Having previously read The Line Becomes a River, a glimpse into immigration via a Border Patrol Agent who lost heart in his job, this is an even more heartbreaking look into the lives of the children. The author works as a translator in New York, assisting unaccompanied minors seeking asylm or another means of staying in the US. The children she interviews as part of the intake process are all from Central America, specifically Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The 40 questions of this slim (106 pages) book, are those on the intake forms that she must ask, and each one is the beginning of a story. Questions like “Why did you come to the United States?” and “Did anything happen to on your trip to the US that scared you or hurt you?” For many of these children, the answer is uncertainty or a story too painful to tell. An unaccompanied six-year-old may have come because a relative paid a coyote $4000 to get the child to the US because the child’s older friends or cousins were killed by gangs they could not escape. Most six-year-olds cannot tell that story. And since almost all of them are risking their lives every day of the journey, there are multiple stories to the “scared/hurt” question, most of them too painful to recall.
The book’s title comes from her own daughter’s questions of these stories: “Tell me how it ends,” she asks her mother. But the answer is always, “I don’t know,” because we never know how the story ends for these children whom she considers not aliens or illegals, but refugees of a war zone, countries where violence and abject poverty combine to make life unsafe for all of them. And her most compelling argument—though the book is not an argument as much as it is a study in humanity—is that so many of these violence/gang/murder problems are not unique to the country of origin. In many ways, she argues, they are hemisphere problems, not problems separated by the Rio Grande. Instead, the drugs/violence/gangs are connected through vast networks connecting US cities to all of these countries. As well, political events in which the US was involved with and sent arms to Central American countries backing one faction or another helped create some of what we’re witnessing today. We see these migrating people as not our problem, but much of it can be traced back to policies and practices that we were very much a part of. Like other war refugees, these are kids who want to escape a life of fear and death, and we make it nearly impossible for them to do so.