Growing up with domestic violence as a child and then threatened by gang violence as an adult, Kenia has lived a life of severe and ongoing trauma. Yet her inner strength and a mother’s passion to protect her child steeled her for an arduous journey north from Honduras, and brought her to the U.S.–Mexico border to seek a safer, better life.
When Kenia arrived at the KBI comedor with her four-year-old son Josue last month, she had fled a history of violence in her native Honduras, most recently from local gangs who had been systematically breaking into neighborhood homes, murdering the occupants, and harvesting their organs for profit. The horror and frequency of these crimes filled Kenia with terror, and she set out to seek safety for herself and Josue, leaving behind her home and community as well as a past rife with domestic abuse.
Growing up in a country besieged by gang and street wars, the violence that shaped most of Kenia’s early life occurred at home, perpetrated by family members. Abandoned by her parents when she was 3, she was taken in by her grandmother who beat her regularly; her uncle sexually abused her. When Kenia reported the sexual violations, she was not believed. If she failed to sell enough vegetables to help support the household, Kenia was made to kneel on grains of rice, sand, or glass for hours. Her knees show the physical scars of those “punishments” while the wounds to her heart and psyche are less easily discernable—invisible but deep.
Tragically, Kenia learned necessary lessons of self-preservation early—at 12, she ran away from home. Over the next four years, she lived in a series of shelters, where she learned to read, acquired basic life skills, and met people who genuinely cared about her welfare. To this day, she remains grateful for the safety and education they provided. Even so, those years exposed her to negative influences as well; by 15, she began, like other girls she knew, to use drugs and alcohol to ease her emotional pain, and turned to prostitution to support her habits.
Then, at 18, Kenia experienced a life-altering event—she became pregnant with her son, and upon learning this, quit using drugs and changed her life to give her child the kind of mother, the kind of upbringing, she never had herself. This decision, so responsible and loving, only made her life harder. Without family, without sufficient support from service agencies or local law enforcement, she and Josue suffered hunger for weeks on end, scraping together meals and begging from neighbors. Against this backdrop of struggle and subsistence, the mounting violence in her city brought Kenia once again to a crossroads of survival—her only option was to migrate, and she set out north, reaching Nogales, Sonora after several weeks of intermittent sickness, hunger, and cold.
Now 23, Kenia arrived at the border with Josue only to be told they would have to wait until their number was called to present themselves for asylum. Mother and son spent three days sleeping on the streets, their only nourishment in that time a single juice box for Josue. When she heard about the KBI, Kenia headed to the comedor, and stayed at the women’s shelter for a week as she waited in line for an interview with Customs. During that time, Kenia learned that she was pregnant with her second child. Overwhelmed by the news, she is even more committed to seeking asylum in the U.S., knowing there is no way to raise her children safely in Honduras.
At the women’s shelter, Kenia shared her story with KBI staff. Fighting back tears, she sent Josue to get her a glass of water, so she might compose herself and continue. A lively, engaged child, Josue bounded off, eager to help, and in those moments, Kenia confessed that she wanted him to play games and experience joy and love. “I never had that,” she said. “I want him to go to school and have the opportunity to be someone in the world. Maybe he would want to be a lawyer and help people in our situation. Or maybe something else, but I want him to have possibilities.” Considering what she might face on the U.S. side, she confided, “Even if they don’t give me asylum, just please don’t take my son from me. He is my strength and my reason to live.”
It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that Kenia survived her childhood and its aftermath. Now as she waits with her son and a baby on the way for a chance to thrive, Kenia dreams of making a safe home for her children, studying, learning English, and writing poems as she once did to comfort herself in those lonely adolescent years. One reads:
|Cuando era niña,
lloraba por un espejo.
Ahora que estoy grande,
Lloro por la injusticia.
|When I was a girl,
I cried over a mirror.
Now that I’m older,
I cry over injustice.