The portrait of desperation was captured on Monday by the journalist Julia Le Duc, in the hours after Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez drowned with his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, as they tried to cross from Mexico to the United States.
The image represents a poignant distillation of the perilous journey hundreds of thousands of migrants face on their passage north to the United States, and the tragic consequences that often go unseen in the loud and caustic debate over border policy.
(The New York Times, June 25, 2019)
Sadly, this is history repeating itself, which only compounds this tragedy. The following excerpt from “The Truth About Viral Image of (Another) Syrian Boy,” August 24, 2016, attests to this fact:
The Groundhog-Day spectre of this image belies the authoritative reporting, betrays the heartrending outrage, and befuddles the clarion calls.
After all, a boy, drowned at sea and washed ashore, became the image of the war in Syria last year. It too sent shock waves around the world, evoking similar calls. Remember that?
Hence the fleeting truth: this latest image shows that, despite the shock waves and outrage, those calls for action have gone unanswered. Which is why it’s only with forlorn hope that one can believe these calls won’t go unanswered too.
Meanwhile, thousands of Syrians – who have suffered, and are suffering, similar fates – are conspicuously absent from far too much of the reporting on and reaction to these two heartrending images. …
But I hasten to clarify that the Syrian boy who drowned was not even fleeing Syria. He was fleeing Turkey. Therefore, he had more in common with countless African migrants who also drowned in the Mediterranean Sea than with the Syrian boy who survived that bombing … in Syria.
As I indicated, many viral images preceded the viral image of that drowned Syrian boy. Clearly none of them did anything to prevent what will become the viral image of this drowned father and daughter. And this viral image of them will do nothing to prevent the next one.
But the point of my previous commentary is that hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants are dying every day. Except that no cameras are there to capture their tragic fate. (In fact, reports are that, in addition to those of this father and daughter, border guards recovered the bodies of several other migrants from the Rio Grande, including children, on that same day.)
Mind you, these heartrending images would not exist if our hearts were not already fatefully desensitized. Because only a nation numbed to human suffering could react with fleeting gawks at images of our government herding migrant mothers and children like two-legged swine.
I bemoaned this dehumanizing fact in “Separating Migrant Children from Parents. This is America … Too!” June 20, 2018. And don’t get me started on images that caused me to bemoan “African Migrants (Still) Turning Mediterranean Sea into a Vast Cemetery,” June 1, 2016.
No doubt these images retain the capacity to shock. But so do images of mass shootings. Yet we invariably move on from them like rubberneckers gawking at a crash on the highway.
Alas, we lost due regard for our shared humanity long ago – assuming we ever had it.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday at 10:07 p.m.