How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?: Migrant Caravan, Tear Gas, and Politics

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?: Migrant Caravan, Tear Gas, and Politics December 3, 2018

Photo by Martino Pietropoli on Unsplash

Recently, U.S. border agents released tear gas to deter the migrant caravan* members from throwing projectiles at them and storming the border.
An image of a woman, Maria Meza, and her young children struggling to escape the tear gas struck many, including me.

Some see people like Maria as a problem. Others see humans.

I felt appalled and hurt. My heart felt weighted down in concern for the family.

Filled with anger and grief, I thought, “What kind of evil throws tear gas at little children?”

Then, this question inspired more questions.
I decided to look into the different perspectives on this matter.

Much of mainstream news media and politicians have been manipulating the masses over this issue and immigration.

In this post, I discuss three points about how the migrant caravan story has been used to garner and reinvigorate support for left and right political agendas, leaving the system of racism intact and the system of immigration broken.

1. Supporting a Grand Narrative

As for the left, the media has portrayed the individuals making up the caravan as mostly women and young children and a mass of people seeking asylum. Furthermore, they use this story to support their overarching narrative of an “evil racist president,” who tear gasses mothers and babies at the border and with a cold heart refuses to help innocent and poor People of Color.

On the right, the media has portrayed the caravan as ruthless men, who are criminals and gang members… even going as far as to link them to Muslim extremists. This rhetoric supports their overarching narrative of “holy man and strong leader,” seeking to protect the physical and economic interests of the nation. They suggest that the primary focus on Black and Brown immigrants has nothing to do with racism.

To top it off, Christians on both sides toss in their share of Jesus guilt and emotional manipulation to support these extremely narrow constructs.

2. Slowing Down the Tear Gas Conversation

I had questions about the evil I viewed crying out in a picture. Nevertheless, I think it is important to try to slow down the conversation to avoid hitting the accelerator on the political bandwagon.

Maria and Her Children: Villains or Victims

When I saw the picture of the Maria Meza and her children, I did not see terrorists or gang members threatening the country. I saw a woman in desperation and hope trying to make a better life for the family. I witnessed a moment of how trauma occurs in young children.

Are we to think that Meza and her young children are gang members or terrorists?

Did you know that her three-year-old child, who was not in the picture, passed out from the gas in his lungs?
Maria Meza is attempting to reach the children’s father, who resides in Louisiana.

I can empathize with wanting to have the children connect with their father. I thought about how during the aftermath of U.S. Civil War, Black people searched to reunite with their family who had been ripped apart by the slavery system.

From one perspective, I can empathize with the desperation in trying to make something happen like storm the border.

I empathize with the desperation that would drive someone to make the dangerous trek to enter a country illegally or legally through the safety of a group.

The Humanity of Border Agents

From another perspective, the border patrol ag are humans, too.
Do you want someone knocking your friend or love one upside the head?
Does wearing protective gear give people permission to assault them?

Did the border agents give warning? Are they required to provide warnings prior to using tear gas when people throw projectiles?
Were the agents overreacting?
Did the agents intend to target children? Could they see them?

From my understanding, the area is vast. It is possible that the woman and children, who approached the border fence in an area where people were not in an altercation with border agents, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is possible that in the border agents’ attempts to stop the attack, deployed tear gas in one broad sweep, potentially impacting people who peacefully approached the border fence.

If people try to storm the border and throw items at the border agents, violent actions do not help create the image of victims seeking asylum.

Therefore, more questions arise: Should border agents be bludgeoned to death because people want a job in the United States? Or are they supposed to stand there and be pelted by whatever items peaceful victims decide to hurl at them to force their way?

See the trouble with narrow constructions of people? They do not fit so well when we slow down the conversation.

Who Tear Gassed Better: Obama or Trump?

While the political right has contended that the Obama administration used the same methods during his administration, the left has refuted that the administration refrained from using tear gas on children.

I feel relief that the border agents did not take the U.S. president’s troublesome words to heart and used lethal force. Instead of fighting over which side tear gassed immigrants better, Obama or Trump, we have a more alarming issue over the current presidents violent rhetoric in this situation.

No matter where you stand politically, something is undoubtedly disturbing with this reasoning and rationale of opening fire on people who throw rocks.

Considering my discussion about the safety of border agents, I am aware that stones can be lethal.  Yet,  In a game of rock, paper, guns, the guns will win. 
For some, who have allowed uninterrogated racist beliefs about People of Color to harden their hearts, they do not think twice about this disturbing rhetoric.

As for the arguments about the use of force against people attempting to storm the border, had the border agents opened fire, I think we would have a stronger case for excessive force and… and even evil.

Think about it: If most folks in the United States assaulted or tried to storm anything involving law enforcement, we would be lucky and blessed if all we got was tear gas.
It would be a police miracle!

If you are Black, it would be a Black Lives Miracle!
In the United States, numbers of unarmed Black people threw nothing at police and end up getting killed, anyway.

As an unauthorized immigrant, you can throw projectiles, storm the border, and get a slap on the wrist.

Now, that’s some good ol’ neoliberal racism right there.

When we are all jacked up on liberal and conservative beverage equivalents to Mountain Dew, it is difficult for us to question because we are captive to our emotions and the grand narratives we have come to believe.

3. Neither Criminals Nor Angels

Approximately 6,000 people are neither entirely angels nor criminals. When we let go of our media-fed beliefs, we will see the humanity of the issue. The reality is that you have a mixed group. At any given family reunion of far fewer numbers, chances are you are going to find a diverse group, too.

We are human.
Different conservative news media outlets play into people’s racial fears and biases of  Black and Brown people.
Are we supposed to believe that only Black and Brown immigrants are responsible for most of the violent crimes in this country?

For some reason, they only care about organized crime and extremism of People of Color. They ignore the growing number of White supremacists while focusing on the MS-13 gang. Considering their belief that all lives matter, I would think that all crimes matter. Do Maria and her children’s lives matter?

Contrary to what various left-leaning news media will have you to believe, everyone in the migrant caravan is not seeking asylum. So far, most of the caravan rejected asylum offered by Mexico. Then again, the prospect of living in the United States would understandably seem more appealing, given that certain areas in Mexico are rife with drug cartel violence.

Many men are seeking work in the United States.

And there are men in this multitude of thousands who have a criminal history.

However, nuance does not pull on savior tendencies or racist fears like framing them as victims and rapists. It does not get votes or ratings. Seeking employment does not fit the asylum criteria too well.

Closing: Truth On Each Side

There is truth on each side.
To me, the migrant caravan is not a story to pull images to pull at people’s hearts for a political agenda. At the beginning and end of the day, we are talking about lives.

Because this long-standing issue of immigration reform involves people’s lives, the work to change it will need more than the battle of misinformed polar opposite views.

While the rest of us battle it out with attempts to shame people for not agreeing with our side, certain corporations and our government (across political parties) who have wreaked havoc and helped cripple the economies and political stability in countries for over a century sit back.

Arguably, the United States government has worked on behalf of politicians and certain corporations  to help create the conditions that compel people to flee to this country.
Focusing only on the symptom of illegal immigration and drawing on racial fears and sympathies keep people distracted.

I do not want treatment. I want a cure.
The cure happens when you get to the root cause of an ailment.

The migrant caravan situation is a multilayered and human issue. It is not some over-simplistic tale that tickles our psychological fancies.

We can help get to the cure when we refrain from playing along with the game of politics, as usual, and begin asking questions that get to the heart of the matter.


*The thousands of people from Central America, commonly referred to as the “migrant caravan,” seek to live in the United States.

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