The Choices We Make
Rachel Maddow reported on a border story last night that was (not shockingly) utterly horrible, though happily (and shockingly) has a positive ending. But as pronounced and despicable as the story is entirely on its own, there's one side note to it that adds such a profound and -- to me -- obvious level of perspective that sends it to even another level. Yet neither she, nor the NPR report she played, nor any of the articles I read touched on it. To be clear, the story doesn't even remotely need this "other level," it stands low all by itself. But still -- this other level is otherworldly. And when I told the story and connection to a friend, I only had to mention one thing, and he instantly got it, and his immediate reaction was first silence, and then, "Oh, my God..."
The very short version of the news story is that a Honduran family tried to enter the United States at El Paso, Texas, in large part because the youngest of their three children -- a little 3-year-old girl -- has a heart condition that needed treatment. The border official in charge told the family that the mother could stay in the U.S., but that the father had to be sent back across the border into Mexico. But no, that's not the horrible part. The sick part of the story is that (prepare yourself) the U.S. border official told the little 3-year old girl that she had to decide which of her parents she wanted to stay with!!!
Because the little child had a strong attachment with her mother, that's who she chose to remain with. But of course, being only 3-years-old, she didn't understand the full significance of what that meant. And when she learned that it meant she had to leave her father, she (of course) began crying, breaking into huge tears, as did all the other two children.
The good part of the story is that, thanks to a local bishop, the family was able to meet the next day with a different border official, and he approved all of them staying in the country.
But still...the fortunate ending is a lucky circumstance, most especially considering all the hellish news that envelopes this dismal situation. More to the point is -- how on earth do you force a 3-year old girl to choose which of her parents she wants to stay with???!!
And here then is the "side note" part of the news story that Maddow, NPR and all of the articles I came across didn't draw any connection to. It turns out that the little 3-year-old girl who had to choose which of her parents she would stay with was named --
When I was watching the story, I thought it likely that I didn't hear that right and rolled the program back to watch that point again, sure that I heard the name wrong. Figuring it was a name that was close, but not exact. But no, it was exact. Sofi. The 3-year-old girl forced by a guard to choose which of her parents to stay with was named "Sofi."
While I know there are many who have neither read the novel Sophie's Choice by William Styron, nor seen the movie, I suspect most have at least heard of it. The novel won the National Book Award in 1980, and the 1982 movie got five Oscar nominations and won Meryl Streep the Academy Award for Best Actress. But for those here who don't know the story, it centers on a woman in Nazi Germany being sent off to a prison camp who is forced by a Nazi official to choose which of her two little children will live, and which other they will kill.
Obviously, this connection has absolutely nothing to directly do with this recent news story at the Texas border, which stands on its own as the entire point . But it strikes me as surprising that it wouldn't get mentioned for its thoroughly-obvious, ethereal connection and overlap with the renowned novel and award-winning movie about an almost-identical subject and name. In fact, Maddow's show even had a graphic on screen quoting from the NPR radio report that read, "The agent then turned to 3-year-old Sofi and told her to make a choice."
While one explanation for leaving out any mention of the connection is that it's so obvious that people would know it and therefore wasn't necessary -- no. The novel and movie are both almost 40 years old. I feel quite certain that there is a significant segment of the TV audience weren't born for a decade or even two later that remotely doesn't know either. And besides, Rachel Maddow is a host who often spends up to 15 minutes at the beginning of her show going into a long, detailed history of events (and sometimes very well-known history at that) to put a particular story in full perspective. And I'm certain that she and her staff know the book and movie. As do the other reporters. So, I think this is more something that seems to have just fallen through the cracks. To be clear, no, mentioning the connection wasn't even remotely necessary -- but boy, do I think the added literary perspective would have been utterly fascinating to most people and, in fact, even meaningful. All the more so with the current controversy about calling the cages that separated families "concentration camps."
But that aside, what a ghastly, sick tale without any added perspective. Thank goodness that at least one family was able with help to stumble into some decency when dealing with a Trump program filled with racist hate.
You can read a detailed report about the story in Texas here from the Dallas Morning News.
Here is the 5-minute scene from the movie with the choice. If you haven't seen the film and want to avoid watching it yet, skip by. Just know that the story is about more than this moment, but how it impacted her life and those of several other people much later. This comes as a flashback near the end when we finally learn what dark moment from her past has so deeply affected all that came after for her.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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