The deaths of Óscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month old daughter, Valeria, are tragedies that have caught this nation’s eye. The two along with Martínez’s wife had left El Salvador for Mexico to gain asylum in the United States. The young father and his daughter drowned as they tried to cross the Rio Grande in south Texas.
Martínez’s wife said Óscar and Valeria successfully crossed the river on the first attempt. When Óscar Alberto Martínez went back for her, the baby became confused after her father instructed her to stay put. Valeria tried to follow her father into the Rio Grande and fell. As Martínez grabbed the toddler, the two were swept away by a powerful current.
*Photo Trigger Warning Advised*
Their subsequent deaths and the photo of their drowned bodies face down in the river as Baby Valeria clung to her father’s shoulder caused a visceral reaction when I first saw it.
I thought, “What are the conditions like in El Salvador that would cause a family to risk life and limb to get asylum in a nation that shares such a polarizing view of migrants?”
For starters, El Salvador has one of the world’s highest rates of homicide. Gangs have taken over a large part of the nation while terrorizing civilians in various parts of the nation. Women, children, and members of the LGBTQ community are subjected to a life of sexual slavery. People who resist are murdered and even journalists are targets.
Armed forces are paralyzed by the gangs’ enforcers. There is little to no protection for anyone in El Salvador.
No parent, willingly, wants to sacrifice their family’s life for a better life. And with almost three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of aid to help Salvadorans from the U.S. being stolen by politicians, the people of El Salvador don’t stand to have a chance at a better life. It’s a situation Americans can’t fathom.
The photo of Óscar and Valeria’s drowned bodies facedown in the river is a lesson for each of us. Privileged lawmakers and naysayers sit in the comforts of their homes judging people who are desperate to survive. They don’t see human beings worthy of having a safe place to live, food and access to education.
Óscar Alberto Martínez was well aware of the risks of making the dangerous trek through the Rio Grande. It did not make him a bad father. It did, however, make a father, a widow and a baby girl pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
Qué Dios les bendiga.