Hope, fear and resilience as a family fights for a safer future

March 5, 2021

Sara and Alex at home in the United States.

In honor of International Women’s Day, I am telling you the story of one of the many women who immigrate to the United States to escape persecution and abuse. These mothers fight for the lives of their children no matter how many sacrifices they have to go through.

Sara Hernandez*, 36, is a Cuban mother who fled repression and mistreatment by the police against the population in Cuba. She and her husband Pablo Perez*, who accompanied her during the journey, never imagined how much their life would change in just one year.

This family began their journey in 2018 when they decided to escape from the Cuban dictatorship. Through a visa to Nicaragua, Sara and her husband traveled through several Central American countries on their way to the United States. They suffered episodes of violence in Central America due to the region’s instability. “We thought that the next day we would wake up and something bad would happen to us. It was challenging, but the idea of living in a country of freedom like the United States gave me encouragement to endure that situation,” explains Sara.

After arriving in Mexico, Sara and Pablo lived for a year in Tapachula, a city known for being a narcotics corridor between Mexico and Guatemala and one of the most violent places in the hemisphere. During that time, the Mexican government prohibited immigrants from moving between cities; they were forced to stay there for a year. “It was challenging,” Sara commented as she described how they were penniless and almost homeless, sometimes unable even to eat.

Among so many calamities, Sara became pregnant. Like they say, that miracle inspired them to move forward to give their baby a better future. But life tests even the most resilient, and Sara did not escape this terrible reality. Once they crossed the border into the United States, they received the news that their baby, inside his mother’s belly, had a heart defect called Tricuspid Atresia. If things were not difficult enough, Pablo was returned and sent back to Mexico, separating him from his family.

“I felt like my life had come to an end, the wrath of God in one fell swoop,” recalled Sara as those memories touched her. “However, God was there. He never abandoned us or left us alone for a moment.” A medical volunteer whom Sara describes as an angel offered to help her with her baby’s treatment and surgery. Soon after, Pablo was able to meet her again in the United States and be present when Sara went into labor. The operation to fix their baby’s heart was a success, and little baby Alex* is healthy and happy.

Pablo says that they are nervous because the baby will have a final heart surgery on March 29. Thanks to Global Response Management and Church World Services’ cooperation, the family has benefited from the Leading With Welcome Program, which provides resources and guidance to immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. Leading With Welcome is funded through a partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

This story of a woman’s resilience in the face of so many adversities is not yet over because until little Alex is healthy, life will continue to test this woman who does not stop believing in a better future. We will continue to work with Sara and Pablo as they seek a better, safer life for themselves and their son here in the United States.

Juan Carlos Lopez is a Program Case Manager with the CWS Leading With Welcome program.

*We have changed the names in this story to protect the family’s identities.