited with her mother after leaving the Texas detention facility. She recently married a U.S. citizen, whom she met through a family member. They currently live in San Diego while she waits to resolve her immigration status.

This story originally appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change, a national news outlet that covers issues affecting vulnerable children, youth and their families. Sign up for their newsletter or follow The Chronicle of Social Change on Facebook or Twitter.

Read: Salvadoran Woman Who Risked Deportation After Revealing Sexual Abuse In Detention Center Is Free

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

There’s no denying that the world looks a lot different now than it did in 1947. And while the list of all of the positive changes that the decades stretching between now and then have done for the world and minorities, a recent campaign is also highlighting the ways in which our current president could take some notes on certain values the United States held dear during this time. Particularly ones that had been pressed for by one of our former presidents.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” effort, he worked to promote positive and healthy relations between the United States in Latin American countries.

At the time Rooseveltaimed to ensure that the North, Central and South American countries avoided breaking under the influence of Axis countries during World War II. As part of this campaign, Roosevelt comissioned a Spanish and a Portuguese version of the U.S. national anthem. According to Time Magazine he also “recruited Hollywood to participate in this Good Neighbor Policy; Walt Disney went on goodwill tour of South America, hoping to find a new market for his films, and ended up producing two movies inspired by the trip: Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). The Brazilian star Carmen Miranda also got a boost, and her role in The Gang’s All Here made her even more famous in the U.S. And alongside these cross-cultural exchanges, the U.S. government decided it needed an anthem that could reach Spanish speakers.”

According to NPR, Clotilde Arias, wrote wrote the translation at the end of World War II, was born in the small Peruvian city, Iquitos in 1901 and moved to New York City to become a composer when she was 22-years-old. Her version of the anthem is now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Now in an effort to support Latino communities affected by the coronavirus, the non-profit We Are All Human Foundation’s Hispanic Star campaign commissioned the a remake of the song.

Hoping to raise awareness of its Hispanic Recovery Plan and efforts to help to connect Hispanic small businesses and workers with resources during the pandemic, the campaign brought the old recording from obscurity.

For the song, the 2019 winner of the singing competition La Voz,  Jeidimar Rijos, performed “El Pendón Estrellado.” Or, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The song has already received quite a bit of comments and support on Youtube.

Hang in there, fam. We can only get through this together.

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These Online Botanicas Will Satisfy The Bruja In You

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These Online Botanicas Will Satisfy The Bruja In You

With young Latinxs reclaiming the bruja identity, the demand for access to novenas, herbs and other specially crafted ritual tools has grown tremendously. Luckily, these Latinx-owned online botanicas have made it easy for brujas, or anyone who wants to dive deeper into the practice, to get their hands on the goods. Whether you’re looking to conjure up more cash flow or secure some extra protection from those pesky mal de ojos, these shops have the magia you need.

1. The Flowerchild Bruja

You know you’ve received some real tesoro when you open your delivery and see the holographic cellophane. Unmistakable and unique products are what make The Flowerchild Bruja’s shop un cielo de flores. Garden Smudge Sticks adorned with colorful flowers and loose herbs packaged in clear hearts make this online botanica a must-visit if you’re looking to manifest more love and beauty into your life.

2. Brooklyn Brujeria

No forlorn-looking saints and pale stricken Marys here! Brookyn Brujeria offers a fresh and modern take on the classic bruja necessity of novena candles. At $10 a candle, you can enhance the vibrations and style of your space without blowing all your chavo. With intentions like Boss Bitch and F*ck Outta Here, these ain’t your abuelitas’ novenas.

3. The Hoodwitch Store

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Thank you for all of your love & support to those who have been readers and customers of @thehoodwitch over the years. ♥️You know truly how hard I work and that this is my livelihood and culture. Visual art and magic ARE my life and practice. Not a peach flavored “turquoise” glitter drink. My magic is in my blood, my magic is in my ability to bring life to my visions, it is creation & destruction. Over the last 6 years, I have been so honored and lucky to be featured in some of the largest media publications internationally not limited to Instagram. This is bigger than that and the creative team for Starbucks knew that. I have personally worked on consulting large companies in their design concepts this work comes naturally to me. “So what’s the big fuss?” My personal style has become synonymous with the visual aesthetic of my brand. No, I absolutely did not “invent” the crystal balls nor acrylic nails but What I created was a space for myself along with other POC to feel represented and have visual imagery that was representative of us. The colorful candles of my local botanicas, my gold jewelry, and my long nails clutching my crystals are certainly not “new” but to see them presented in a manner that I shared visually in this space was. Katherine de Vos Devine @devosdevine is a lawyer and art historian who wrote a powerful and insightful look as to what exactly is happening with this situation and we are sharing it in our story today because more than anything she truly gives the full tea of the situation. I can strip away the crystal balls, the nail art, and delete all of my beautifully curated photos but I will always be me, I will always be my grandmother’s voices and wisdom. I will create, and I will always know my value and my worth. I trust and believe that my ancestors and my guides are looking after me. These giants may have the money to bully artists, creatives, and small business but we know the truth and absolutely must not allow it. As a small business owner, I appreciate you standing with us in this uphill journey and even if it goes nowhere, at the end of the day I can laugh to myself knowing that Starbucks made a drink inspired by HW 🔮

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If you’re in the market for an obsidian scrying mirror, unique tarot decks or nail polish for your mystic manos, then The Hoodwitch Store is your one-stop bruja shop. Be sure to also check out the Bruja Bookshop tab, where you’ll find vintage, one-of-a-kind libros to up your witchy wisdom. The shop offers some rare finds en español as well. However, make sure you stay up to date on the latest inventory. These goods sell out fast!

4. House of Intuition

If you live in LA, you’ve most likely heard of House of Intuition. With four brick and mortar stores throughout the area, plus an online shop, it’s probably a wise investment to grab one of their “Success” intention candles. Their beautifully colored novenas aren’t the only reason to check out the shop, though. Seriously, this casa is staked with everything from crystals skulls, cauldrons and wands to a line called “Hair Mystics” featuring crystal-infused hair mists. You’ll be glad your intuition led you here.  

5. Lunar Magic Shop

Lunar Magic Shop is the super affordable and super thoughtful shop with some of our favorite bruja apparel. You will for sure want to grab the “My Mom Will Hex You” tee for the little one in your life or the “I Am My Own Sacred Place” one for yourself. While you’re at it, you might as well secure the “Motherhood”and “Student” crystal kit bags. This small shop definitely has the whole family’s brujeria needs in mind.

6. Curandera Press

While this shop is currently taking a small hiatus, they will re-launch on August 1. This gives us time to save up for a big vela haul. We could all use some divine intervention with lazy lovers and bad hair days, right? With Curandera Press’ “No Mas Amante Perezoso” and “Good Hair Day” velas, your prayers are answered. We’re excited to see what intentions they roll out next.

Read: In These Trying Times, Boricua Bruja Emilia Ortiz Provides A Digital Space For Healing

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