The shaggy dog who greets Eilyn after school is one of the 8-year-few old’s familiar comforts in her new life.
When her parents boarded a plane in Colombia nearly five months ago, they told Eilyn and her brother that they were going on a beach vacation to Cancun. She never got to say goodbye properly to the beloved family dog.
Or to her grandmother, or to the rest of her family, or to her room, or to her friends, or to her school. Instead, they took a long and uncertain journey north, eventually arriving at the townhouse of a woman who doesn’t speak Spanish and has never met any Colombians, but who made up three beds in her D.C. townhouse and told them to rest.
The Colombian family of four is one of thousands of migrants who were transported on buses from Texas, Arizona, and Florida to Washington, D.C., New York, and even Martha’s Vineyard. They were political pawns, sent by enraged Republican governors who believed that shunting traumatized people looking for a new life across the country would demonstrate to northern cities how difficult it is to live on the border.
Many went on to live with family or friends in other cities, eventually settling in immigrant enclaves along the East Coast.
Edison, 40, and his wife, Liliana, 37, were alone. And no choice but to flee after a Colombian gang extorting them over land passed down through generations threatened to kill their children. They spoke on the condition that their full names not be used, to protect their privacy.
They walked for three weeks after landing in Mexico before crossing the border into Texas. That’s when they noticed the buses to Washington, D.C. They squatted and couch-surfed for months in temporary housing — a church, a refugee house, a hotel — as they tried to start a new life.
Then they ran into Peggy Pacy outside the corner store in her Northwest D.C. neighborhood. A child in their group was attempting to purchase candy. Pacy footed the bill. Pacy pieced together their story through pantomime and hazy memories of high school Spanish after the child introduced her to the migrant families he was with.
Edison was looking for work and her front garden looked like a jungle. When he was done, the neighborhood crackled: “’Are you moving?’ they all asked, when they saw how good it looked.”
So, she told them about Edison, and they hired him one after the other. Buchanan Street has never been more beautiful.
Liliana got a job washing dishes at a restaurant in Logan Circle. The couple’s 16-year-old son works as a car detailer part-time and attends a D.C. high school. Liliana couldn’t bear the thought of moving them when they lost their temporary housing yet again. Despite this, they were doing well in school. This time, the District of Columbia government offered a hotel room on New York Avenue.
The district was unprepared for the migrants, and this family was among the first of nearly 10,000 people bused into the city — most to Union Station, some outside Vice President Harris’s residence.
According to US Census Bureau data, at least 13% of D.C.’s population is foreign-born. However, many immigrants join communities and families that have already established themselves in the city. Edison and Liliana are starting from the ground up. When they arrived, one family on the bus, immigrants from Venezuela, purchased a used car. That is where they sleep.
Pacy made a large batch of her beef chili, set the table, urged them to eat, then went to her office for a couple hours to give them privacy. They were still waiting when she returned, the chili cold and untouched. They refused to eat without her.
Then it was Portuguese seafood stew, and they waited until Liliana returned from her shift at the restaurant to join them. It was close to midnight. When Liliana asked if she could do some of the cooking, too, Pacy began to understand the importance of closeness in this family, and her place in it.