Talking to Your Kids About Family Separation

By Stacy Kono


Lisa Nakamura is a clinical psychologist, a mother of two kids, and a third-generation Japanese-American whose family was incarcerated during World War II. She’s also a longtime activist in the Asian American community who has supported immigrant rights and racial justice and lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spoke to Lisa to get her advice on how parents can talk to children about the current attacks on immigrant communities.

What is important about talking about current attacks on immigrants with our children?

Children do best when they can connect to an issue through their everyday lives. In this case, it’s important for my children to know what is happening in our community and how it’s affecting their neighbors, friends, and their families. But we also have to take into account what developmental stage they are in and how much details of this issue can they emotionally manage.

What have you shared with your own children?

My daughter just started third grade, and my son is starting middle school. I think it’s important to connect one’s own immigrant history in their family with the current-day issues. We can share what factors lead to a relative to leave their own home country and community to immigrate here and what was stressful about the move.

I’ve talked to my kids about the history of Japanese immigrant and Japanese American incarceration as a way to understand what is happening today to migrants being detained at the border. Under this current political moment, I told them how kids were separated from their parents when they arrived at the border and treated unfairly.

I explained to them that, much like what happened to their grandparents’ families, the government has been stirring up fear and racism.

How can you help kids be respectful of differing opinions but firm in their own beliefs?

We can tell children how adults have a hard time respecting different ideas, particularly in the very divided times we live in. We can model how to express disagreements in our own family while still respecting each other. We can practice how to truly listen and try to understand the other point of view, even if we disagree with it. Doing so would enable us to go beyond just asserting our stances in an argument, but engaging in a dialogue. Of course, I still encourage them to speak out for what they believe in.

What questions might they ask you that could be difficult?

Some children might fear, in hearing this story, that this could happen to them -- that they could be taken away from their parents. Especially for children who have a lot of difficulty separating  from their parents, it’s important to emphasize that this won’t happen to them.

Children also need a space to express their emotions about these issues. And they do it in different ways from adults. To help them articulate their feelings, you can write a list of feelings down and and ask them to choose what they are experiencing. You could encourage them to write a letter or draw a picture to express their feelings and ideas.

Some children may ask why the government is doing this. I think it’s important to explain that it has happened before to groups of people because of fear and ignorance. You can tell them what other children and adults are doing to help. They can appreciate that they are part of a larger community of people and children who stand up to the government as well.

Stacy Kono is Hand in Hand's Network Director. 

If you want to engage with your children in taking positive action after talking to them, you can have them We'll get it to them.


Write Letters to Detained Children

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I’m having trouble sleeping at night. How can I sleep when children are being traumatized, waiting for parents who may never come?

Join me by writing a letter to detained children, letting them know that millions of us are thinking of them and fighting for their freedom and their families.

Send a photo or scan of your handwritten, typed, or decorated letter to, or take a photo and post it to social media with the hashtag #letterstochildren so we can find it.

Hand in Hand will coordinate delivering these letters to children in detention.

As a social worker I know that a sudden, unexplained separation from a loved one is traumatic to a child. It’s torture. There is no hugging, no playing, no solace, no comfort in many of these detention centers. Now we are learning of forced drugging of children in detention, physical abuse, and neglect.

Let us be at least one more voice saying to these children: I’m with you; I care about you; I am doing what I can to help free you.

I have marched, signed petitions, donated money and gone to sleep and woken up thinking of these children, these parents tortured by our government, on our watch. We need to keep doing all of those things.

Now I’m also writing them letters, as a way to let these children know the bottom of my heart that they will soon be free and with their families again.

And I’m asking you to send one also. (See examples from social media here.) Type it, write it, draw it, or make colorful ones with your kids using these printable coloring pages.


by Samara, a concerned citizen in Boston

I Must Protest.

by Marielle Henault 

The beginning of my story may sound familiar: like millions of others I spent the evening of November 8, 2016 curled up on my couch in front of the news, obsessively refreshing incoming election results on my phone. Hour after hour I watched as the middle of the map filled in red, the pressure in my chest slowly mounting. Sometime around 1AM I finally went to bed in tears. It was over. Hillary Clinton had lost.

That part I’d been through before: being on the losing side of electoral history. I’d voted for Al Gore when I was in college, stayed up all night as the vote count swung back and forth. I’d voted for John Kerry in 2004 and I’d even voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries (because, come on: it’s long past time the United States got its first female president!), so by 2016 I’d already had decades of practice in political disappointment.

But this? This time felt different.

This time, I was living in a deep red state, where I’d moved just a few months earlier.

This time, the election was won by a man who regularly spewed hate, racism, and misogyny all over the campaign trail, preying on our neighbors’ anxieties and fears.

This time, I had a kid sleeping upstairs.

And that, for me, made all the difference.

* * *

Everyone tells you that having a kid changes everything — and they’re right. I’ve been functioning on significantly less sleep for years, and my free time has all but disappeared. That time is now filled with potty training and picture books, LEGOs and play dates. It’s filled with wild tantrums and unabashed laughter and big emotion on both our parts, emotions more immense and intense than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s filled with frustration at times, sure, but more than anything it’s filled with such powerful love.

Love that has made me the activist I am today.

Because a country that actively dismantles civil rights — a country that doesn’t respect women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or immigrant rights, that doesn’t believe that black lives matter — this is not the world I want for my child, for any of our children. Our children deserve to grow up surrounded by love and compassion, not fear and hatred. This is a gift I desperately want to give my child. This, more than anything, is something I consider worth fighting for.

Like so many others, I woke up the morning after the 2016 election to social media feeds filled with anger, disbelief, anxiety — and a Facebook event invite for a march the day after Trump’s inauguration. So for the first time in my life I began to march, and I began to fight.

* * *

Having a young child, I’ve been forced to re-examine the world from all sorts of unexpected angles, often at the most unpredictable times. One day this June, my little boy and I found ourselves listening to an NPR story in the car about a new immigration crisis at our border: children were being taken from their parents and detained in cages.

Children the same age as my son.

These were human rights violations, on our own soil. Against kids. And my own kid? He had questions. Big questions. Questions about why these kids and their parents ran away from their homes, what it meant to be a refugee and to seek asylum. Questions about why our country was taking these kids away from their parents. Questions about what was going to happen to these children now.

Questions I didn’t know or like the answers to.

So when Tara from Hand In Hand asked me to co-organize a Playdate Protest at the Columbus I.C.E. office, I was already ready to say yes.

* * *

Tara sent me videos from Chicago and New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, of parents and children standing boldly together in I.C.E. offices, demanding change and taking up space while singing songs, playing games, and coloring with their children. It’s a new twist on the peaceful sit-in, filled with love and family, for families. And I wanted in.

It was easy enough to organize; we scouted the space and made a plan, reached out to our friends and put together a song list. We wrote up our demands and hung out one afternoon making posters. Hand In Hand has a ton of resources to make the planning easy. We just had to decide, together, how we wanted to do it — how to customize it, make it our own.

The morning of our playdate protest, we gathered around the corner from I.C.E. I’ll admit I was nervous; I’d never occupied a government office before. But I was emboldened as parent after parent showed up with their kids and we soon had a group dozens strong. We went in. We were asked to leave. We started singing. And we kept singing, friends and families together.

Security came and told us to leave. The city police came and told us to leave. We stayed until Homeland Security showed up, and then we finished our playdate protest on the sidewalk.

It was exhilarating.

Together, our voices — with the voices of our children — were amplified. Together, we stood empowered to demand change.

And policies are changing in response to all of our collective actions. Children are no longer being separated from their parents — although what happens next for those children “ineligible” for reunification, we still don’t know. So I’m co-organizing more protests, this time at our Representatives’ offices, speaking up for those who can’t: for the kids who are still waiting to be reunited with their families, for the asylum-seekers being turned away at our borders, for the immigrants seeking sanctuary in my city and the thousands locked up after aggressive raids in our fields.

And, with the support of Hand In Hand, you can do it too. Because if we, the parents of the world, don’t organize a little good trouble, who will?

(Because the crisis still isn’t over, Hand in Hand is holding open phone calls every Monday evening where those of us who’ve held playdate protests help others planning future ones. You can sign up for them here; I hope I’ll see you on the line!)

Marielle Henault is an ex-Disney exec and founder of Doobry, where she helps help creators evolve inspired ideas into entertainment franchises at Fortune 500 and independent production companies.

We Will Defend Immigrant Families

By Stacy Kono

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. — Maya Angelou

When I was six, my mom tried to get me to pick up my toys by sharing with me the story of when her family was sent to camp during WWII. She said that she only could bring what she could carry - and left so many things behind - when they left Seattle.

In the face of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and war hysteria, my parents’ families, along with 120,000 people of Japanese descent, were removed from their homes on the west coast and taken to camps and detention centers in desolate areas across the country. When I was six, it made me angry that anyone would treat families, and children in particular, with such cruelty.

Both my parents told me how their parents were afraid for their lives, and feared that they would be separated from their children. They felt alone. I wondered how 120,000 people could disappear from communities without people speaking up? Didn’t their neighbors wonder where they were going and worry about them? I learned that the mainstream ideas of the time, rooted in a longstanding history of racism, created a climate that enabled this injustice to happen.

But there were people who stood up and fought back: Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and hundreds of draft resisters entered into legal fights with the government. Many non-Japanese Americans fought back too. American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, protested the policy and provided aid to people as they were released from the camps. Many other religious organizations also educated their congregants about the injustice of Japanese American incarceration and lobbied the government for their release.

It’s 76 years later, and we have an opportunity to make sure our resistance visible, too, so that the thousands of immigrants in detention know we will not stand for their criminalization and do not accept the argument that our freedom depends on their incarceration or exclusion.

All of us at Hand in Hand have been participating in and organizing collective actions as ways of expressing our outrage against the terror our government is waging on immigrant and refugee people through detentions, family separations, and raids.

In our work with domestic employers (people who hire childcare providers, house cleaners, or home attendants—a largely immigrant workforce) at Hand in Hand, we see the attacks confronting immigrant and refugee communities as attacks on all of us. We know, from personal experiences, that immigrant workers are an essential part of our communities’ fabric. They deserve respect and dignity in our home workplaces and in our communities, because they are ensuring we can live and be cared for with respect and dignity too.

That is why I joined the Hand in Hand staff - to contribute to building a society where we value each person’s contribution and fight against the dehumanization of immigrants and people of color.

As employers, as neighbors, as parents and friends, we have an opportunity to collectively take action for justice, interdependence, and humanity over racism and greed. Let us draw upon our connection to each other and our awareness of our histories as we work totowards put an end toing these cruel, inhumane policies.

What can we do? Make sure you’ve joined the #SanctuaryHomes campaign, because our strategies are necessarily changing as the situation does. Organize your own action.  Check out the Families Belong Together Action Planning Toolkit and Hand in Hand’s Playdate Action Guide. For support with whatever action you're planning to take, join our Monday evening calls and email us at info [at] domesticemployers [dot] org. We’re here to support you in figuring it out.

Stacy Kono is the Network Director at Hand in Hand.

Sanctuary around the Seder table

Every year since I was about twelve years old I planned my own seder. I would wrangle anyone I could to join me - family, friends, strangers I met in the park near my house in Philadelphia - and spend hours preparing a Passover in which I followed my own lead; I asked and answered The Four Questions, I bargained with myself over the Afikomen, and most importantly, I connected the themes of exodus, slavery and liberation to a current event.

I quickly learned that no one had patience for reading the entire Haggadah (the book that tells the story of Passover) and started making my own abbreviated versions, complete with non-technical English transliterations of the Hebrew blessings.

One year the Seder theme was the genocide in Darfur, another time was the refugee crisis. I described how immigration policies that generate terror and break up families were like the Pharaoh's cruel decrees in Ancient Egypt, or how gentrification in San Francisco’s Mission District, that forced people out of their homes, recalled the Jews who fled Egypt without time to allow bread to leaven.

This year, my Passover seder was about sanctuary. I’m a disabled person who intermittently hires home care workers, and I have become more and more involved in organizing for both disability justice and workers rights in the Bay Area. As a member of Hand in Hand and disability justice organizer in the Bay Area, I have found that I have a specific role to play in creating more Sanctuary spaces and am working to grow our #SanctuaryHomes work -- uniting those homes into a larger Sanctuary Neighborhood.  

Sanctuary was a natural fit with the story of Passover - with ICE as Pharaoh and undocumented immigrant families as Jews --  and as we read the Haggadah, more and more allegorical themes arose. We read a passage about the hard work that Jewish women did to clean their homes of chametz (bread crumbs that more observant Jews clean out of their homes before Passover) and I mentioned that this physical labor is the daily work of many domestic workers.

Some guests talked about how they previously did or currently do this practice - and how some of them hire house cleaners to do this work. One guest reminisced about her time working for a Jewish family as a maid — cleaning out the chametz was part of her job. It reminded me how important it is for us to share stories of our real lives -- that’s a true intersectional activist framework -- because none of us live in identity silos, and the struggles we engage in necessarily overlap.

Our younger guests generously lent us masks so that we could each dress up as one of the Ten Plagues, and we grappled with the challenge of rejoicing a victory that resulted from pain and suffering in other  communities.

I invited the guests to contemplate ways in which we are both modern day Jews fleeing slavery and modern day Pharaohs, oppressing and enslaving. People discussed their own migration stories -- ones that originated in families of Holocaust survivors and ones that were victimized by our broken and nativist immigration policies today.

As always, I added an olive to the seder plate to represent hopes for peace in the Middle East and around the world and an orange to represent what would have been unimaginable not too long ago — a table with women leaders and queer and trans people sharing the Seder meal* just as we are.

When everyone had finally arrived for the Seder, there were too many of us to fit in my small apartment -- and the family adjacent to me, also Seder guests that evening, instantly offered to let us use their more spacious dining area. The more able-bodied amongst us transported the meal and place settings to their home.

As always, I only wished I’d had more time to prepare. To have a ready to-go Sanctuary Homes Haggadah that guests could take home and contemplate. Instead, I distributed Hand in Hand’s Sanctuary Home campaign information and look forward to next year when my spatial and textual planning will be improved, and perhaps can share my work to make Passover a time to remember the importance of Sanctuary spaces with all of you!

*Thank you to the organization One Table who provided funds for our Friday evening / Shabbat dinner + Passover seder food!

Katie Savin lives in the Bay Area where she is a member of and the Disability Justice organizer for Hand in Hand, a PhD student in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, a published author, and a devoted human to her service cat.