Immigrant Women Share Their Fears and Hopes

Article excerpt

In a workshop for Mexican immigrant women, Aracaely Hernandez wrote, "I don't have any small fears." For Ms. Hernandez, a Juarez native, a small fear would be welcome, given everything else she has had to face.

Her son was born with a congenital heart defect. He survived against all odds, only to be hit by a truck at age 12 (he is now 22). Later, Ms. Hernandez's daughter was killed by an ex-boyfriend who was then jailed, forcing the mother to flee to the United States following death threats from the man's family.

In Albuquerque, N.M., her husband had a stroke. And his daughter, who was like a daughter to Ms. Hernandez, died in a car wreck. Yet the photograph Ms. Hernandez took to accompany her writings brims with hope. In it, one of her daughters is standing on some furniture, touching the ceiling, with a look of pure delight on her face.

Ms. Hernandez's testament to women immigrants' strength was echoed in other work that was later exhibited at the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center. The women named their project: "Projecting Ourselves: Images and Words from Our Community."

"In Mexico when you blurt out what you weren't supposed to, people say, 'Te protejaste'--meaning you spilled the beans," said Melissa Jameson of Catholic Charities, a sponsor of the workshop.

Ms. Jameson, who organized the five-week workshop, said her initial idea was to focus on women and domestic violence. But the taboo nature of the topic was not a draw. The focus was too narrow, Ms. Jameson said. Violence, she said, comes also in the form of economic oppression and the forced uprooting from one's home and language.

Against that panorama, women showed up and wrote about their fears, obstacles they had overcome and their hopes. They used disposable cameras to step back from the daily grind of their lives. What some women thought was a luxury--creative writing--turned out to be healing and empowering, Ms. Jameson said.

Maria Reyes took a photo of her daughter sitting alone in front of a crowd. …