For almost a decade during her childhood, Melissa Elias communicated with her mother mainly through phone calls – or she’d hear from her when she received goods sent in a shipping barrel.
“I remember the barrels…there were a lot of foodstuffs she (my mother) would send. She would send sneakers and clothing. But I don’t remember her visiting that often,” Elias said.
Her mother, like what many other Caribbean immigrants have done and continue to do, migrated to the United States for better job opportunities. She left Elias, then six, and her baby brother in the care of their grandmother in Trinidad and Tobago.
They were to be reunited once her mother was settled, but it was not until Elias was 15 years old and her grandmother passed away that she joined her mother in Brooklyn, New York.
“It was difficult coming here as a teenager. It was very difficult to adjust and I had some issues with my mother… Really I didn’t know her,” Elias said.
“I always wished I had the choice to stay in Trinidad and finish off my schooling, stay with my friends and other family members. I was angry that I didn’t have that choice.”
The children left behind when parents move to another country and receive material support instead of emotional support and direct care are often referred to as “barrel children” — a term Jamaican sociologist Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown coined in the ’90s.