The haunting photo shows the bodies of a father and his daughter, overwhelmed by the deep currents of the Rio Bravo, rendered inseparable by the black T-shirt he used as a baby carrier. The little girl’s arm wrapped around her father’s neck, which she was apparently trying to hold on to. The outline of her diaper can be seen under her pink pants.
The image of the bodies of the young father from El Salvador, Oscar Martinez, 25, and his 2-year-old daughter Angie Valeria, who were found dead Monday on the bank of the river that separates Mexico and the United States, has been published around the world and has brought forward reactions of deep dismay and indignation, particularly in the United States.
The two lifeless bodies intertwined are being seen as a symbol for what is happening on the border with Texas, like the image of the little Alan Kurdi, dead on a Turkish beach, became the symbol for what Europe did not want to see: the many tragedies on the Balkan route during the summer of 2015.
Pope Francis was “deeply saddened” at their death, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi emphasized people’s right to migrate in search of safety and dignity. Apart from these lamentations, the tragedy has been blamed on the US President personally: “Trump is responsible for these deaths,” wrote Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Twitter as he reposted the photo. And that is more than just campaign rhetoric.
Oscar’s sister, Wendy, interviewed by the site Salvador.com in the pueblo of Altavista, a small town in the municipality of San Martin, explained that he and his wife Tania had left the country in April, “in search of the American dream, of a better future for the child,” and had decided to cross the river on Sunday evening because “they were afraid about Trump, about how things were getting worse for migrants.”
That’s why they couldn’t bear to keep waiting for a better life in the hostel where they were staying in Tapachula, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the place where the migrant caravans were stopped. The Salvadoran couple left a week ago, heading toward the US border at Matamoros.
On Sunday evening, Wendy spoke with her brother on the phone, who told her that they had decided to swim across the Rio Bravo (or Rio Grande, according to which country one is in). According to a preliminary reconstruction of events, later that evening, Oscar strapped his daughter onto his back, drawing courage from the presence of a friend, and went into the water to carry her to the US side of the river, after which he was supposed to come back for her mother. But either the currents were too strong, or an eddy carried them to the bottom.
Three hours afterwards, Angie’s grandmother, Rosa Ramirez, who lives in El Salvador, got a desperate phone call from Tania, Oscar’s 21-year old wife, who had seen her husband and daughter dragged away by the current before her eyes. The Mexican authorities were alerted, but had to stop the search at nightfall. In the morning, the river had spit out their lifeless bodies two kilometers away from the point where they had disappeared into the water.
Salvadoran newspapers are reporting that Oscar used to work as a cook at a pizza place, and his wife worked as a cashier at a Chinese restaurant before the child was born. But the young couple believed they had the right to raise their Angie in the “land of opportunity.”
On Monday—the day the photo was taken—Mexican Minister of Defense Luis Crescencio Sandoval confirmed the deployment of 15,000 soldiers across the border, as agreed with President Trump earlier this month after his threat that he would introduce high tariffs on Mexican products. Even though Sandoval emphasized that “migration is not a crime, only an administrative misdemeanor,” the Obrador government had to amend the legislation in order to stop migrants. That was why Oscar no longer felt safe.
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