Baby Maria was only four, D A
But the rains had stopped coming to El Salvador. G A
I have nothing to feed you. Nothing will grow. D A
Not sure where to lead you, but we’ve sure got to go. G A D
Baby Maria, little hand in mine,
Your tiny footsteps, and a long, long time.
There may be danger, but it’s safer than home
Or a maquiladora in a free-trade zone.
Guard at the border waved us away. G D A#dim
Then looked at Maria, leaned over to say: Bm Bm7sus4 Em9 A7
People are fearful, judgment is hard, D A
See only dragons in our own back yard. G A
Babies in cages, don’t let her stray. G Bm A
Hold close to your daughter, don’t chance it today. G A D
Cool of the evening, as darkness falls
Baby Maria, singing songs to us all
Can you remember when you stood here?
Maybe this morning, or a hundred years.
We pick your strawberries, anything that grows;
Keep your wheels turning, iron your clothes;
Go where you need us, work really hard,
Asking you only for a working card.
We who are weary still yearn to breathe free.
We who are homeless, …still coming to thee.
©Doug Hendren 2019
What’s it about? When I wrote this song, our government had suffered the longest shut-down in US history. The issue was over funding for a border wall between Mexico and the US. Driven by political showboating and manufactured hysteria, some very real damage has been done to countless families of ordinary, hard-working Latino neighbors in our own country and in Central America. We have become accustomed to headlines about families separated at the border, children held in cages by the border patrol, and even children dying while in custody.
To characterize our border situation as a crisis is foolish. Equally foolish is the assumption that immigrants are responsible for US Americans losing their jobs. Since serious outsourcing of American manufacturing began in the 1970’s American jobs have been going to cheaper labor forces all over the world, including China, Vietnam, South Korea and Latin America. Immigrants are in fact vital to the US economy in a number of sectors, including physically exhausting agricultural labor which few North Americans are willing or able to do.
One additional element in my story above is becoming more prominent worldwide, namely climate change. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are part of the “Dry Corridor” in Central America, with a history of episodic droughts. With the added stress of climate change, fewer people can survive on subsistence farming. Climate change is now becoming a factor along with endemic violence, forcing people to leave home as refugees. Experts warn that climate refugees may number in the tens of millions over the coming decade worldwide.
Most Americans came here as refugees seeking a better life: “yearning to breathe free,” as the inscription reads on the Statue of Liberty. With the exception of Native Americans, we are all immigrants or descended from them. And statistically, immigrants are a much lower crime risk than other Americans. A lot of what is good in our economy and in our history is because of the dreams and the energy that new arrivals bring with them.
How El Salvador is Creating Climate Refugees (video, 8:06)