New York City As people look at the year gone by and a decade coming to an end there are a barrage of lists with of best movies, books, songs, plays, TV shows, and on and on. One indelible memory of this time has to be the detention of children on the southern border of the United States coupled with the recurring reports of lost children. Children that the U.S. government could neither find, not admit that they had lost, leading to constant revisions of the numbers and contention over literally thousands of lost children. The national and international shame and scandal continues as regular reports come from the border of miserable conditions, food shortages, sanitation problems, lack of health care and schooling, and more. We’re just talking about conditions in the US. Some 40,000 migrants are held or camped in squalid conditions near the border from Matamoros to Juarez, Mexico, waiting for asylum appeals to be heard in the US.
Worse, these are better stories than the ones of lost children sent in solitude at great expense by their loved ones to join their families in the US either on the train through Mexico called “the beast” or with various coyotes. Some make it. Some are caught and placed in detention or warehoused to be deported home. Others are lost somewhere in the Sonoran Desert or along the route or worse. What a horror!
I read two books by Valeria Luiselli this year, one fiction and one nonfiction: The Lost Children Archive and Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. Both books are obsessed with the plight of lost children as fiction and nonfiction blend together in mutual horror. The essay is the novelist’s efforts at advocacy. Not surprisingly, the novel is even more powerful at achieving that purpose as the protagonist, a mother of two, goes to search for two lost children, and her own children become lost as they begin the search themselves. The Lost Children Archive thankfully makes some of the top ten lists of books for this year, so hopefully its power becomes persuasive or at least keeps the issue somewhere on the list of daily horrors.
These are global issues. In New York City we walked from the financial district to Chinatown to finally find the small lettering on a nondescript door saying 47 Canal, though it was not on Canal Street. There we watched a short film by Cici Wu called “Unfinished Return of Yu Man Hon,” that focuses on another lost child, an autistic boy of nine, who wandered across Hong Kong’s border into mainland China in 2000, and was never heard from again. The film tries to imagine him wandering in a netherworld between reality and imagination. Hong Kong is now a surveillance city, as we all know, and was pretty far along that path then. Was Yu Man Hon just another rounding error in the great global population where life’s purchase is cheap? Was there an effort to find him that failed, or was he simply swallowed up, unseen and unheard?
The Hong Kong story is a tragedy of one boy and his family. The story on the southern border dealing with tens of thousands of migrants from Central America is the story of thousands of lost children and tragedies multiplied many fold. Worse, no one is looking. Few seem to care. Governments look the other way, creating indelible stains on all of these countries where the faces of lost children can never be erased.