While reading the first half of Lost Children Archive, I was struck by the constant idea of how Valeria and her partner’s parenting and interests shape their own kids’ perceptions about the world around them. This concept of developing a world view, of course, is paralleled throughout the book with the constant discussion about refugees’ struggles to reach the haven known as the United States. Though there are many major themes in the book (because Luiselli asks a ton of thought-provoking, philosophical questions), I want to discuss how children’s minds are blank slates; and whether having a comfortable life or being a refuge in search of a better life, one’s world view is malleable especially in childhood.
The two perspectives in the book are one of the American child, with a good upbringing and parents to guide them in their lives, and the refugee child, often having to brave the treacherous journey of making it North of the Rio Grande by themselves.
The American child, in this case, is represented in both “the boy” and “the girl”. Their odd names were given to them preventing a hyphenated relationship between non-biological relatives. This “family lexicon”, however, does not inhibit the children from having the best relationship with one another, always making sure the other is taken care of. Furthermore, as the kids have an intimate connection, they also share similar world views simply because they have lived essentially the same lives and have received identical parenting in recent memory. Through their parents’ shared work, recording and archiving sounds of daily city life, the pleasure of capturing the world around them is passed on to their kids; especially their “boy”. It’s also interesting that through the father’s love of the Apaches, telling them seemingly magical stories of the long-ago, and the mother’s interest in helping recover the stories of “lost children” at the borders, those two worlds are amalgamated into one by the two siblings. Through skits, stories, and songs between the kids, they combine these two passions of their parents into a passion of their own. These are the major scenes that stuck out to me. However, the minute interactions reveal the same idea as well. By asking who “Jesus Fucking Christ” is by “the girl” or prodding about what’s the point of archiving by “the boy”, these two kids, with a safe and secure upbringing, are learning their parents’ beliefs and mannerisms and reproducing them page after page. However, we learn that not all children can be so lucky to have extensive and caring conversations with their parents.
The travel of the refuge child to the USA, revealed slowly through small snippets, is one that the child has to endure alone. In the case of Manuela and her two girls, they were left to find their way to the United States and reunite with their mother. However, as Border Patrol found the kids, they were detained and their whereabouts soon became unknown. I want to unpack how a traumatic journey and detainment to and in the US border could have detrimental psychological implications for mental growth and maturation. Braving the travel to the USA, usually by taking “La Bestia” (a railroad that is commonly used to take hopeful refugees to the border) is a route where children could become sick, injured, or even dead. If one manages to avoid those challenges, the effects of being detained, being captured and ultimately criminalized, could ruin a child’s perspective of the world around them. Wanting to be with their family or live in a place free from violence, the trauma experienced by children seeking refuge could lead to long term depression or other illnesses; not even including the potential to inhibit healthy mental maturation. Also, the heartache of being deported back to a dangerous place and erasing your chances at seeing a loved one in the USA is not only mentally damaging but physically dangerous as well.
Lost Children Archive tackles many issues regarding philosophical dilemmas of love, loss, deportation, identity, etc. However, through her juxtaposition of the life of children in America, safe and having parental guidance, to the life of a refugee, fending for their life and suffering through a dangerous journey, it’s apparent that the mentalities of a child are formed by the world they experience. This book not only speaks to how the refugee “crisis” of people seeking asylum in the United States is a threat to one’s security, but mental well-being and growth too