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If He Had Fled Mexico, Elian Would Be a Nobody

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By Gabrielle Banks (posted April 27,2000)
The San Jose Mercury News
Submitted by Charles Brown

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.
-- Reprinted from The San Jose Mercury News 2/20/00

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.

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