With My Eyes (Translation)

Originally appeared in La Jornada on Saturday, September 5th. Translated by yours truly. 

It’s hard to believe that this image of the drowned Syrian boy alone will make us understand that the immigration and refugee problem is a global one. Even though I try to be in solidarity with people from across the globe, and even though crossing the Sonoran Desert to arrive in the United States can be as dangerous as crossing the seas to arrive in Europe, I cannot compare my experience as a migrant who crossed the desert to this little boy and his family.


They are incomparable because I am alive, even though I endured hunger, thirst, exhaustion and danger – today I am alive and writing this.  I cannot imagine what the situation of this family is in their country. Nevertheless, I have seen something that might be similar.

I remember being in Sásabe, Sonora: The small ranch right along the border with Arizona, the hundreds of people waiting to start walking one of the most dangerous trails in the world. I remember people of all ages, but I will never forget the image of the waiting children. I remember being worried, filled with apprehension and uncertainty, imagining the challenge I was about to face and its possible consequences. But I will never forget seeing the children in this shack in the desert.

Running and playing, without worries- without really understanding where they were, where they were going and why. Their innocence did not let them see this. This is how I imagined the little boy from Syria- blind to the reality of his family, his own situation. He didn’t know that his own country had been destroyed by war, or that his family no longer had a place in their country. He didn’t know that this trip wasn’t for pleasure, but for survival.  And he didn’t know that this act of survival put his life on the line.

Looking at a dead body in the desert or on the shores of a beach, and thinking that this is the reality of the problem of migration leads us nowhere. We are only looking at the tip of the iceberg. This little boy and his family would never have had to risk their lives if their country hadn’t been invaded and destroyed by a bloody war, whose real aims were the control and power over the resources there. Historically, indigenous people and people of color have had their lives destroyed and beenforced to leave their land in search of something better. To search for refuge from the iron fist of colonialism and capitalism. In this global system that is designed to exterminate and scatter historically marginalized communities.

The reality is that we cannot say that the government has failed these people by closing their borders or not accepting them as refugees. The sad reality is that this system is functioning smoothing, being that it was never designed to help or benefit these communities.

For me, it is difficult to talk about my experience. I don’t know if it is pain or trauma. But like I said before, here I am, alive and nothing can compare to that.

It is to late to do something for this baby or his family. It is also hard to believe that humanity still has any hope of changing or being better. My hands shake as I write this, because it is difficult to process. The only thing that I hope is that this becomes a call to conscience, a call for solidarity between migrant communities across the world.

At a time when there is so much hate in the United States directed at migrant communities, the recognition that migration is a global problem that has roots in war and colonialism is only the first step.  The second is not to wait for the governments who designed these systems of oppression to be the ones who solve them, but to take action ourselves. 

Fernando Lopez is an organizer with the Congereso de Jornaleros in New Orleans. He arrived in the United States in 2009.