Saturday, March 3, 2012

Finding Fernanda: A response from the U.S.-Mexico border to a book by Erin Siegal

Finding Fernanda, a book by Erin Siegal, carefully recounts the triumph of two “ordinary” women who, without even knowing one another, managed to overturn the work of an international child trafficking syndicate and restore stolen children to one birth mother. This “David vs. Goliath”-style tale evokes the drama of high-suspense fiction. But, unfortunately, it is all-too-true: a real-life story that journalist Siegal relentlessly researched and meticulously documents.

The book’s value is innate. Through the lens of one ruptured family, whose story has an against-all-odds fortunate outcome, Finding Fernanda considers the social and political issues surrounding international adoption from Guatemala. Replete with detail to arrest and engage the reader, it’s a tale well-told. The subject should interest not only anyone considering or involved in this type of adoption but also practitioners of international relations and promoters of human rights. And, I would suggest: the latter category might rightly include us all.

The book by extension also has specific applications to us on the U.S.-Mexico border. As a member of the border community, I recurrently noticed parallels between the Guatemalan context that facilitated child trafficking to the contemporary Mexican social and political climate that perpetuates drug war violence. The “blind eye” U.S. officials turn toward filed complaints and grievances plays a substantial role in perpetuating impunity in Mexico, as happened in Guatemala.

The horror of child trafficking in Mexico
Indeed, this week a post by Siegel for InSight Crime reports that Mexican police uncovered a child trafficking ring in mid-January in Guadalajara. This ring has operated in the state of Jalisco since the 1980's, providing hundreds of children to adoptive families in other countries. The line between adoption and the purchase or trafficking of children is indeed thin and extends far beyond Guatemala.

Poverty, psychological manipulation, illiteracy, systemic abuse and untreated trauma—all factors at play in Guatemala, as illustrated in Finding Fernanda, afflict the Mexican political and social climate as well. Siegel is to be congratulated for staying with the story of child exploitation and for expanding her focus to include a country neighboring the United States. 

Personal emotional movement
A sensitive person is hurt by false accusation. On a personal level, Finding Fernanda healed one such hurt. In 1997 when I decided to learn Spanish, I chose to begin my studies in remote northern Guatemala. One day, on a break from classes, I began interacting with street kids in the city plaza. Eager for adult attention, the children were patient with my complete inability to say anything. But, abruptly I both felt and saw from the edge of the plaza, to my dismay and confusion, two Guatemalan women glaring intensely at me with vigilant anger.

Later, upon reading a guidebook, I realized that their body language was communicating their suspicion that I may kidnap and export the children. Shocked, the memory of their unspoken accusation stung a bit whenever I recalled it. But my own anger at the ruthless conversion of children into commodities, as systemically documented in Finding Fernanda, led me to cross the plaza and stand (figuratively at least) with those who were assuming a protective stance toward those most vulnerable children.

Hope in the face of evil
Life in El Paso--for several years now-- provides a front-row seat to a horror show: the drug war reality in Juarez. Viewing a human rights disaster daily is daunting, discouraging, disempowering. Finding Fernanda illustrates that “ordinary” people (like me?) can effect change, can make a difference, can resist and reverse evil. The power of love moved two mothers—who lacked the right “resumes” or “skill sets” for the task-- never to give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. It is a lesson that inspires, even as we are privy to the multiple risks and sacrifices that love required of them.

On one level, Finding Fernanda recounts enormous greed and evil: the selling of children as commodities. This is a reality from which we tend to shrink; it’s easier to ignore what we fear and hate. But, the power of love [I’m not talking about sugar-coated, storybook feelings here but rather self-giving action] is not limited to heroes of history or Nobel Prize winners. It is ours to claim and use for good.

Statistics and facts arouse our minds. But relationships move us to change more effectively than do statistics. Finding Fernanda, by introducing us to the people directly impacted in trafficking black market, captures our hearts. Siegel’s determination to investigate, document and communicate an ugly reality in this book, ultimately contributes to a better world.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Finding Fernanda from the publisher for potential review.


fan of Gaia said...

The evil that some do for money is beyond comprehension.

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