Cipotes, patojos and escuincles: They’re all still children

Text and photos by guest blogger Vicki B. Gaubeca



Last summer, I met a young woman from Honduras—I’ll call her Esperanza, because she gave me hope. We were in the now closed make-shift family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where in six months the Obama Administration locked up about 1,200 Central American mothers and their children who had fled from rape, violence and death in their home countries and who sought safety in the United States. About two-thirds were children, with an average age of six and a half.

I had met with Esperanza several times before, but this time I was interviewing her about the conditions of confinement there. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regularly visited the facility to monitor due process and other civil rights, along with checking whether or not the women and children were receiving adequate health care and schooling, among other things.

As Esperanza described some of the conditions, she pointed to her two children, an emaciated 4-year-old boy and her 12-year-old daughter, calling them cipotes. I had not heard this word before, so she explained that cipotes is a term for children in Honduras and in El Salvador.

We talked about the many regional Spanish language differences throughout Latin America. We noted how children were called patojos in Guatemala and bichos and güiros in Honduras. I told her how in Mexico they use escuincles and, in Northern states, huercos and bukis. We smiled at mocosos and chamacos.

Her daughter, though, sat next to her with a somber expression and a far-away glance.

“She’s been depressed and has been acting out a lot,” said Esperanza. “I don’t know what to do (no sé qué hacer); I myself am feeling a strong depression coming on—una depresión fuerte.”


Esperanza was one of thousands of mothers who in the last year hastily grabbed their children and fled the violence in their home countries. Her journey was long and treacherous and upon crossing the border near McAllen, Texas, she was relieved, thinking she landed in the safe arms of a compassionate nation. Here her children could go to school without fear of being beaten, raped, killed or coerced into a gang.

Our conversations made me reflect on my own experience driving through the port-of-entry in McAllen, Texas, almost 30 years ago. White privilege allowed me to drive across quickly and without complications. In fact, the hardest part of my journey was the traffic leaving Mexico City. Not unlike Esperanza, I came to the United States full of dreams and hopes. I had grown up thinking this a fair and just nation that protected its most vulnerable and rewarded self-initiative and hard work.

And yet, President Obama’s response has been to jail mothers and children. Before June 2014, there were less than 100 beds for family detention in Berks County, Pennsylvania. But, in a stunning reversal of policy, the Administration has expanded family detention to nearly 3,200 beds, in less than a year.

The Administration has justified this action by saying that this will deter more from coming.  This is both immoral and unlawful. Our nation should not be deporting people without due process or jailing and setting unreasonably high bonds.
It’s not easy to move – to pack up everything and go to a new place takes courage – but you do it to provide for your family. Many of the mothers who were in Artesia, and who are now in Dilley, Karnes and Berks, came here to protect their children and to give them a better future.

We are better than this. We cannot quietly watch the erosion of America’s core values of family, fairness, freedom, and justice. Join us in reaching out to elected leaders to end family detention. Free women and children so that they can be with their families in the United States while they await their immigration proceedings. Our children, cipotes, escuincles and chamaquillos deserve justice and freedom.


Vicki B. Gaubeca directs the ACLU of New Mexico Regional Center for Border Rights. She is a U.S.-Mexico dual national and a passionate advocate for civil, human, border, LGBTQ and immigrant rights.