Valdez: Border deaths reveal something positive about us (for once)
Linda Valdez: Giving those who die crossing the border a name and a face is as much about our national soul as it is about their memories.
Our treatment of migrants shows the best and worst of who we are as a nation.
Donald Trump's visit to California to visit prototypes of the border wall is one more example of the worst.
For the sake of our national spirit, we need to remember the best. Celebrate it.
This is the worst of who we are
Unfortunately, it’s far easier to see the assaults on our collective humanity.
This can be demoralizing to those who believe this country stands for something better. It can normalize insensitivity to human suffering.
The state of suspended animation in which the ruling GOP holds the "Dreamers" is one example.
I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of people who were brought here as children and have given their talents and energies to the United States. They are reduced to being pawns in political games.
Some say border deaths were deserved
Another example is the collective national shrug over the rising number of deaths along the border.
Actually, it’s worse than a shrug.
There is a mantra repeated by border hawks that says those who die got what they deserved – I get that message every time I write about this. I will get it again – along with epithets and insults.
I’m a big girl. I can take the nastiness.
Our national soul suffers
But there is larger issue here.
It is the bruising right cross to America's face. It is the mortal sin being committed against the Constitution’s challenge to work for a “more perfect union” and to “establish justice.”
There is the deep shadow cast across America by so-called political leaders for whom undocumented migrants and refugees exist only as sacrificial lambs to satisfy a nativist base.
Some shine a bright light
But there is light. We need to celebrate the light and the people who keep it shining.
There are groups like Humane Borders, No More Deaths and Samaritans who continue to help despite opposition from their government. There are churches that open their door and remember what sanctuary means.
And there are artists.
We should never forget the power of art to articulate truths that go too deep for words. The border has produced a great deal of poignant art and photojournalism.
Artists give a face to the dead
But I’m talking about artists who use their knowledge to give a face to the dead.
These artists who understand the importance to families and loved ones of getting answers to why their father, mother, brother, sister or child left for the Promised Land and was never heard from again.
Students at the New York Academy of Art are working with the Pima County Medical Examiner to help identify migrants who died along Arizona’s border with Mexico, according to a story by The Republic’s Lauren Castle.
They get replicas of skulls and use their knowledge of sculpture and anatomy to recreate faces in the hope that family members or others can identify the deceased.
It can be difficult to identify the remains of migrants found near the U.S.-Mexico border, but a collaborative project between the Pima County medical examiner and art students in New York is trying to change that.
This shows the best of who we are
From 2000 to 2017, the Pima County Medical Examiner handled the remains of 2,816 people who were believed to be migrant border crossers. Only 1,812 could be identified, according to Castle’s reporting.
There are likely many more dead that have not been counted or even found, as a USA TODAY Network report last year found.
The artists in this cooperative project hope to help identify people whose fate is a gnawing unknown for family and loved ones. The artists hope to provide the dead with the dignity of a name.
This is about more than the dead and the living who want the closure to mourn them.
This is about those who rise to the heartbreaking challenges of our failed immigration policies with their humanity intact.
It’s about the best of what we are.
Reach Linda Valdez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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