I just read On the Wings of a Hummingbird by my neighbor Susan Mills. This newly published novel tells the story of Petra, a fifteen-year old Guatemalan, raised with great spiritual strength that is tested by poverty and gang violence so great that she risks abduction, rape and murder just walking to school. After her childhood friend, now a gang member, kidnaps her, she escapes, and sees no choice for survival but to hop trains and walk more than 1,600 miles to the US border.
Susan Mills retired to Vermont after a twenty-plus year career as an immigration attorney in Providence, Rhode Island. Combined with her personal experiences during visits to Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Susan’s legal experience taught her how complex immigration from Central America to the United States is – greatly more complex and nuanced than someone like me would know only from headlines.
Nor did I know much about Mayan culture, Guatemalan fauna and flora, customs and folklore. Now, I’m a bit more aware of how much I don’t know about a civilization with a rich culture that survives despite an ongoing history of conquest and civil unrest.
But most of all, On the Wings of a Hummingbird is the story about a young woman trying to survive, escape sexual violence, pursue an education, and thrive.
We humans are a narrative species. We tell stories to learn, to influence, to entertain. While this story is invented, it effectively communicates how complicated issues of immigration are for those who come to the United States. As Susan Mills says, “Very few people—Petra among them—leave their homes, their culture, language and family roots without feeling like they don’t have a choice.”
This resonates with me. I know how lucky I am that all four of my grandparents did just that, just like almost all Americans who aren’t descended from First Nation Peoples or from those brought to this country as slaves.