• June 2021
  • Vol. 22, No. 6

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National Reunification Month: Remembrance, Recognition, and Respect

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E.Schomburg

June is National Reunification Month. We celebrate families coming together, and we should also contemplate how families become separated. 

There's a tough history of separation in this country that we have to acknowledge. The first family separation that comes to mind is the separation of children from their mothers and fathers during slavery. Separating families was a standard practice. It was for punishment, for economic reasons, and it was for convenience. I imagine it happened every day, on every plantation. No family was ever safe from that possibility. Now imagine living in that trauma. As slavery ended, the formerly enslaved would place ads in local papers looking for lost children, parents, and siblings.

The second era of family separation that comes to mind is that of Indian children from their families. Indian children were placed in "Indian residential schools." They were forbidden to speak in their native languages, forbidden to wear their own clothes, and often, their hair was cut off. The purpose? To "civilize" them and indoctrinate them into Euro-American culture. Abuse was prevalent in these schools. I've listened to many adults who went to these schools as children refer to themselves as "survivors." And then I think about the recent past—because in my previous job, I was suddenly called upon to support children who had been separated from their parents at the border. I've recently started hearing about stories of reunification from that era.

Somehow though, we think of child protection as different—but we have to face the truth about that, too. We have separated children from their families in the name of protecting them. We have done it when it needed to be done—and we have done it when it did not need to be done. In recent years, we have spent time and resources trying to right that wrong. We've made it clear that separation is an absolute last resort and that, if it has to be done, we should allow children to be with their extended family and remain in their community. We have worked hard to support families while keeping them intact and in their homes. Still, there are children and youth reeling from when that difficult decision to separate was made. Many have been reunified, some have not.

Reunification has so much meaning, especially this year. During this past pandemic year, we have all been separated from our families and friends. Most of us couldn't fathom how we would survive without having that nurturing contact with the people we loved. We struggled through it. What did we want to do?  We wanted to be with our family. It was that simple. Now, we're all talking about making up for a year of lost hugs. Even as adults, we need those hugs—and so do our children. Reunification must be the number one goal. Preserving family and community bonds must be the priority. Let's celebrate National Reunification Month with remembrance of how far we've come, recognition of the work we have done and the remaining work to do, and respect for the special place that family holds in each of our lives.  
 

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