Now nearly fifteen months of age, my grandson adds new words to his vocabulary daily; his linguistic ability continues to blossom, each day filled with new surprising utterances. Like most toddlers he has learned the names of several body parts. When asked, he can point to his head, his hair, his eye, his ear, his nose, his tongue. He also responds when questioned on animal sounds. “How does the puppy dog go?” we ask. “Woof woof,” he says. “How does the kitty cat go?” “Meow,” he intones. Although he has yet to learn how the moo cow goes, he readily imitates the mourning dove’s call: “Ooh Ooh, Ooh; Ooh-ooh.”
Just his morning a colleague sent me the link to a NYT article — Cleaning Toilets, Following Rules: A Migrant Child’s Days in Detention — that profiles a number of “illegal” immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border and whisked off to any one of a number of detention centers around the country. Some youngsters have not seen their mothers in over forty days.
Life in these centers is highly regulated according to set routines. Children undergo strict regimentation; even the very young are expected to perform daily work tasks. Hugging or touching other children is forbidden. In some instances children have awoken to find a friend gone, his whereabouts unknown. One little girl has taken to writing her mother frequent letters, which she keeps until the day when they might be reunited; she is not allowed to mail them; and even if she could, she does not know her mother’s address.
The article also notes that children receive instruction in conversational English, as well as in American civics. Perhaps they are also taught the democratic process, where legislation is enacted by representatives bought by special interest groups and subsequently signed into law by the President to ensure fairness and justice for all, regardless of race, creed or color. As a boy I was taught that the marble statue of Justice bore a blindfold for a reason.
As I read through this article, I found myself wondering if these children might also be taught the words enshrined on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
At one point the authors of the article note that the interior of one of the larger detention facilities has been subdivided to accommodate the juvenile residents. Partitions fall short of the common ceiling overhead, so that sound readily travels from one section of the building to another. Every so often a child will spontaneously emit a loud mooing sound, picked up and repeated by others throughout the building, the end effect being something analogous to a cacophonous echo, like that of a herd of cattle, penned in and lowing mournfully to one another.
It has been said that the moral conscience of a nation might be measured by the way in which it treats its most vulnerable citizens: the aged, the infirm, its children. As one who has made it his life’s work to care for the health and well-being of children, I have come to consider all children to be part of the family of man and citizens of the world order.
My grandson has yet to learn how the moo cow goes, but we’re working on it. Meantime, when I ask him, he readily recites the lonesome echo of the mourning dove on cue.