What Kind Of Mother? This Kind Of Mother.

by Nina Tarnay
Originally Published: 
Nina Tarnay

What kind of mother sends her children across churning oceans and dangerous borders, not knowing what the future holds?

What kind of mother bundles up her kids and flees the only home they’ve ever known?

What kind of mother risks breaking laws, risks losing her life and the lives of her children just for a sniff of freedom?

What kind of mother looks death and worse in the eyes, and defiantly and boldly rises, refusing to succumb to fear and challenges unimaginable?

My mother is that kind of mother. She’s the kind of mother who sheltered her children from bullets and bombs. She’s the kind of mother who buried her brother, murdered for having fought on the wrong side and vowed to not let her husband and children face the same fate. She’s the kind of mother who made long treks on rickety buses, and walked for hours with her young children in tow so that they could see their father, a prisoner of war, for a few hours and then make the same long trek back home until the next visiting day.

She’s the kind of mother who had to make impossible choices: send her two young sons off with her husband and pray that she’d see them again one day; leave her baby boy behind and hope he’ll one day understand and forgive her; risk her life and mine when we fled Vietnam as part of the mass exodus of Boat People, refugees of the war; agree to give up her daughter to strangers who could hopefully seek medical care for me, knowing that a future where I was alive and loved and cared for by someone else was better than me dying in her loving arms.

(As fate would have it, the Malaysian authorities would not allow for the separation of mother from child and I was shuttled back onto our boat. Luckily, I survived the rest of our journey).

She’s the kind of mother who has had to endure and survive a million heartbreaks—the loss of her country and family and friends, separation from her children, starting over, over and over again. But rise and start over she always did. She’s the kind of mother who holds the flames of the American Dream, carrying the torch ignited by words that once meant something to our country:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

As I witness our government tear apart asylum-seeking families at our southern border, I weep for the mothers who are like my own. I weep for the children who are like me. I know something people who haven’t experienced what I’ve experienced don’t know. I know that separating families will not deter them from seeking a better future for their children. The alternative is so bad that they would rather send their children into the unknown than watch their children die in their loving arms.

I know that mothers like my own have already endured and will survive a million heartbreaks. I know the pain in the hearts of the children who are yearning to be reunited with their parents. We will endure. We always endure.

I know the beacon of freedom and hope memorialized at our original point of entry may be shining a little dimmer today, but there are millions of us carrying her torch. Once lit, these flames cannot be extinguished.

So for those asking what kind of mother defies laws and borders to protect their children? I ask in return: what kind of mother are you that you wouldn’t do this for your children?

Nina Tarnay

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