Things That Matter

Honduran Father Whose 13-Year-Old Daughter Committed Suicide After He Wasn’t Granted Asylum Wants Her To “Help Another Person Live”

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Heydi Gámez García, 13, took her life on July 2nd after her father’s asylum request was denied for the third time. Heydi’s father, Manuel Gámez, sent her to the U.S. after his father was gunned down by MS-13 for refusing to pay a “war tax” to the gang. He didn’t expect that Heydi would be granted asylum, but that he would be deported.

Manuel certainly didn’t envision that his goodbye hug and kiss four years ago would be the last time he would hug and kiss his daughter while she was still alive.

The Gámaz family was broken by MS-13 and failed again by the U.S. immigration system.

Credit: @amy_baker22 / Twitter

Heydi’s mother walked out on her and her dad when she was less than two months old. By the time Heydi was a year old, Manuel left for New York as an undocumented immigrant to make money to send back home to his daughter. After his father was killed by MS-13, and his mother’s health started failing, he worried about who would care for Heydi and his younger sister, Zoila.

Manuel’s sister was granted asylum and cared for Heydi in his absence in New York.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

A year after his father’s death, he sent Heydi, Zoila and his brother to the U.S. Heydi and Zoila were granted asylum. Heydi learned English within a year and started teaching her father, via phone calls, how to correctly pronounce English words. They spoke every day, always asking when he’d come.

After two failed attempts to gain asylum, Heydi lost hope for being reunited and started cutting herself.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

He never wanted to make promises he couldn’t keep, like being there for her quinceañera. Heydi watched her classmates complain about their parents’ visiting their school and fell into a depression. In December, she was brought to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after cutting her wrist at school. She was seeing a therapist until two months before her suicide.

“Please forgive me for failing you,” Manuel wants to tell his daughter.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there… I never meant to leave you,” he says to her. Heydi was Manuel’s only child. Heydi’s aunt is coping with impossible guilt. She told CNN, “I was supposed to be protecting her. I would never send her to Honduras. But I never thought something bad would happen to her here.”

Manuel was released on a two week ‘humanitarian’ visit to release Heydi from life support.

Credit: @holliewolfen / Twitter

He finally got to hold her hand and comfort her as she left this life behind. “We love you,” he whispered to her. “Don’t leave us.”

The last thing Heydi told anyone was that she lost hope in being reunited with her father.

Credit: @MaryJaneKnows / Twitter

She was crying as she told her aunt that she feels hopeless and that one day, she’ll become a lawyer to help her dad’s case. She then said she wanted to be alone and was found two hours later in a closet. She didn’t leave a note.

She was declared brain dead a week later at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens.

Dr. Charles Schleien told CNN that she was in a “neurologically devastated state” upon arrival with “no hope for recovery.” He went on to disclose that the Gámaz family “chose to turn tragedy into the gift of life. Heydi is an organ donor and her final act will be to save others.”

The mental health impacts of family separation at our borders can only be told one story at a time.

Credit: @apbenven / Twitter

Every story is important. Every life lost to policies that don’t incorporate the most visceral human desires, like growing up with your father by your side, is one life too many. 

What on earth are we doing?

Credit: @JoeGould50 / Twitter

Update:

On July 18, Heydi was taken off life support. Her family told The New York Times they decided to donate her organs. “She was so young, so healthy, maybe she can live in another person, she can help another person live,” her father told The Times.

Here’s How You Can Support Your Incarcerated Family Members If You Don’t Know How

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Here’s How You Can Support Your Incarcerated Family Members If You Don’t Know How

Hédi Benyounes / Unsplash

Talking about our primos in prison is taboo. If you ever had a family member in prison, you may avoid talking about it outside your family circle. The incarcerated family member then becomes a ghost, a cautionary tale, or a source of shame. We forget how they arrived in this situation and hesitate to offer support. Looking closely at issues that contribute to mass incarceration in this country can offer insights into the matter. It’s time we take a new approach to incarcerated family, and offer help in ways the correctional system refuses. It’s time to humanize our imprisoned primos and primas, showing love and empathy that we would want to see if we were behind bars.

Considering the U.S. census shows Hispanics make up 18.3 percent of the population, it is bewildering how they come to make up 32 percent of the Federal inmate population.

However, looking at social issues that plague the Latinx community, it is no surprise that low levels of education, poverty, and structural discrimination lead to incarceration. With the latest instances of aggression toward the Latinx community at the presidential level, it will be no surprise if acts of discrimination and targeting of Latinos continues to rise.

What other factors contribute to the incarceration of Latinos?

Credit: Bill Oxford / Unsplash

The Pew Research Center reports that in 1991, 60 percent of Latinos were sentenced in federal court for drug-related offenses, and 20 percent for immigration crimes. Yet, these figures changed dramatically, with 48 percent of sentences for immigration crimes, and 37 percent of sentences for drug-related crimes in 2007.

The incarceration of Latinos is feeding into the conversation around the school to prison pipeline.

Credit: @LatinoPPF / Twitter

What is the prison experience really like? Netflix series like Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” and “Orange is the New Black” help pull back the curtain on the harsh realities of prison life. More than just TV shows, these depictions exposed micro and macro ways the U.S., home to the largest prison population in the world, focuses not on prisoner rehabilitation, but recidivism instead.

When we think about our family members in prison, we need to remember that they could be facing sexual violence, lack of access to mental health services, solitary confinement, and denial of their reproductive rights.

Credit: Mitch Lensink / Unsplash

It may be the case that an incarcerated family member’s situation is shrouded in mystery and whispers, but this need not be the case. It is not only time to confront these matters at the family level, but to address them at the social level as well. The first step may begin with actually accepting that inmate call. Ask what your family member is going through and share that with the family if he or she permits. You may feel a sense of hopelessness, but there is so much you can do to help not only your own family members but the greater incarcerated Latino community too.

Moving beyond thoughts and prayers—although they’re good too—here are substantive ways you can help incarcerated family members.

Credit: @Art4JusticeFund / Twitter
  • Visit if you can. Even if it is only a few times a year, the impact of human contact cannot be overstated. Ensure you are on the approved visitor’s list before you go. Bring identification and arrive early. Be a good listener and most importantly, show that family love.
  • The experience of visiting prison can be inconvenient or even traumatic, so if you feel you cannot commit this fully then try a virtual visit. Apps like JPay offer inmate services like email, video visitation, and secure payment transfers. Send pictures of the family or a video of a holiday gathering.
  • If apps prove to be intimidating, try sending a letter. Have picture printed out—old school style—and include them in your letters. Families are full of births, marriages, and so many other beautiful life events. Share them with your primos and primas who can’t be there with you. If you feel like you simply don’t want to communicate with your incarcerated family member, but you still want to contribute to the cause in some way, join a prison pen pal organization and bring a sense of human connection to others.
  • Another way to help the family behind bars is to send books. The organization, NYC books through bars, understands how much books can help with the rehabilitation and the education process in prison.
  • With vulnerable peoples such as the trans community,  women in prison, those with mental health needs, simply raising awareness on their behalf can be a radical act of kindness.
  • Another act of solidarity with your incarcerated family member is to donate to the ACLU Prisons Project. “Through litigation, advocacy, and public education, we work to ensure that conditions of confinement are consistent with health, safety, and human dignity and that prisoners retain all rights of free persons that are not inconsistent with incarceration.”

If you have a family member in prison, it is important to their own recovery and reformation to know they have people who love and support them.

Credit: aclu_nationwide / Instagram

With an array of opportunities to help our family members in prison, it is important to note that reintroduction to society can pose a major challenge for former inmates. These are areas where you can help too. Our imprisoned family members may have been victims of the system, they may have survived the only way they know how, or maybe they just made a mistake. Whatever the circumstance, the key is to remember they are human, and most importantly, they are familia. So ask yourself, for their sake and the sake of our community, what can you do to help?

READ: Cyntoia Brown Was Finally Released From Prison After 15 Years– This Is What Resistance Looks Like

The Statue Of Liberty Gets Arrested By ICE In A New Las Vegas Mural That Speaks To Our Inhumane Immigration Policies

Things That Matter

The Statue Of Liberty Gets Arrested By ICE In A New Las Vegas Mural That Speaks To Our Inhumane Immigration Policies

A mural showing the Statue of Liberty being handcuffed by immigration enforcement officers has been unveiled in Las Vegas, amid rancour and anger over Donald Trump’sharsh immigration policies.

The mural, titled “Chained Migration,” was unveiled late last month in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Mural by Izaac Zevalking / Photo by Jesse Hudson

Since then, it has caused a lot of dialogue between those who support it and those who don’t. 

The mural is a 20×50 art installation that depicts the Statue of Liberty handcuffed and bet over the hood of an ICE patrol car. It was created by Izaac Zevalking, also known as Recycled Propaganda, a political artist that aims to create art influenced by history and current events. Zevalking himself is an immigrant from the UK. Zevalking is using the Statue of Liberty, who is considered a beacon of hope for immigrants, to demonstrate how the harmful rhetoric used against them is harming the American Dream.

In an interview with KTNV Las Vegas, Zevalking explains that the goal of the mural is to create a conversation about immigration in the United States. “I want people just to think about the issue. Wherever that thought leaves you. Wherever that conversation with someone else leaves you. I think it needs to be discussed more in human terms.”

Although some came to the internet to praise Zevalking for his mural, others were quick to disagree with his artwork. 

This Twitter user used the infamous MS13 gang as her reasoning for this mural being shameful. Her comment imitates the language that Trump uses in his statements referring to those who migrate into the United States. She plays into the stereotype that all people who are immigrating to the U.S are dangerous gang members. 

Some on Twitter were quick to claim they’d happily paint it over.

In the replies, a Twitter user suggested they paint over the mural in protest. 

However, Recycled Propaganda clapped back, suggesting that if it gets painted over they keep on bringing it back.

The art piece could not have been more timely given the recent comments made by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

After being asked in an interview with NPR if the words of Emma Lazarus are part of the American ethos, Cuccinelli replied, adding a line to the poem, “They certainly are – give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” 

The original reads as, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Recently, the Trump administration decided to make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain a Green Card if they receive government aid, such as food stamps or Medicaid. Cuccinelli is a big defender of this policy, so it is not surprising that these comments about Lazarus’ sonnet were made. 

When immigrants are being discussed in politics, it is usually done so in ways that strips them of their humanity.

When folks migrate to the United States, it is often done so out of desperation and necessity. Immigrants come with nothing but a backpack filled with the essentials. They come to work low-paying jobs and because of their status, it is difficult for them to get the assistance they need for issues like healthcare and food assistance. To ask immigrants to come to the United States and to be self-sufficient only treat them with very little dignity is unfair.

When describing this policy, Cuccinelli uses words like a burden when describing immigrants who need public assistance. After his initial remarks about the poem, Cuccinelli said on CNN that the poem was originally referring to Europeans who migrated to the United States. 

The artist, who is an immigrant from the UK points out that America is a very different place for white immigrants.

KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas / YouTube

“I personally wasn’t born in America. I was born in the UK and I don’t ever feel attacked as an immigrant and I think that’s cause my skin is white,” Zevalking says. 

There is a stark difference between the ways European immigrants and Latin American immigrants are treated in the United States and Zevalking is tapping into that notion with his mural, “Chained Migration.” He is acknowledging his privilege as a European immigrant and using it to shed light on how criminalizing it is for non-white immigrants living in the United States.

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