Monday, October 28, 2013

Drowning While Breathing Air

elian gonzalez miami
Drawing by yours truly.

Rewind to 1999. Elian Gonzalez, his mother and her boyfriend came over from Cuba on a small aluminum boat that started taking in water. The mother drowned but the boy survived when he was placed on an inner tube and was miraculously rescued by fishermen in the Florida straits.

Word on the street was that he was guided by dolphins. It's not surprising. We know dolphins are incredibly sensitive, empathetic creatures, although they can also by very aggressive.

A custody battle ensued between Elian's biological father and the U.S. over who should keep the child. Miami was rife with controversy and many protests took place near Little Havana, where Elian lived temporarily with relatives. People left signs and flowers at the humble home, which still stands.

Eventually, Elian returned to Cuba, but not before a heated political debate and an eventual intervention when U.S. border patrol agents burst through the front door to send a very frightened little boy back to the communist nation.

The media didn't focus much on the mother and that saddened me. She did what she thought was best for her son, which any mother can understand. The feeling in her heart when she was about to go under -- releasing her son to the will of God and fate in that perilous crossing -- is what I tried to capture in this drawing. At the time, no one in the court of public opinion really honored her sacrifice.

After I drew this, I asked my parents -- who were then cogent and able bodied -- to put a copy of this drawing on the doorstep at a protest they attended.  I don't know if Elian ever saw it.

And I revisit this drawing now because this is what it feels like to take care of two Alzheimer's patients who have been married since 1950 and also came from Cuba. My parents didn't plan on me. I was an accident, post-exile.

They had me later in life, close their forties, near the age I am now.

Maybe I am the dolphin who is carrying them afloat to their final days in the most compassionate way possible.

It's just that sometimes I wish I had my own dolphins to save me.

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