Oscar, I am sorry we couldn’t keep you for longer. We tried so hard. You worked your ass off. I always believed in you, and I always will.
It’s nice to tell the stories of your many talents and achievements, of your good looks and charm, of your loving spirit and the joy you brought into every room. But just as important, if not more, is the story of how hard you tried, in the face of racism and violence and a world that didn’t provide for you as you deserved, as every child deserves. Even though we tried. We must ask ourselves, how can we do better? How can we better love the children, the people, with us now?
There is a story I was told by someone who loves you. They saw you being arrested, for stealing a 99-cent iced tea. You were handcuffed and being put into a police car, and the shame on your face was heartbreaking.
You stood so tall when I visited you in the boy’s camp, run like a prison. There was not a white boy to be seen. You were allowed one short call per week that I had to split with your dad (is there no end to the systems that don’t get divorce?). They severely restricted what I could send, especially pictures(!!). Still, you thrived by their measures, you rocked your dawn calisthenics and bulked up, made friends, wrote your lyrics, and excelled under close watch, perfectly polite and respectful “Yes, sir,” loved by the authorities. They marched you boys around, uniformed, in a straight line, with your hands behind your back, chanting “we’re your family now.” It was horrifying.
When they threatened to send you back, something even I supported because I was desperate and did not know how to help you, you wrote the judge in fear of another absence of months: “I have missed family member birthdays, anniversaries, the birth of my cousins….” These systems isolate you, to break you, they break us apart.
All I have are memories and your words that you have left behind. Letters, lyrics, and in some the shame is too much for me to bear. “I understand that I have made many mistakes, but I was also doing some right…. I want to show my family I’m worth something... that I will grow up to be someone.” Oh my sweet baby. No child should ever feel their worth so low.
--->>That last line was for the people who are still here today. No child should ever feel their worth so low. NO SHAME. There is always another way. And if the damage is done, take ten times the effort and ten times the hours you spent on shame and spend it on LOVE. <---
Four years ago you had your last birthday. 17 years old. I mourn all the years you were robbed of, but I also grieve for you. The pain you experienced. I fear that as they were murdering you that you felt shame. Can you imagine?
It is your birthday, and a version of this post was all about you, Oscar. But it is also my birthday, because I was born along with you. I was 17 when you said hello from my belly. I was such a little girl who didn’t know anything. I had no idea about the kinds of choices I would face, or the fear and suffering that can come from loving someone so much and feeling so helpless in circumstances beyond my control. I did not know what shame had done to me, what impact it would have on me as a woman and mother, did not understand what was being done to you. I fought for you, I begged for help, but I wish I knew what I did now.
I turn 40 in April. What does the future hold for me? My son has lived and died. I have his memory to carry forward, and I continue to fight for justice in my job, in my life. I work every day to live into values of being open, creative, loving. We --- the collective “we,” not just recognized parents with living children -- must create a world worthy of the life we have been blessed with.
It’s easiest here to end with a call for more love. To recognize shame, stop it in its tracks, find another way. I’m including that. But also, devil is in the details:
MS-13 killed my son, but they are not animals. They are human beings who need to be held accountable for their actions. Dehumanizing rhetoric is so old, been used for centuries as a justification to destroy entire peoples. You could see it coming from the moment Trump started the flag-waving around MS-13 as happened in 9/11. Trump’s violence is far more dangerous than anything MS-13 has done. He has used them to justify separating families at the border, and increase racial profiling and criminalization of our youth, something Oscar was already a victim of before MS-13! It is not ironic.
This is not over, and it’s on us. Aside from whatever is happening on the national political stage, and at the border, we must continue the fight for racial equity in our juvenile “justice” systems, in child welfare, in school district resourcing, in gun control, suicide prevention, recognizing all family structures and people for who they really are, evolving our strategies for transformative justice that do not rely on existing power dynamics. We have to believe in something better and act as if it is possible, every day. Today, at 21 years of age, Oscar would be considered an adult, and that is what I would want to convey to him.
No human being is illegal. Migration is beautiful. It is because your father’s family migrated here that you exist, you beautiful Mexican American, Italian American, California boy. We love you forever, Oscar, thank you for your light <3