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San Diego Union-Tribune

Opinion: Border policies have pushed too many immigrants to watery deaths along the San Diego coast

By Alberto López Pulido,


López Pulido is chair and professor of ethnic studies at the University of San Diego, vice chair of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center, and lives in San Diego.

Once again, nameless humans die off the shores of our city — bodies like our own who once loved, laughed, with feelings, needs and desires. The tragedy is identical to the epic narratives of harrowing immigrants who built this nation seeking refuge, protection, love and nourishment. Usually, stories of struggle are comprised of people who endure hardships and persecution in their search for prosperity, meritocracy and the American Dream.

As a transfronterizo Chicano who has resided in the region for over 60 years, my wonderful recuerdos and memories of growing up are filled with traversing the border for family gatherings in Playas de Tijuana and memorable dinners at Super Antojitos with my parents. I have come to comprehend that the borderland is a powerful and multilayered place framed by practices of inclusion and exclusion — dependent on your skin color, your accent, the kind of car you drive and where you were born.

I feel numb and at a loss for words in understanding the countless bodies that wash onto our shores being framed by the media as “smugglers with dismantled pangas” — tragedies that function as a morality play to warn us that death will be our fate if we dare to traverse our invisible yet militarized borders.

The evolving process of humanizing bodies is slowly beginning to surface as names are given to the dead: Eloy, Yecenia, Guillermo and Alma — seekers and searchers as young as 17 and as old as 48 years of age. All with their own stories about life: their homeland, their family and that spirit of optimism mixed with desperation — as they ensure loved ones left behind that all will be fine — protected by a silent hope and heartfelt petitions seeking guidance and protection by God along the way.

Initially, the many candles lit and numerous prayers recited, evoked to sustain the living, are now transformed as prayers and petitions to guide the souls of the dead into the underworld and afterlife.

As a result, I write here as a way to comfort myself and the numerous others who grieve in silence filled with hopelessness and trauma in response to witnessing tragic death.

I have taken the time to learn my history about this special part of the world we live in and wish to share with those who are willing to listen.

One part of the indigenous history of the Americas is framed by the Mexica people — as the Aztecs called themselves — in search of the promised land led by the God Huitzilopochtli in search for their homeland that would become the great ceremonial center of Tenochtitlán and about their place of origin known as Aztlán. Digging even deeper, we are taught about the important deity Tláloc, the God of rain and storms.

Whereas we Californians describe the current deluge in negative terms associated with the destruction of roads and properties, Tláloc, in the world of the Mexica, is revered and respected because of its lifeline that possesses the power to nourish our land and feed us through the sacred power of rainwater.

In the Mexica sacred world, to die a watery death represents an honorable act. Your fate in the afterlife is guided and embraced by the powerful deity of Tláloc, who guides you to Tlalocán: a sacred afterworld filled with flowers and songs.

I respectfully beseech you to take a moment out of your busy lives to meditate and pray for those who have died a watery death, calling upon Tláloc for guidance and healing for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.

Instead of tragedy and death in the borderlands, let us engage and model a world of flowers and songs in this life by engaging and working towards a life without borders and exclusionary policies and practices that in the end will only lead to certain death and destruction.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

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