I am sitting in a cafe on St Aldates when I first read about Valeria Luiselli’s work. It is almost eleven pm, closing time, and it is raining outside. The bus back home has not arrived, and if it doesn’t show up soon, I will need to walk back. 

Home, I keep thinking, what is home for me now?

I am 25, I have lived in four cities, in three different countries, and two continents. I consider all of them my home, tiny pieces of it anyway, which means that in a way, a very strange, non-comforting way, I will never be at home, not quite. I will always be missing someone’s birthday party, someone’s graduation, or a Sunday family gathering. On some not-so-fortunate occasions, I will also be missing funerals and doctor’s appointments. And I wonder, is it worth it?

This is the question that haunts me. It shows up at random throughout the day and leaves in a rush, yet it visits me more than I would like it to. It comes to me at night when I can’t sleep because I am too worried about my career or the aimless direction I seem to have fallen into. Trying to write for a living, getting paid once in a while, flying back to Mexico, saving money, staying for a few months, and venturing back into strange lands. It comes to me when I think about Mexico City, my homeland, and the way politicians have overrun it. The way we have let them overrun it.

It is in this frame of mind that I first came across Valeria Luiselli’s work, starting with her debut,  “Faces in the Crowd”. A novel about immigration, ghosts, lust, poetry and above all, about dying–perhaps not literally but also not metaphorically–dying, when you leave an empty space at the dinner table whilst looking for a better future elsewhere. How that breaks you into infinite little pieces. Infinite lives. 

Once, this novel felt both comforting and validating. It still does, and for obvious reasons, I would recommend it to almost anyone who has lived in more than one place for an extended period of time. However, it was not until I read the “Lost Children Archive”, and “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions” that I got the full picture of her work. Valeria Luiselli is a writer who deals with immigration on a very personal level so that you cannot look away when you are faced with the reality and discomfort of it.

Both “Lost Children Archive and “Tell Me How It Ends” deal with the journey children take from Central America and Mexico to, hopefully, reunite with their families in the United States. Fathers, mothers, or uncles who have been running from violence and poverty all their lives and who will risk getting deported if it means the rest, or a tiny part of their family, will find a peaceful place in the new and strange land. This transforms Luiselli’s work in my mind, it becomes something tangible that not only holds me and comforts me, but also poses the question –is it worth it? Is it worth it to exchange one life for another? To sacrifice family and friends, love and grief, to maybe achieve a sense of financial stability; reclaim the safety you lost when you were a child? For the right to walk home alone at night, or see your sister happy and far away from the atrocities that you hear on the radio? Atrocities that she would otherwise have to endure for the sole reason of being a woman. And the answer is simple, if not easy. It is worth it.

“Tell Me How It Ends is an essay where Luiselli retells her experience working as a translator for undocumented children who have managed to cross the border and find their relatives living in the US. In it, Luiselli skilfully engages the audience by constructing the essay according to the forty questions children must answer for the government to decide if they have a strong case for seeking refuge in the country. That is what these children are, they are not immigrants without papers, nor a problem for the government to get rid of and toss over to the nearest country. This is not implying that the problem relies on one country, but rather on both the Mexican and the American governments, the two major players in what the media describes as a migratory crisis (a vocabulary that to me, only desensitises the urgency of the lives it won’t provide with a voice, or face). Most of these children are no older than fifteen, and some of them are no older than five. They are refugees, but most of the time, it seems it is easier for us to pretend they are not there. This is the book that showed me what migration is, far beyond my experience. Migration, regular or not, can be as harrowing as staying in your home country. And somehow, it is worth it. 

“Lost Children Archive”, the author’s first novel in English, portrays these stories and hardships by telling the story of a marriage in shambles, and the road trip they take with their children to follow the trail of the last Apache people, eventually entwining their personal story with that of the children that cross the South-American jungles, ride on top of trains—also known as ‘the Beast’ by migrants—face possible slavery, walk through the barren desert to cross the Chihuahuan desert to get away from the horrors that inhabit their worlds; organised crime, gangs and extreme poverty. A story that is as beautiful and tender as it can be harrowing and despairing, one that I would hate to consider fictional only because it does not portray those lives as biographical. One that matters not only for the lives it portrays but also for those it cannot. Those who will never be given a voice.

Both novels exist in the same space–the same world. The one we inhabit. And there is no looking away from that. It is a world where international governments that pride themselves on equality, peace, and the safeguarding of lives turn away when these principles are no longer convenient.Is it worth it? I ask myself over and over as I write this piece, all while I sit in a coffee shop in what I once considered a strange land. But, in the last year alone, I have left two continents twice, left three countries and said goodbye to friends and family, not knowing when I will see them again. Some that I know I will never see again. As I recall their faces, sometimes blurry in my mind, send voice notes in different languages and decode what their experiences and mine mean, I realise how fortunate I am. No matter where I am, I will always have a home to return to. And that brings me back to the thousands of children who will never find their homes, be it in a place, a person, or a community. Children who never reach their countries’ borders; the ones who never find their relatives. Like many people, when I think about these children, I am hoping for a happy ending, a conclusion that says it is worth it, for me and for them. But things must change, and should be given visibility, children must be treated like human beings, because for it all to be worth it, a happy end needs to be an option.