Francisco is a young boy of 15 years. I would describe him as a normal kid. One who likes drawing, coloring, playing video games and loves soccer. In addition to going to school, Francisco works as a tortilla vendor to help earn some extra money for his family.
I had the honor of being able to visit his school one day with a friend, Maria, who teaches there. Most of the other twenty children at this school were younger, varying in age, mostly between 4-10 years. They described Francisco as fun loving, caring, smart, and as a good friend. Juan--about 6 yrs--told me “I really like playing soccer with Francisco!”
While many of his friends talked about him, his cousin Ariel sat in silence, staring into the distance. She couldn’t bring herself to speak about him. You see, it has been just over a month since Francisco was taken away from her and the rest of her family. It has been a month since these children were robbed of their soccer playing friend. Francisco was murdered on the steps of a local store, shot in front of people who could do nothing for him.
To remember him, Maria asked her class to make cards for Francisco. They were given crayons to draw and write out the thoughts they wished to tell to him. It was during this activity when Diego --one of the 4 year olds-- asked “When is Francisco going to come back?” The entire room, chaos of drawing and all, went silent. Maria tried to explain to him that Francisco wasn’t going to come back. That he had died. She asked “Do you miss him?” Diego turned his eyes to the ground and replied “Si, mucho….” He then looked directly at Maria, “But I bet he is in heaven and still in our hearts, right?”
|Drawing by Diego|
“I miss him a lot.” This sentiment was felt by each of those kids. This 4 year old was right when he said that Francisco is in our hearts. The kindness of his actions, the love of his family, and the pang of his death all reside within the depths of our hearts. How all of that manages to fit without exploding all over our insides is something I do not understand. It is something that I will probably never understand.
With cards in hand, the class went outside to make an altar for Francisco --a common ritual in Mexico-- and with them placed roses and candles around a tree. As we took a moment of silence to remember him, tears began to stream down several faces. Some were from his memory, but others were from fear. “Is this going to happen to me?” asked Miguel. “Am I going to be killed too?” The whole scene at the altar was nearly unbearable, a group of children mourning their friend and fearing for their future. Maria took a breath and simply said “No”, hoping it to be true.
Before visiting the school, a man told Maria not to bother talking about Francisco during class because even though he was a friend, these kids were desensitized to death and were used to people just being gone from their lives. But that was untrue. You could see how untrue it was in their eyes and within their drawings. The empty space left by the death of Francisco was shown through their tears, their sadness, and their heavy hearts.
And that, my friends, is the awful story. I wish it didn't end there. I wish I could continue and tell you a happier ending. But it is a story that tells the reality of Mexico, one in which there is sometimes no justice. Yet it also tells why I am here. I'm here because no parent should have to lose their children to violence. No child should have to live in fear of being killed, or go through the pain of losing a good friend. It is for these people that we struggle and plead for peace. It is for Francisco, Diego, Miguel, Ariel, and for all the families out there who have lost a loved one. It is for them that we keep the hope that someday things can be different. That someday, peace will come indeed.
From above right:
"Francisco, may you rest in peace. You were a good person and I loved you a lot.
He liked to play soccer and bathe."