03 September 2007

To understand, you'd have to know Rodolfo

I watched him fumble through his wallet for a piece of identification, a photo, anything. He was proud of his education, that at one point he worked as a teacher, and he wanted to show me it was real. I couldn't help but think this man had spent a good chunk of his lifetime trying to prove himself. I couldn't stop thinking about that morning.

A Guatemalan photographer had documented the return of 21 coffins to the Guatemala City airport. The 21 young men were shot while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The photos were on display at a local center and I stared at the images of a crowd of people in the airport terminal clutching their mouths and looking on horrified as families stepped forward to claim the bodies. The story probably ran in the states as yet another successful catch by the U.S. Border patrol , how every American can sleep a little better knowing these men didn't make it into Texas. I stared at the photos that were hung in a narrow hallway and realized nobody else around me was talking. I couldn't help but think of the reactions this exhibit would receive back home.

The truth is, Americans most likely came across a small headline about how the border control is doing their job. What they won't see is these photos of the crying abuelitas back in Guatemala clutching their rosaries and tiptoing through the quiet rows of coffins to find their grandsons. They'll probably never see this incredible piece of humanity that silenced an entire hallway of people with its images, including me. Here, they weren't headlines, or statistics, or criminals.

They were people. Brothers. Fathers. Sons. People.

I'm not stupid enough to pretend i know the answers to the mess that is immigration between the United States and Latin America, I wouldn't even know where to begin, an estimated 3,000 people try to cross the border every day, about 300 actually make it, more than 1,000 undocumented immigrants who have left their homes in Central America are unaccounted for. Part of me has to wonder, when did this become okay? When did we start shooting people like animals and shipping them home in boxes?

Yes, there obviously needs to be some controls in place, but beneath all the politics, countless statistics, and crazy people patrolling the Arizona desert on their rifle-strapped-four-wheelers, it becomes pretty simple. immigration is the result of an economy that fails to support its people and we, as a nation, are telling them no, they can't cross our borders and work towards a better life, and if you want us to spell it out for you we will, in the form of 21 coffins.

Again, underneath all the politics, it becomes even more simple.

There's an old man living in Guatemala who hasn't seen his family in at least 20 years. His name is Rodolfo and he has a son in California and he would go live with him if he could, but he doesn't have enough time left on this earth to wait jump through all the hoops it would take to go through the U.S. legal system. So he comes to this cafe everyday and eats a danish and coffee and makes small talk with the women behind the counter. He used to be a teacher and in his younger years, he was actually pretty good looking. He has a great sense of humor because there's no use wasting time thinking about a family and grandkids.

They might as well not exist.

From the exhibit.

1 comment:

lackofintellect said...

Incredible pictures and an amazing story, I know some people who work the border patrol. It's a crappy job, and the attitude that they bring back with them is astonishing to say the least.

Thanks for the pictures and story.