Once, not long ago, a child in Cuba—like so many children—interacted with family members, learned about the world as much as any six year-old could and played with friends. His life was likely similar to other children in his culture. Which in some ways may have been different from six year-old children in this country. Or six year-olds in France, China or Israel.
To our knowledge, he did not express anguish at the thought of remaining in Cuba; nor did he dream of coming to America. He was a kid from Cuba doing Cuban kid things. But his mother felt differently. She felt oppressed in Cuba and desired to come to America as so many of her relatives and other countrymen had done. She imagined a better life in Miami for herself…and her son. Then she acted on that imagination and determined to make it a reality, lost her life and jeopardized that of her son.
In chess, the pawn is used to set up strategies leading to the capture of a king, and hence, victory. To achieve that end, many pawns are sacrificed Their value is considerably less than that of other pieces on the board charged with achieving the desired outcome. In effect, the ends justify the means.
Though he is too young to know chess, Elian Gonzales became a pawn. He never asked to be in the game or on the board. He didn’t ask to go to America and almost drown, to be taken from his father, to become a symbol of “freedom” to his relatives and other Cuban refugees in Florida. He didn’t ask to be the subject of a furious political and ideological debate. And most of all, he did not ask to incur the sadness of loss, the bi-product of the events in his life these past months.
All of these events represent a trauma for Elian that can seriously impact his thoughts, dreams, activities and even his physiology. It is called, “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD). Technically, this is a group of anxiety symptoms that follow the exposure to extremely traumatic events that often involve threatened death or unexpected personal injury; or threat of death or personal injury to a loved one.
What could have been more traumatic than watching his mother drown? Or almost drowning himself? Or the anguish at the thought of perhaps never seeing his father again?
Then there are the events of today, in which federal agents forcefully removed Elian from his residence in Miami and reunited him with his father. Though an attempt to resolve the conflict once and for all, it opened the possibility of further PTSD symptoms. A gun being pointed, people yelling, rushing about and then seeing his father. A future that is still uncertain. A young child is nurtured through “stability.” A predictable environment which includes a familiar place to sleep, strong dependable parents or other adults on whom he can depend, a place he goes everyday to learn, to see friends. In contrast, Elian’s world is anything but stable; and will likely remain that way for some time. Until the end-game when one of the king’s surrenders.
Meanwhile, there remain so many anxiety-provoking experiences to be processed and so little equipment in which to process those experiences. The result could be delayed expressions of feeling, distrust of people, sleep disturbance with flashbacks, anxiety in the form of worry of future loss, gastrointestinal and other psychophysiological symptoms, anger and avoidance of places and events that remind him of this voyage into horror.
When the dust settles and Elian is placed in some permanent living arrangement, there are those who will feel defeated and others who will proclaim victory. But the impact on Elian will transcend the outcome. His anguish, expressed or otherwise, will not abate because of what is finally decided! How many of the “players” involved on either side do you suppose are thinking of that?
A little boy was forced to sacrifice the innocence of his childhood. He had no choice, he’s a pawn.