Parents of Parkland Victim Planned to Unveil a Mural in El Paso. Then Another Mass Shooting Happened

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Image Credit: Courtesy Rania Batrice

During this weekend’s deadly gun violence in El Paso, Texas, Manuel and Patricia Oliver were in the vicinity because they were planning on commemorating what would have been the 19th birthday of their son, Joaquin Oliver. Joaquin was one of the 17 people gunned down during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day last year. Manuel and Patricia had traveled to Ciudad Juárez, across the U.S. border into Mexico, to visit an immigrant shelter in honor of their deceased son, saying no child should ever be separated from their parents by either gunfire or immigration agents. They planned to travel to El Paso the next day, where they were going to paint a mural commemorating their son’s life and passion for immigration rights, when they got word of the mass shooting at the Walmart. From Ft. Lauderdale, we speak with Manuel and Patricia Oliver.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As we continue to cover this weekend’s deadly gun violence, we’re joined now by Manuel and Patricia Oliver. On Saturday morning, they were just miles away from the El Paso, Texas, Walmart store where the mass shooting took place, commemorating what would have been the 19th birthday of their son, Joaquin Oliver. Joaquin was one of the 17 people shot dead during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day last year, when a former student, armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle, opened fire.

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel and Patricia Oliver had traveled to Ciudad Juárez, across the U.S. border into Mexico, to visit an immigrant shelter in honor of their son, saying no child should ever be separated from their parent, not by gunfire, not by border control agents, and the couple was going to El Paso when they got word of the mass shooting. They were heading to paint a mural to commemorate their son’s life and passion for immigrant rights. Many of their murals also call for an end to gun violence, in honor of their son. The mural at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, an El Paso nonprofit dedicated to advocating for immigrant and refugee rights, was scheduled to be unveiled Sunday evening.

Well, we’re going to Fort Lauderdale now, not far from Parkland, where we’re joined by Manuel and Patricia Oliver. They just flew into Florida from El Paso yesterday, last night.

Thanks so much for rejoining us again. We spoke to you when you were here in New York. And our condolences on this weekend. Again, your son would have been — Joaquin would have been 19 years old. Describe how you learned that this massacre had taken place at Walmart.

MANUEL OLIVER: We were — thank you for having us here again. We were notified by friends calling us. A lot of our friends and people that know what we do were a little concerned when they started listening this shooting in El Paso, and they knew that we were in El Paso. So they started calling Patricia’s phone. And at some point it got a little weird that everybody was asking, “How are you? Are you OK?” And then, right after that, a few minutes, we heard, like, “Hey, there’s a shooting going on here in El Paso, so maybe we should go and see what happened.”

So, we were in Cuidad Juárez at this moment, as you said, visiting an immigrant center, and then we went back to El Paso to see what we could do. But yeah, that’s the way that we had to, again, go through a mass shooting pretty close to where we were.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your reaction to the almost predictable now reaction of national leaders after every one of these mass shootings, and a lot of words said initially, but then, most of the time, almost invariably, it’s forgotten?

MANUEL OLIVER: Well, you know what? I think some things are changing already, and I want to think that way maybe. But I haven’t heard so many thoughts and prayers. Maybe they’re starting to understand that nobody is going play the game that way.

But, of course, we were watching the president when he was talking to the nation, and he was actually reading to the nation what he thought. So, it’s a whole — you don’t read your emotions. You’re not honest 100% with your feelings when you have to read how you’re feeling and what you think should be done.

So, leaders, again, disappoint me. The governor from Texas, shame on him. I mean, the way he’s endorsing the NRA, it’s been years. And actually, the reality is that we’re all targets. In this particular case, yes, Latinos and Hispanics and immigrants, but at the end of the day, we are all targets — you, me, Patricia, everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts, Patricia, on President Trump saying he’s going to El Paso and Dayton? The mayor of Dayton said, “Is he going Dayton or Toledo?” because, you know, in his address, he gave condolences to the people of Toledo. But —

PATRICIA OLIVER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: So she said she wasn’t sure where he was going. But it’s very clear — I mean, people like Beto O’Rourke, who was the congressman from El Paso, said he is not welcome here. Your thoughts on this, as people who lost their own son in a mass shooting?

PATRICIA OLIVER: Well, Amy, first of all, thank you for having us here, sadly, but again, under these circumstances. Really, I agree with Beto, because one person showing that attitude, increasing that division that he’s been doing — talking about Trump, of course — and then he’s pretending to go to El Paso, showing what?

It’s obvious that what he’s been saying in the past has been having consequences. And these consequences are in the community of El Paso. El Paso is suffering the discrimination. It’s suffering the white supremacist hatred that is being seeded by this president.

This president has to think about it first, where he’s going, and after he realizes that he’s going to a place that he’s been just suggesting that we have to have this kind of divisions, and due to the support of all lobbies related with gun violence, I think that he should be thinking more than once. Because that reminds me, myself, when this happened to us here, that we are still waiting for him to come.

AMY GOODMAN: In Parkland.

PATRICIA OLIVER: So, it doesn’t matter where he goes. It matters what he does. And if he does really good things and he takes action of his own words and responsibilities have been saying that kind of things in the past — discrimination, hatred, division — we’re going to talk in a different way.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask Manuel — this is the 30th mural you’ve done, since your son passed away, in various cities across the country. You did one in — outside the NRA convention in Dallas. What’s been the reaction of ordinary people who have seen these murals of yours? And your hope for possible change in terms of gun regulations, gun laws?

MANUEL OLIVER: There is a few things going on with the murals. I think that the most important one is that these are not art pieces that I paint. These are statements from Joaquin. And it’s a way to turn a victim into an activist. And we feel good about that, because we continue with our parenting role. And we also think that Joaquin deserves that opportunity to defend himself, to represent other victims. So that’s basically the main idea behind the murals.

Now, the other thing that we thought when we started this, I’m an artist. This is my only skill. I have very few skills. That’s one of them. So I use it. I didn’t turn myself into anything different after I lost my beautiful son and my best friend. We think that untraditional ways to connect people and to make impact easy, fast — it’s like an advertising billboard — it will be something that might work. I don’t believe in traditional ways of fighting gun violence. There’s been years of gun violence. So we decided, “You know what? I’m not going to spend time talking to a politician in D.C. I can do that all day long. I have tried it. I’d rather stay 30 minutes, paint a wall, get it out there. Everybody will see it. And now you have a reaction from a social point of view.” And in a few years — hopefully not so many — we will see that change of behavior from society. That’s the whole point behind the murals.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling for an assault weapons ban?

MANUEL OLIVER: A hundred percent. Of course.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that President Trump has never come to Parkland?

PATRICIA OLIVER: Yeah.

MANUEL OLIVER: No. Well, very close when he plays golf, but no Parkland.

PATRICIA OLIVER: Exactly. He goes to Mar-a-Lago. And when that happened to us last year, he was — as far as I can remember, he was visiting the injured ones in different hospitals, but no more than that. He offered to come more than once, actually, because that didn’t happen. We offered — we invited him to come home and see Joaquin’s room, and we didn’t get any answer yet. So, I don’t think that going to a place, with no meaning what you’re trying to transmit to people, it doesn’t matter. You could stay home and stay in the White House and do something better, more worth it, finally.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, clearly, what happened with Parkland is Parkland came to Washington, and led by the students, the student survivors, 800,000 strong, marched in Washington, D.C. It’s also where we saw the two of you. We want to thank you both so much for being with us, Patricia and Manuel Oliver, parents of Joaquin, killed last year at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland. He would have turned 19 years old this past weekend.

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