In The News: Welcome Children
October 5, 2015
A two-year-old child in a red tee shirt and blue short pants lies with his face half-submerged in the tide on the shore of a beach in Bodrum, Turkey. There is a stark vulnerability evident in the child’s posture, his left hand lies palm facing the sky in the form of supplication. He has drowned.
A boy who is twelve. He lies at the bottom of a ravine alongside the Aguas Negras River in Guatemala City and his legs are broken, he has not died (he will die two weeks later in hospital from his wounds). He wears his school uniform of khaki pants and white shirt. I can’t see his face for it is hidden in his father’s shoulder. The father holds the son; the father's terrible grief is palpable in the expression on his face.
These two images of children align in my mind. The one galvanizing (for a time) empathy for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, including the child, fleeing wars in the Middle East and seeking safety and asylum in Europe. The other largely unseen: I found it in a small Spanish-language newspaper and it did not travel, like an icon, along the circuits of the world wide web to tell of the child in Guatemala (and others similar to him in Honduras and El Salvador) where the rates of intentional homicide—“a reasonable proxy for violent crime, as well as a robust indicator of levels of security within states”—are the highest on record, and where impunity for crime, rampant extortion and extreme poverty are the norm. Thousands of children and adults arrive at the US border every month seeking refuge, many of them fleeing gang violence. Some of the children travel without their parents as “unaccompanied minors.”
The boy’s name was Ángel Ariel. He was kidnapped by several gang members near his school and taken to an unknown location. He was told that he had to kill someone while in their custody, or that he would be killed (a common “initiation" strategy among the gangs in the Northern Triangle). Ángel Ariel was ordered to find and murder a bus driver. When the twelve-year-old refused to comply, he was given a choice of how die—either by machete or fall from a bridge. His father, the aggrieved man in the photograph cradling his son, was a bus driver in the capital. The trauma to the boy’s head from the 450 foot drop was the final cause of his death.
In the spring, I interviewed a seventeen-year-old girl from Guatemala City. Her father had been murdered by unknown assailants who afterwards threatened her until, afraid for her life, she fled the country. “They tried to kill me twice,” she said, “but no one can talk about it. Everyone is too afraid.” She showed me a small photograph of her father.
“I never understood why they wanted to hurt me,” she told me. “I have nightmares.”
The lines intersect in my head—of the children I am interviewing in Oakland who came here fleeing violence in Central America, and the others I read of in the news. I have no images or metaphors to link them on the page in beauty or greater understanding although I wish that I had. Henry Miller said, “It is man’s task to eradicate the homicidal instinct, which is infinite in its ramifications and manifestations …every war is a defeat to the human spirit.”
This morning while I worked at my desk, I found it difficult to concentrate. No flow of language or images cascaded in my imagination for a powerful story. The Syrian and Guatemalan boys receded even. It was hot in my office, almost ninety degrees in September, because the temperature in my city was increasing each year and it was hotter than it had ever been.
The door to my office was ajar because of the heat. I wanted only a beer and to knock off for the day but thought I needed to first “get something done.” Soon it was almost noon. A large black fly came into my small space. It buzzed loudly around my head and hit the walls and windows and no matter how I tried to direct the animal out of the door, for it distracted me further from my writing, the stupid animal was entrapped by his inability to see the obvious opening to the outside.
In current times we have “enslaved ourselves by our own petty, circumscribed view of life.”
This summer, when I attended a conference about unaccompanied minors who are currently seeking asylum in the US, the first person to speak, the head of a Catholic charity, stood at the microphone for several moments and looked out at us calmly. Then he said, simply, “Welcome children.”
17 September 2015
 https://www.unodc.org/documents/gsh/pdfs/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf 9.
 Miller, Henry. Colossus of Maroussi. London: Minerva, 1991. 85-86