When we buried you 14 years ago, I silently swore to myself that your death would not be in vain.
It was only a few years prior in high school that you had spoken so proudly and optimistically of enlisting to me and our friends. To be a Marine, you said, was the ultimate expression of loyalty to a country that had bestowed your Mexican-born parents with citizenship and who in turn were able to provide you a chance at achieving the American Dream.
I’ll never forget when you stopped by campus after basic training the following year, straight-faced, fit, and handsome in your uniform. Or your mother’s tamales and the ice-cold Tecate that we savored together at your going away party. Or the handwritten letters we exchanged by mail, a tradition that ended abruptly but one that I dearly miss (and try to revive on days like today).
As we approach the anniversary of your death, it pains me to admit that our country is likely much worse off now than when you were deployed in 2004. Even more disturbing is that our national leadership seems to invest disproportionate effort into shaming men, women, and children who share your heritage than it does in honoring the sacrifices made by you and your fellow paisanos in the name of this country.
Where do I begin?
We’ve elected a president who not only makes scathing remarks about the people of your parents’ country of birth but has insulted the grief-stricken families of fallen soldiers, like you.
We’ve violated human rights accords by denying asylum to tens of thousands of your sisters and brothers who are presently fleeing abject violence and poverty. We send men and women to the border in uniform like you, to tear gas those desperately seeking safety, including children.
We’ve imprisoned tens of thousands every day (and well over one million since you’ve been gone), including children who have been torn from their parents, in a privatized system of immigrant detention whose existence is predicated on profit-seeking motives.
We’ve been complicit with immigration enforcement policies that promote racial profiling as well as stop and frisk practices by law enforcement that target (and exact widespread violence and death on) communities of color.
Rather than honoring the contributions of immigrants and their children —many of whom have served in our military— our country has clung to nativist fears and propels forward the project of white nationalism.
In memorializing you, I’m simultaneously overwhelmed by how much there is to repent.