Saturday, October 02, 2010

Fragile thoughts on the 16th anniversary of the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper

By Pedro Ríos

He has a name. That man who could not take it anymore has a name but I don’t recall it. He left his home because he could not understand how his dignity no longer had meaning in an irrational world. Irrational because in order for his family to survive, he had to leave them behind, taking with him the mementos that would convince him in the barren desert that once he felt human. A tattered picture of his young family, maybe her handkerchief with the sweet smell of home, the one that held his last meal, or that lasting memory – the moment under that October harvest moon when they prayed their final goodbyes.

In the desert, while the heat scorched, blackening his skin, shrinking and shriveling it, and in spite of this, the memory of his child holding back the tears because his mother told him to do so, “sonríe, pa’ que tu apá te vea que eres valiente.” This memory, I imagine, until his last breath, but I really don’t know because our history makes him nameless so that we too become less human.

His final breath a scratchy gasp of desert sand. In the desert the fading sounds of his life in pure agony, alone. Nameless in history, just some John Doe on a brick tablet in a paupers grave, but a legacy of systemic displacement and death that blot our backyard deserts and mountains.

He was the first one.

At the coroners office we were not permitted to identify the body. We didn’t know if Areli was there. Don Concepción, who traveled from that rural pueblito of Mazatlán in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, would not know this October evening if his daughter, Areli, was the scorched unidentifiable body inside the plastic body bag, a victim of the inferno in 2007 that blazed San Diego County for two weeks. This gave him hope. Hope that Areli was not with the three groups of migrants who were trapped in the merciless firestorms that first ravaged the backcountry and eventually reached cookie cutter homes outlining San Diego communities. Hope that somehow she made it out safely, was hiding somewhere for fear that she would be detected and sent back to the desperation that pushed her to leave. Hope that Areli would one day marry, have children, grandchildren that he could hold, caress, feel their soft breath on his chest, be content.

Three days later, the local paper read: “Identifican a 4 mexicanos que murieron en incendio forestal.” Two months later, DNA results would confirm Areli perished as a result of injuries sustained trying to escape the firestorms.

Sobre una pared de metal un día me agarre pintando las imágenes del Operativo Guardián, guiándome con un pincel viejo, de madera enmohecido por sangre que escurría por sus pelos de alambre.

Sobre esa pared de acero, una vuelca de carro; los cadáveres sin nombre; la golpiza al migrante; el desangrado; el olvidado; la violada; los deportados; las balas expansivas que mutilan los cuerpos; más cadáveres; muro, tras muro, tras muro; los cucusclans disfrazados de neonazis cazamigrantes; los naufragios; sueños frustrados convertidos en pesadillas; la razón sin razón; la violencia normalizada; la sociedad acostumbrada e apaciguada…

Sobre esa pared escalofriante, las imágenes del Operativo Guardián duelen, arden, y detrás del suspiro, apenas sin ocultar la necesidad de un semblante de justicia, se escucha esta petición desesperada…

¿Cómo carajos hemos permitido esto?


Pedro Ríos is the director of the American Friends Service Committee's U.S.-Mexico Border Program in San Diego, California.

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