I do not know what killed eighteen-year old Joaquin Luna Lorma Jr. I mean, I know about the artifact that he allegedly used to take his own life a day after Thanksgiving Day. What I do not know is what drove this quiet and gentle undocumented immigrant high school student originally from Nayarit, Tepic, to suddenly bid his family and loved ones goodbye and shut his life's door forever. Was it despair, angst, fear, isolation, hopelessness, love, politics...
"To go to heaven you don't need papers," reads a hand-drawn picture posted at the entrance of Joaquin's small but well-lit bedroom. A giant window allows in plenty of sunlight which unapologetically meshes with the four sea-green-colored walls creating the illusion that you just have entered a magic world of ferns and vanilla leafs. This was Joaquin's space and on his computer he designed dozens of buildings and structures that once printed became complex and utterly fascinating blueprints.
The young guitarist wanted to become an engineer and be the family's savior. According to his schoolmates, teachers, and those who knew Joaquin closely, he exuded collegiate motivation and spoke of big future plans. Technically, he had already built his first castle from scratch. Blueprints drawn by Joaquin and eagerly shown to everyone by older brother Diyer were the foundation for the home he shared with his mother and two brothers. He didn't get to work on all the trimmings but when Diyer extends his arms wide to showcase his little brother's "design," you would think he was talking about a Taj Mahal or The Alhambra.
So who was this Joaquin, what did he want out of life, and why is he the subject of conversation in so many circles, especially amongst immigrant rights advocates who ask ourselves if we could have done something, anything, to prevent his suicide? The answers do not come easily because most of us just barely met the boy-becoming-a-man who was bursting with so many questions himself.
To describe Joaquin only as a dreamer, or an undocumented immigrant, is to cut short a lot of what his family and friends says he was. Most of us before this week probably did not know about this diamond in the raw living in a border town of 64,000 residents. Had he not with his own hands cut his life short, we would have never learned that Joaquin read the Bible every night right before he went to bed. We would not know that since early on in his childhood he earned a living performing odd jobs to help his family make ends meet. "He learned carpentry like that," says Santa Mendoza Lorma, Joaquin's mom. "He learned to make beautiful things out of nothing."
Had his actions not touched so many of us, we probably would have moved on, not intentionally dismissive of his struggle and achievements, but onward trying to save an immigrant over here, an immigrant over there. After all, the human crisis we talk about is very real and every day we see with our own eyes monsters with lances and spikes heading our community's way all the while our fearless leaders do nothing to protect us. The dreams this young man from Mission, Texas once had fell precipitously into the abyss to never return, and now we wonder selfishly how his life and death can help us, inspire us -- because God knows we need inspiration -- or anger us enough to keep fighting so that new Americans like him get a chance to be described with superlatives -- bravest, smartest, most American -- and not as invaders from another planet.
Ultimately, what we know about Joaquin so far is what we would like to believe killed him, a broken and inhumane immigration system. The DHS chimera, toxic by nature and obscenely fed by greed, politics and cowardice, is guilty, we contend with gnashing teeth. Perhaps we are on to something. Perhaps we are missing the point altogether.
Whatever led Joaquin to pull the trigger on that Friday evening, his family, his friends and the rest of us who now care about what he could have become, mourn the sudden loss, condemn the use of violence to solve a problem no matter how unsurpassable, praise the courage of thousands upon thousands of immigrant families and dreamers who keep fighting in spite of a life condemned in the shadows, and inevitably dig deep to find our bruised heart squatting alongside cynicism, contempt for politics, and righteousness. But we are feeling something and doing something about his loss.
As I write these thoughts, Joaquin's body lies in rest at a funeral home in southern Texas. Members of his family arrived early today to see his body for the first time since the coroner's office and the police investigators whisked it away Friday night. "My son left this earth as clean and as pure as he first came to me," Mrs. Mendoza tells me over the phone. "But he didn't want to be a nobody. He was convinced his lack of papers would doom his chances of success after college." And with anger rising in her voice, she says: "I hope these Republicans and racists finally understand that we are all here, we are all the same, we will all turn to dust just the same, and there's always someone higher than the highest of them all, always."
The image of Joaquin's blueprints splattered all over his desk stays with me because I never understood the myriad of patterns and lines crisscrossing each other along huge sheets of paper. Joaquin mastered the art of design early on and found beauty where I would only find a splitting headache. His untimely death is not the first or the last the immigrant community has faced, but to be young, have a dream, and to let it go so early has got to be the greatest tragedy of all. Let us hope his family finds the comfort and strenght they will need as they work through their great loss. Let us hope this administration will find it within its heart to shift the tides, shake some trees, make some noise, and bring about a new dawn, one that regrettably Joaquin did not have a chance to see.