The following excerpt comes from Diane Guerrero's new book, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, on sale now, which tells her family's immigration story. Learn more about Diane from our exclusive interview.
The entry way was dark. Papi's boots, the pair he wore whenever he did yard work, sat muddy and unlaced near the door. I heard none of the sounds I'd usually hear after school. No noise from the tele vi sion. No voices chattering in Spanish. No salsa blasting from the radio. I lowered my book bag to the floor next to my father's boots and noticed the light on in the kitchen. I darted toward it, my heart pounding with each pace.
"Mami!" I called out. "Papi! Are you here?"
I stood at the kitchen entrance and looked around. A plate of sliced plantains rested on the countertop; a pot of uncooked rice was on the stove's back burner. The faucet, which Papi had been trying to fix that week, leaked into the sink. Drip. Drip. Drip. On the table, that morning's newspaper laid next to a half-filled cup of coffee. Mami's apron, which she always folded and put away after preparing a meal, was dangling from a chair back. I pivoted to the hall and dashed to my parents' room. Could they be sleeping?
"Where is every one!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "Mami, Papi — I'm home!" I pushed on their bedroom door. It was stuck. "Are you guys here?" I yelled, banging on the wood with my fists. "Open up!" When I didn't get a response, I wedged the toe of my Adidas into the door's lower right corner, leaned into it with my full weight to force it open, and stumbled in. The room was bare. Mami's address book was open atop her nightstand; Papi's reading glasses laid near the foot of their bed. With my entire body shaking, I rushed to the bathroom. Then into my room. Then back to the kitchen. And finally, with a prayer that they might be outdoors, into the backyard.
Right then, the doorbell rang. I stopped. Could it be them? In the shadows of the hall, I tiptoed to the front of the house. At the door, I stretched up to look into the peephole. There stood the neighbor who lived on the other side of our two-family house, a squat middle-aged woman who hadn't ever been very friendly to us. Leaving the safety chain hooked, I opened the door only wide enough to see out.
"It's me, Diane," she said. "Unlock the door."
My hands quivered as I slid the chain left and unlatched it. With my face flushed and my stomach churning, I stepped into the vestibule. The woman stared at me like I had three eyes.
"Your parents have been taken," she said glibly, as if she was reporting the weather forecast.
"Um, what?" I blustered. My head felt like it was about to fall off my shoulders, tumble to the ground, and burst open right there in front of her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the immigration officers came here and arrested them," she shot back. "They're gone."
I glared at her, all of a sudden feeling dizzy. The foyer began to spin, faster and faster, as if I was stuck in a washing machine. "No!" I wailed with my palms over my temples. I swayed forward, then back, and caught myself before falling onto the linoleum. "They're not gone!" I squealed. The woman didn't blink.
"Anyone you want me to call?" she asked. I was too distraught to answer. My moans turned to howls.
"Well," she said, realizing I wasn't going to respond, "let me know if you need anything, okay?" I didn't answer. I staggered into the house and slammed the door.
What am I going to do? My thoughts raced faster than my heartbeat. I need to call someone. I hurried to the living room and grabbed our cordless from its base. I dialed the number of my niece's mother, Gloria. Ring. Ring. Ring. She picked up.
"Hello, Gloria?" I whimpered.
She paused. "What's wrong, Diane?"
"My parents have been taken!" I shouted into the receiver. Hot tears escaped from my lids and splashed onto my T- shirt.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"The police came here and arrested them!" I hollered.
Even in my hysteria, I was already trying to find a way to fix things — to line up a new life for myself. "Can I stay with you?" I asked between gasps. "Maybe you can move in here. I can watch Erica for you. I'll go to school and get a job."
She sighed. "Diane, that's not a good idea," she said. "I don't think it would work."
I heard what she said, but I couldn't quite comprehend what it meant for me. "So what am I supposed to do?" I sniveled.
"For now," she said, "don't open your door for anyone. We don't really know what's happening yet. The police might return there. Stay out of sight until we can figure something out."
Beyond terrified, I scurried back to the front door to be positive it was chained and bolted. I turned off every light, closed all the blinds, went into my room, and locked the door. With the cordless in hand, I got on the floor and scooted all the way under my bed. Our house had never felt more quiet or scary.
I cried as softly as I could, my dad's words reverberating in my head. "If anything ever happens to us," he'd often told me, "you've gotta be strong." But I didn't feel strong; I felt weak and abandoned. I put the phone's dial pad right up to my eyes so I could see the digits in the dark. I called another lifeline — Amelia, the mother of my friend Gabriela.
"Amelia?" I whispered.
She picked up on my distress. "What's going on, sweetie?" she asked.
In hushed tones, I told Amelia all that had happened, from my discovery that Mami and Papi were gone. "Where are you?" she asked. "Under my bed." "Stay where you are," she told me. "Don't move. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Minutes later, the phone rang; I saw Amelia's name on the caller ID and picked up on the first ring. "It's me, Diane," she said on her cell. "I'm here. You can let me in." At the door, I looked through the peep-hole to confirm it was Amelia and not the police. After opening the door, I fell right into her arms. Gaby was there too. "It's okay, Diane," she repeated as she stroked my hair. "Every thing's going to be fine now. Gaby, go make some tea."
The phone rang again. It was my father.
"Hector?" she said. "Yes, I'm here with Diane." I listened intently to Amelia's side of the conversation and pieced together how the day had unfolded. My parents had been taken separately. Mami, who'd been making dinner, was arrested in the late after noon while Papi was on his way home from work. My father pulled into the driveway to discover that the
immigration officers had surrounded the house; they were waiting to put him in handcuffs. Papi was driven to a facility for men, Mami to one for women. My father was allowed to make one short call. This was it.
Amelia, shaking her head in sorrow at what she'd heard, handed the phone to me. "Your father wants to speak to you," she said. I pressed the receiver to my ear.
"Papi," I said with a scratchy voice, "where are you?"
"Listen to me, Diane," he said sternly. "Don't be afraid. You're a smart girl." My eyes filled with a fresh round of tears. "Don't cry, Diane. Do not cry. Now I need you to pay attention," he continued, "because I don't have much longer on the phone. Go in our room and pack our suitcases, one for me and one for your mother. We'll need some of our things in Colombia."
"What?" I shrieked. Mami and Papi had been in prison for less than twenty-four hours, yet my father was convinced they'd be deported. "But can't we do something to stop this?" I pushed.
"There's nothing we can do," he said matter-of-factly. The only way he and Mami might have a chance at staying, he explained, was if a top-level attorney took their case; even with Papi's stroke of fortune, he didn't have the money for a pricey lawyer. "I've asked Amelia if you can stay with her," he told me. I heard a guard ordering Papi to finish his call. "So you'll be with her, okay? I love you. I've gotta go now." Click. I put down the phone and sat there helpless.