Every morning, I read the newspaper before heading to work. Lately, I have been deeply disturbed by the growing number of stories about horrendous crimes committed against our children. Sometimes I don't even want to open the newspaper because I feel I can't face one more story about adults molesting children, one parent killing the other, resulting in children facing life with one parent in the cemetery and the other in prison, and children being locked in closets by their parents, natural or foster.
Our children today are caught in a conundrum of adult issues, and I often find myself giving thanks that there are still many children being raised by parents who love them and would never hurt them and by parents who, though divorced, would never hurt their child's other parent. I wish all children were so fortunate.
I found it both ironic and troubling that last Wednesday my column about the mess that is our mental health system appeared in the Valley Town Crier, and that same morning, an article appeared in The Monitor titled "Brother: Student killed self over legal status." I sat, stunned, as my eyes moved to the subheading: "The sibling says the teen's concerns about getting a college education prompted the suicide." I felt sick as I read the story of Joaquin Luna, a senior at La Joya's Lincoln-Juarez High School who ranked in the top 20 percent of his class and who had hopes of becoming a civil engineer. According to Joaquin's brother, this promising young man chose to end his life rather than face the possible consequences of living in the U.S. illegally.
Most readers know the topic of suicide hits home for me because my brother, Tim, died as a result of suicide in July of 2002, two months after his 30th birthday. I have no tolerance for the stigma that surrounds those who have contemplated suicide or those whose lives were cut short by suicide. It's 2011, and we have ready access to endless research and data about suicide and the mental illnesses that cause it and yet we still hear people say things like those who die by suicide are "selfish."
Since reading the story about Joaquin, I haven't been able to get him off my mind. I know many people have intense opinions about illegal immigration. Personally, I hate the topic because it confuses me. Yes, I know what the term "illegal" means. I also know that our country appears to be bursting at the seams with individuals who came here illegally. While most of those individuals chose to come to America so they could have a better life, there is also the criminal element and those who find ways to drain taxpayers. I get all of that.
But when I think of the children, all of those arguments fade away. That conundrum of adult issues traps them. Their parents made the choice to bring them to America illegally and the U.S. government failed to enforce its own laws against it. So now these children can either earn the education that will allow them to be successful and productive citizens or sit in our communities, uneducated, doing what?
To me, the word echoes: conundrum, conundrum, conundrum. Should a high school senior fear the consequences of his parents' decision so much that he would choose to end his life? There are those who have said he obviously had other "issues" if he would "choose" suicide. And what if he did? Who was there to help him see otherwise?
I choose to save the illegal immigration debate for another day. Yes, it is important. Very important. But for now, I prefer to focus on what I addressed last week. When are we going to address the mess that is the mental health system and where are we when our children need help?
Chris Ardis is in her 28th year of teaching, 27 of those in McAllen ISD. She is also a freelance writer. Chris is involved with a grassroots movement to transform public education called SOAR McAllen, which you can find on Facebook. You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.