By Gabrielle Banks (posted April 27,2000)
Wmedia frenzy over the custody of
6-year-old Elian ith the current Gonzalez, I got to
thinking what would happen if, instead of landing in
Florida, Elian had shown up in California. What if, on
Thanksgiving Day, a rusty, dilapidated van under hot
pursuit by the Border Patrol, had plowed into the median
of Interstate 5, killing 10 people, including Elian's
mother and her boyfriend? The would be no bleary-eyed
testimonials from witnesses that Elian's van was guided
along the freeway by angelic Ford Escorts. Or, what if
Elian had crossed the border on foot, past the new and
improved 14-foot fence, along the rustic mountain route,
only to be discovered by a livid dentist whose petunias
he had brazenly trampled? Would the neighbors drop by
with toys and homemade pies? Would Mexican expatriates
extol the virtues of the boy's mother for fleeing dire
poverty under a less-than-democratic one-party
government? In former Gov. Pete Wilson's utopian
California, the West Coast Elian would be barred from
school and turned away from getting his cuts and bruises
treated at the local clinic. Rep. Dan Burton, Sen. Jesse
Helms and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott would declare
that Elian's reunification with his great-uncle was
putting an unacceptable strain on federal resources.
President Clinton, of course, wouldn't take a stand.
Attorney General Janet Reno would wait it out. And on the
day of Elian's capture, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo
Ponce de Leon would be sure to have his top aides
monitoring the U.S. press for and sign of fluctuation in
the price of silicon chips. "Dateline NBC"
would not be digging up home movies of Elian's childhood
in the slums of Mexico City. There'd be no talk of his
mother's dying wish to settle in the United States.
Instead, mothers would publicly criticize her for risking
such a perilous trip with a child in tow. There would be
no outrage over the boy's right to live a life free from
the universal tyranny of poverty. No one would take
advantage of the open opportunity to question the
long-standing U.S. embargo on humane border policy. The
truth is, if Elian came to California, he would disappear
into oblivion. He'd be called an alien instead of a
refugee. If Elian's dad wanted him back, he wouldn't even
have to ask. By the time Mr. Gonzalez got to the
processing station at the border, he'd be just in time to
meet Elian as he stepped off the first police wagon back.
San Francisco writer Gabrielle Banks has been a teacher and community organizer on both sides of the border. Her article "The Tattooed Generation: Salvadoran Children Bring Home American Gang Culture" is in the current issue of Dissent magazine.