Monday, December 24, 2012

A Beautiful American, Robin Reineke: She Identifies the Dead on the U.S. Mexican Border

 The following is an email I sent to the BBC radio program Outlook regarding their story Naming the Dead on the Mexican Border which was originally aired December 20, 2012 and replayed this morning, Christmas Eve 2012.

Dear BBC:

It is 3:52am in Minneapolis, MN USA and I have to be up for work in a couple of hours yet I dragged myself out of bed on a very cold winter morning to convey my gratitude and admiration for a fellow American and human being.  Robin Reineke exemplifies the very best in the human spirit:  empathy, warmth, compassion, fairness and a "there by the grace of God" attitude as she goes about her very important work of identifying the remains of her fellow human beings who, through forces most often not of their own making, wind up in a life or death struggle in the hopes that they can provide meager sustenance for their families back in Mexico and Central America.

What really got to me and chokes me up as I type this email is the story of the group of Guatemalans that became lost and Ms. Reineke had the sad but honorable task of contacting families of the deceased and then traveling to the small village in Guatemala to identify the victims and inform their loved ones of their demise.

Approximately 10 years ago I had a person knock on my door to inquire if an old Toyota pick-up I had parked in back of my garage was for sale.  The vehicle had a broken axle and was sitting there rusting away because I had not gotten around to having it towed to the junk yard.  This person offered me more than a fair price for what I believed to be nothing more than scrap metal and asked if he could come over the next Saturday and work on it.  I agreed thinking he was going to prepare it to be towed.  To my utter amazement, in just a few hours and with nothing more than the most basic hand tools, the man had hand chiseled a new part, repaired the axle and had the truck up and running and drove it off my property. 

Over the course of the next several years I got to know and admire my new friend from Guateamala.  He told me of how at the age of 16 he was walking along the road to his village when he was pressed into military service by a passing truck of Guatemalan army soldiers.  Being just 16 and having never been separated from his mother and family before, he had run away from the army training camp where he had been taken and this innocent, scared act of a homesick teenager marked him as a deserter and probable communist sympathizer. Most Americans probably are unaware that in this small central American country just South of Mexico, more than a quarter of a million Guatemalans have died in what amounts to a civil war.  So I have very little patience for the so called Minute Men, Tea party and other types that William Lederer and Eugene Burdick so effectively parodied in their novel "The Ugly American" over a half century ago.  I truly know that for every Ambassador MacWhite caricature (i.e. the real "ugly American": an ethnocentric, jingoistic fool) there are a hundred Robin Reinekes.

So thank you to the BBC and its reporter for bringing us this truly inspiring story of a beautiful American, Robin Reineke.

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