Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez

Dear Carlos. There’s unfairness and tragedy in the way you died, at 16 in a holding cell at a border patrol station in Weslaco, alone since family separation policies took you from the older sister you came to the US with. You’re the sixth minor to die in custody. Like them you shouldn’t have died. You had the flu and your fever reached 103 and yet instead of sending you to emergency they put you in a cell with another sick boy so you wouldn’t contaminate others. The guards were supposed to check on you per the orders of the nurse practitioner who had seen you but didn’t. There are a lot of irregularities that have and will continue to surface as a result of your death. Already border patrol agents have been ordered not to rely on video to check on someone who is sick, but need to go in and see for themselves and take their temperature. You wanted to come to the US to be with your older brother who is here and works in construction. You didn’t make it, you didn’t get to see the joyful side of life, you didn’t get to experience love except from your family. But you accomplished a lot you didn’t expect to accomplish. ProPublica wrote a long article about you and through it hopefully through other such articles and the press it generated you are becoming an example and a symbol of how we treat minors at the border, and because of that, maybe things will change more than just ordering agents go into cells to check on those who are ailing. On behalf of all those who will end up benefiting from your short life, I want to thank you. I am sure that doesn’t make up for the loss you are to your parents and siblings, but even they would feel gratified by what amounts to a sacrificial life. Your death contributes to putting our system of treating migrants and refugees to shame, and that’s why to me at least it was not in vain.

The Children of Trans People

There’s a small community who are promoting what they call gender creative or gender expansive, that is looking at gender beyond male or female. They are mainly transgender people who have children and want more gender latitude for them than the one they have had. They are raising their children without reference to gender, even referring to them as they instead of him or her. They want to continue doing this until the children are old enough to choose for themselves what gender they are.  But the issue does not stop there. One set of parents needed a social security card and on the application form put dashes where the child’s gender would have been. The social security office could not accept that and arbitrarily assigned male as a gender.

I understand the discrimination against transgender people. I understand that we tend to deny their existence and deprive them of the identity that should be rightfully theirs. In this case, I wonder if they are going about it the best way? Statistically the chances of the children being transgender are low. Is their idea as well thought out as they would like it to be or as it ought to be? In that their endeavor can teach something to all of us who might want to create change. Meanwhile what about the children who grow up trying to figure out their sense of self separate from that of their parents when they are being brought up in such a manner? How will they fare in school when they interact with boys and girls? How will they react to movies and games, on play dates, instances where gender is part of what they will encounter? Will there be a psychological price for being brought up like this? We live in a world where new ethical dilemmas arise with increasing frequency. In this case, I keep asking myself wouldn’t the parents’ efforts be more worthwhile if they worked towards greater acceptance and understanding of transgender people? I surmise that in the end, they may not succeed in adding a gender, but may create more acceptance in the process. Still what about the children?

School Surveillance

Surveillance systems in schools are a $3 billion dollar industry. Several security companies now offer their services in several states. Basically they monitor, mainly via a number of algorithms, students’ emails not only those written at school but also those written from home. Google searches are also monitored. Although the official word is monitor, the word track seems more apt. The algorithms look for certain key phrases which could, they say, alert them to danger. The rationale for all this, which began after the Sandy Hook massacre, is to save lives. The companies can share dramatic examples of how suicidal thoughts were uncovered, or an instance of when within minutes after 2 boys were overheard going to the bathroom to smoke spot in secret, they were stopped.  Since there are no gun control laws, schools feel the need to engage in whatever they can to protect their students. Many schools now have police officers on their campus, sometimes with dire results. And while the algorithms alert people, the possibility for taking phrases out of context exists and is a real drawback.

 Surveillance is now a fact of life, and it is time we define where and how it is appropriate and demand the implementation of those limits. While some parents have welcomed the monitoring of their children’s emails and have asked for the results, there is something very scary about monitoring the emails of minors who have no say so and do it because we as a society are not able to pass gun control legislation.

“Blood” Crystals

Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian  shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.