There are photographs whose value far exceeds thousands of words, whose pixels prick our collective conscience, whose focus changes the way we look at our world. And on the green banks of the muddy Rio Grande, where Mexicans and others have long striven to cross for a better life in the US, once more such an image has been mortally cast — Oscar Alberta Martinez Ramirez locked in a fatal embrace with his 23-month-old daughter Valeria. Both drowned trying to swim that river, the toddler’s arm draped around his neck, clinging to him in their last fearful moments on this earth as the hope of a new life subsided in those waters.
Yes, there are similarities being drawn to the searing image of little Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing the turmoil of Iraq and Syria in 2015. The cacophony then was deafening, but fell on the unhearing ears of European authorities who closed their eyes and turned their backs on the flotsam of refugees seeking safe haven on their shores.
Is the brightly burning beacon atop the Statue of Liberty to be fully doused in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande?
Since then, Europe has lurched to the right. And while refugees still come, they are held in cages in Bosnia, rebuked by razor wire in Hungary, and rescue ships cast away to the seas from Italian ports on the orders of its Interior Minister. But the image of the Ramirez’s is one that happened not on the high seas. No, it is from where the eddies of the Rio Grande lap the banks of the US, where the land of the free begins and the nightmares endured by millions, collide in a last watery bid for a better life.
Will those who profess righteousness in their pursuit of American freedoms hear the cries of those who risk life itself in pursuit of an American dream — an illegal alien who fears every knock on a door, any brush with authority?
For years those who pontificate populism in the US have dreamed of building walls, fortifying borders, ridding the nation of those who hold no papers. The reality is that America has been built on the sweat of the undocumented, the toil of the illegals and the bones of a nation whose history is forged by people from every corner of the world who then flocked there in pursuit of their dreams too.
Or is the brightly burning beacon atop the Statue of Liberty to be fully doused in the muddy waters of the Rio Grande?