Saturday, July 30, 2016

United We Stand: The Tragic Story of Marine Jose Gutierrez vs. Trump's Hate-filled Rhetoric

by Nomad

Let us take a moment to remember a fallen hero, Marine Jose Gutierrez. His story is more than enough to balance all of the hateful rhetoric we have heard about illegal immigrants from Donald Trump.

For many who watched the Democratic National Convention this week, the moment that Khizr and Ghazala Khan told the story of their son – a fallen Muslim U.S. soldier - was the ultimate takedown of the Republican nominee Donald Trump. 
Their son was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Khan said:
“Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son the best of America. If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, and even his own party leadership. Donald Trump loves to build walls and ban us from this country.”
As most of us know, Trump has vowed to construct a wall along the US Southern border because Mexico (and presumably all of the countries south of that border) is allowing "people that have lots of problems" including rapists, drug runners, and other criminals to come to America. 
Many of his supporters have accepted this attempt at dehumanization as an undeniable truth, which pits "us" (native -born Americans) against "them," (the immigrant class.) As bombastic as it might seem, Trump's opinion, in fact, represents (more or less) the accepted position of the Republican party

An Orphan, A Street Child, and a Survivor

Standing with his wife on stage, Khizr Khan looked into the camera and asked Mr. Trump directly:
"Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America — you will see all faiths, genders, and ethnicities."
Like the story of Humayun S.M. Khan, the tragic story of Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez also deserves our attention. Twenty-two year old Gutierrez earned the distinction of being one of the first US soldiers to die in the Iraq war.
That distinction is, however, only half of the story. 
In fact, the Guatemala-born Gutierrez was not yet an American citizen at the time of his death. And so, you will not find his grave in Arlington Cemetary. 

True, when he came to the US, Gutierrez came as a person with "lots of problems."  
Along with his sister, young Jose was orphaned when he was 8 years old and became a street child. Jose was forced to drop out of school to find work at a steel mill, dangerous work for a child. 
When he was 14, Jose left his sister, risking the arduous 2,000-mile trek from his Guatemala City neighborhood to the US border. 
The manager of Guatemala’s Casa Alianza orphanage. Bruce Harris, described Jose like this:
“He was really a survivor, and that's how he made it up to the United States, because he was a survivor.”
 Harris, who had known Jose since he was 9, wasn't surprised.
“He wasn't satisfied in trying to etch out a subsistence survival in a country like Guatemala, where more than 80 percent of the people are poor. He wanted more. He knew there was more to life than just being poor, so in 1997 Jose said he was leaving for America.”
In his determination to reach the US, Jose reportedly hopped 14 freight trains to get through Mexico.

The Lie and the Lucky Break

Of course, getting to the US was only half of the struggle.
Without the proper entry papers, he was detained at the border by US immigration officials. Due to the fact that the United States does not deport Guatemalan minors who arrive without family, he was allowed to stay in the US. 
According to a CBS article, he had, in fact, lied about his age.
But when Jose made it to the border, he got busted. He was 22 years old and the INS was going to turn him back. Saved by his baby face, Jose told the authorities he was only 16. Minors don’t get turned back, so he was allowed to stay in America and get a green card.
Legally, he had no right to stay but for Jose, this was not about taking advantage of the system.
It was a matter of survival.
After arriving in the US, Gutierrez was made a ward of Los Angeles Juvenile Court. It could not have been easy for him. He was placed in a series of group homes and foster families.

He wound up with Nora and Marcello Mosquera, both Latin American immigrants. That, perhaps, was his luckiest break of all. They not only gave him shelter, they offered him love and a new family. 
Later, Nora would recall what Jose had told her that he could not understand why God had brought him to this world, and why he survived. There were, he told his adoptive mother "many, many times in Guatemala" that he was nearly killed.

Jose not only survived in the US but thrived. He was soon able to learn English and to finish high school. And in 1999, Gutierrez got his residency documents, becoming a permanent US resident.

According to friends of his foster family,  he talked of going on to university and becoming an architect. However, following the 9/11 attacks, he put college plans on hold to join the Marine Corps. He explained that he had 
"“wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.”
He was as good as his word.

On 21 March 2003, only two days after the invasion of Iraq had begun, Jose Gutierrez, having been assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was killed in battle around the port city of Umm Qasr.
The Battle of Umm Qasr (March 21–25, 2003) was the first military confrontation in the Iraq War.
Seizing the port city was vital in the coalition's plans to bring humanitarian aid into the country. 

British, American and Polish forces spearheaded the assault and encountered pockets of Iraqi resistance. Around 200 Iraqi soldiers surrendered.
Later on that day, however, there was increased sniping from Iraqi troops and one U.S. Marine was killed. (Presumably, that would have been Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez.)

"Be Proud of Me"

The day after he was killed, on the other side of the planet, a group of six officials, including John Hamilton, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, knocked on the door of Gutierrez’s older sister, Engracia Sirin Gutierrez.
She was Jose's only surviving relative. 
These strangers had come to inform her that her little brother had died in Iraq, a country she may never have even heard of.

Sirin later told reporters:
“It was difficult to believe. I thought it was a mistake.”
Sirin spoke of her brother's success in the US and how he had not forgotten his sister back in Central America. After he settled in California, he began to call her every week and eventually sent gifts, money, and pictures of himself back to her. He had hoped to someday be able to afford to bring his sister to the US.
She remembered her brother as a kind person:
“He was sweet, respectful and was everybody’s friend.”
She would recall also how her brother told her when he joined up to fight in Iraq:
“Be proud of me because I’m going to be a soldier.”
His body was returned to Guatemala for burial in his homeland. It was the land of his birth, but it was not the land that he gave his life for. And for that, no matter what Donald Trump might say, all Americans should be grateful and, more importantly, perhaps, respectful.
At the end of the day, Gutierrez showed his deep appreciation for the advantages that America had bestowed upon this child of the streets. He didn't have to make that sacrifice. It was a choice he made.

As the news reached Marcelo and Nora Mosquera, his foster family in his adopted land, an American flag was hung at half-staff outside their California home. 
On the front porch of Gutierrez’s foster home, a sign read “United We Stand.”

The phrase alone could serve as the most fitting rebuttal to the Trump's divisive rhetoric. Encapsulated in that phrase is the idea that there really is "something tightly woven throughout the fabric of our humanity that runs entirely opposite to the baser instinct of looking out for our own good."

Clearly, that's a thing Trump will never understand.