Here's why you don't remember Elian Gonzalez

On Easter morning, 2000, my friend and I were in a weird part of Berlin staying at a bed & breakfast of all things. Do you know what Germans eat for breakfast? Hard boiled eggs and cheese. It was interesting. Around midmorning we were packing to go back to School in England while watching German soaps on a tiny square television in our room.

My friend Elizabeth was in the commode and I had my suitcase propped on the bed as a very strange warning cut in from the news that Janet Reno was about to make an announcement from the U.S. Stay tuned. Wait. A few moments, later grainy footage showed our military taking a little boy by force from his home.

I screamed. A gun was in the kid's face, guns were everywhere, he was hysterical, the family was crying, the reporter was choking on tear gas. This went on, live, for probably 15-20 minutes. It was horrifying. I looked down at a little Easter basket the inn hostess had made and I was reminded this was Easter day.

The sky was dark where they were broadcasting because in a shrewd move on the part of the U.S. military, the extraction of this child by brute force happened at an hour when most Americans were asleep. You did not see this live. The news coverage you saw of Elian Gonzalez being taken from his home were snippets narrated by calm news personnel in clean suits who were not choking on tear gas.

If you lived in the United States, the Elian Gonzalez rescue was not heart wrenching. His story faded into the background noise of a thousand other news stories told in snippets by reporters with midwestern accents. He was nothing special to you.

I know the politics between Cuba and the U.S. are rough. I know it was a tough call about what to do with the little child who managed to survive the swim from Cuba in a raft after his mother perished at sea, whose father demanded his return to Cuba, whose headline-grabbing story influenced the Bush/Gore election. The decision was not easy, I'm sure, and sometimes things have to be done. But I'm not down with guns in kids faces on Easter morning. The manner that child was handled was not acceptable. He was ripped from the arms of his family in a screaming, coughing fury. I hope it's barely a memory to him today.

In related bad news, I'm officially old because that little boy I remember with crystal clarity isn't a baby. He's a man. Elian Gonzolez turned 18 this week. Happy birthday from Chicago to in Havana, Elian!

IMAGE: I'm not sure if I'd get in trouble for stealing an AP picture of the gun in the kid's face, so click here to see it.

Filed under: Memory Lane

Leave a comment