“Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. Losing a loving and protective parent is the biggest single tragedy that can happen to a child.” – Alicia F. Lieberman, PhD
As you may know, I am many things: a spouse, a mother, a grandmother, a friend,and the director of the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center (DCAC). What many of you do not know is that I am also an immigrant who came to this country in 1991 with my husband and our two-and-a-half-year-old toddler son.
I am also the daughter of a refugee mother, who, at the tender age of four witnessed the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. She fled to safety with her mother and siblings, and they spent six months in the Atlantic Ocean in the hull of a ship waiting for a country that would take them in.
My family history, including my own journey through immigration, gave me a unique perspective about many things in life, the most important one being:
Children and families belong together.
Together we are stronger; together we become more resilient.
I was always mesmerized by my maternal grandmother’s strength and her ability to keep her six children safe in the midst of danger. As a young girl, I would listen to her carefully and she taught me three very important lessons:
1) Nobody wants to leave their country of origin as it is heartbreaking and heart wrenching;
2) Moving towards the unknown and unfamiliar is very scary, even though it is sometimes the only option; and
3) While facing these extremely stressful situations, stay together and do something every day to remind you of your origins.
My grandmother, “Abuela” or “Amama” in the Basque language, would do anything to protect her children. She cooked for the ship’s crew and ironed their clothes in return for food and shelter. She would also sing Basque songs with all of her children every morning before dawn. To this day, many of my cousins continue this beautiful ritual. At family gatherings, we all sing songs taught to us by our grandparents. The maternal part of my family fared well in spite of all these adversities. I believe it is directly related to their ability to stay together and find comfort in one another.
I was born on February 2, 1961 on a very hot day in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was born several weeks premature and with some medical challenges that required me to stay hospitalized – I am guessing here – for my first two months of life. My mother, “mi Amatxu” never let me out of her sight. She fought with doctors and nurses to stay at my side. She resisted all attempts to send her away.
My mother never completed elementary school. She knew though, that I needed her. She knew what all the research in the world has been telling us for decades now: Children need to be rocked, touched, sung to, and fed by a caring adult if they are to survive and thrive. She was always my shining light even at the darkest of times. I never felt alone.
“Mi Amatxu” understood the importance of parents and children being together. She learnt that from her mother, who was her shining light. I believe my inner strength today stems from those early life experiences where I felt loved, cared for and protected even in the midst of ongoing medical intrusions to my body. I never felt alone. Never, ever.
I also felt safe and protected when I arrived in Miami, Florida on June 30, 1991. I felt welcomed and protected. I still remember the first words I heard: “Welcome to America.“
I strongly believe that it is a human right for every child to grow up in close proximity to their parents. Children bloom when they are cared for by attuned, protective and loving caregivers. Left alone, only long-term and catastrophic consequences are to be expected.
– Gizane Indart, PsyD
1938 – My mother, her parents, and siblings on the ship
My Abuela, my mother, and her siblings when they first arrived in Argentina
September 1991 – My son and I in Fort Collins, CO
Mi Amatxu & I in Denver