By Katie Elmore
Elmore is a teaching associate in the Education Department of Roanoke College.
An Open Letter to Ken Cuccinelli and any one else who believes Oscar Martinez is at fault for his own death:
Like you, and millions of others, I saw that photo. It is etched into my brain. I cannot un-see it, try as I may. It creeps into my sleep and spills from my eyes.
Your response, as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was to make a public statement on how Oscar was responsible for his daughter Valeria’s death and his own because he did not respect our laws. Maybe you make such statements, so your own sleep won’t be interrupted, but I think you may honestly believe there is truth in what you say.
I would like to frame it another way for you. But I will warn you. Should you decide to view Oscar’s death in this new way, your heart will open, and your deepest humanity will be tapped. It can be incredibly painful to allow yourself to be this human. The pain is necessary, however, for it is the only way the light gets into the darkness. Let’s give that reframing a try, shall we?
First, let’s talk about laws. Yes, they are necessary for safety and order in a civilized society. I was an elementary school teacher for many years. Believe me, I get the importance of rules. We wrote our classroom rules every year on the very first day of school. Our number rule, by the way, was “Be Kind.” Even young children can recognize the importance and beauty of kindness. Here’s a cool thing about laws: They can be changed. Sometimes, when the powers-that-be become wiser and tap into that deep, shared humanity, they realize that laws about slavery, or segregation, or voting rights, or marriage equality must be changed. So they change them. Sometimes it takes a revolution to change the laws. Perhaps this is such a time?
Secondly, lets talk about Oscar. I cannot pretend to know the level of desperation Oscar faced to move him on such a difficult, perilous journey. But I am a mother, so I do understand the overpowering love you can feel for another person. It’s a love where you would give everything, even your own life, for your child to have even a fleeting chance. I have been to El Salvador, Oscar’s home country. I have seen that level of poverty and despair with my own privileged eyes. Oscar needed our help, not our blame. Perhaps it is time to look at how our country’s policies have hurt Latin American countries? Perhaps we can find in our plenty, enough to share with our neighbors? Perhaps we can give them some hope?
Finally, let’s talk a bit more about our shared humanity. Somehow, millions of us have forgotten a fundamental Truth: even with all our perceived differences, we are ONE. Even if we put up walls to shut others out, even if we divide ourselves along political lines, even if we dehumanize those seeking our help, the Truth of our common humanity remains. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, calls this oneness “The Universal Christ” in all of us. The Buddha calls the awareness of it “nirvana”. Others simply call it “light” or “love”. Words are inadequate, so pick whichever one serves you best. The Truth remains: Oscar Martinez and Donald Trump are the same. You and I, Mr. Cuccinelli, we are the same. Valeria was not just Oscar’s child, she was yours and mine. We belong to each other.
If you are brave enough, sit quietly for a moment and try to tap into that deepest part of yourself, that part where the light still lives. Trust me, it may be hidden deep, but it is there. When you reach it, you will feel a space open up inside. That is all the fear you have held onto so tightly leaving your being…fear of “other”, fear that there will not be “enough”, fear of loss of power and control. When the fear is gone, there is only room for love. And that, dear Mr. Cuccinelli, is the only hope we have for fully living the lives we were created to live. I urge you to please start right away. The evolution can sometimes take a while. I wish you well on your journey to becoming more fully human.