Repairing broken bonds: How families rebuild ties after migration

NEW YORK — After years of working as a street vendor in Jamaica, her native home, Claudette Higgins, 59, immigrated to the island of Antigua in 1994 for consistent and higher-paying work in the hotel industry to support her family.

At the time, her oldest child, Dwight, was 11 and her youngest, Roxanne, was barely a toddler. She had to leave them in the care of relatives in Jamaica. “I didn’t have the means to bring them," she said. "It was really hard."

Higgins regularly sent cash via money transfer services such as Western Union and Money Gram. When possible, she would send barrels full of clothing, food and other necessities to her children. Their relationship still suffered, she said with sadness in her voice.

“They knew me as their mother, but we didn’t have a mother-to-child relationship," she said. "They knew that their mother was in Antigua and that whoever was taking care of them was not their mother.”

After living and working in Antigua for 14 years, Higgins migrated once again to support her family, this time to the United States. She settled in the Bronx in 2008.

Now that her children are adults, their relationship has improved. They’ve shared painful memories of physical and verbal abuse suffered during her absence and how being apart for more than two decades has forever affected their lives.

“You know when you are not physically there and the child is not able to speak with you, the parent, one-on-one, it’s not the same because sometimes things happen that you’re not even aware of,” Higgins said with a heavy sigh, her voice cracking. "It made me very sad and angry."

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