Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018

Parents of young Venezuelan fallen in Parkland turn the adversity in life purpose

During the last two months, Patricia and Manuel Oliver believe they have deciphered the task that their son Joaquin posthumously entrusted to him.

“Guac” – as they nicknamed Joaquín – would be at the forefront of the student movement that unleashed the historic March for Our Lives, demanding that the lives and safety of young people become priorities of the political class, their parents say. They have embarked on a civic quest against guns in the United States with the aim of reclaiming the lives of their son and 16 other victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 in the town of Parkland.

“My son did not stop being here because of an accident, but because there is a system that allows shootings to happen,” explains the 50-year-old father. “We have decided to fight against this injustice. It is the most logical to feel that, at least, there is a chance that this, one, does not happen again; and two, make sense in some way, even if it’s a little bit, what happened to Joaquin. ”


A small altar pays tribute to Joaquin Oliver at his parents’ house in Coral Springs, Florida.

Daniel Shoer Roth The New Herald

In order to support the ex-partners of their son, the couple founded Change the Ref (Change to the Referee), a nonprofit organization whose agenda “is nothing but empowering their agenda,” through teaching tools, logistical support and activism, says the 51-year-old mother.

The most immediate goal, he stresses, is to stop, in the legislative elections of November, the arrival in Congress of politicians with links to the National Rifle Association (NRA). By virtue of this, they began a campaign to encourage young people to vote and will disclose among their followers the names of some candidates with such ties.

“We want them to use their own weapons, which is the vote,” says Patricia Oliver.

One week before the third most lethal school shooting in US history, Joaquín, a sports fan, was expelled from a basketball game for fouls that his father, the team coach, considered arbitrary. After a heated discussion with the referee, both were thrown off the court. At home, they speculated about a connection between the referee and the other team. If true, said Joaquin, it was not a fair game.

He was remembering that conversation that his father came up with the name of the organization.

Art against oblivion

Joaquin’s parents have proposed to prevent the Parkland massacre from being filed as another chapter in the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

“It’s very easy to turn around and see the next news,” Patricia acknowledges.

A central component of the initiative are the “Demand Walls”, a series of murals painted by Manuel with a social intention during performances in which members of the public join the visual manifestation by stamping their signatures.

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In mid-March, they were invited to the exhibition “Parkland 17” sponsored by Dwyane Wade, one of Joaquín’s heroes, in a gallery in Wynwood. Manuel drew the face of his son and wrote, in black ink, “We demand a change” (We demand a change). Next, he hammered the play 17 times to evoke the sound of the shots. More than 2,500 people signed it.

The video of the performance went viral and motivated them to paint two murals in New York and Los Angeles. There will be a total of 17, one for each victim, and each will channel a different demand.

“It’s no longer about sad parents who want to paint a message; now it is Joaquín, who has a voice through art “, says Manuel Oliver, creative director of an entertainment company, who defines this exercise as” graphic activism “.


Manuel and Patricia Oliver with their daughter Andrea, the student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas David Hogg (left) and Edna Lizbeth Chávez (right), the Hispanic teenager who delivered a moving speech in Washington during the March for Our Lives. They pose in front of the mural in Los Angeles.

Courtesy Manuel Oliver

The Olivers have also participated in rallies organized by Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, at commemorative events and at community symposiums on gun control. His message: “Violence does not choose, it is absolutely unpredictable.”

Terrible coincidence

The Oliver couple emigrated from Venezuela to South Florida with their two children, Andrea, the eldest, and Joaquín, in August 2003, a day before the man turned three. Of Spanish descent on the part of Manuel, and Lebanese on the part of Patricia, the family was dedicated to the field of the restoration in Caracas, with specialty in the Japanese gastronomy.

Business management was complicated after the oil strike of 2002-2003 that sharpened political polarization and insecurity, and propelled the first exodus of Venezuelans.


Joaquín, a sports fan, used to wear the shirt of the Venezuelan soccer team and the colors of the flag of his native land.

Courtesy Manuel Oliver

In the United States, they were integrated into the native culture and eventually obtained the American nationality, conserving Spanish and Venezuelan roots in the home. Joaquín was a devotee of Vinotinto, the national soccer team, and worried about the deterioration of his native country, where family members still reside.

Days ago, the parents went to clean the white cross of tribute to their son in the provisional memorial that was erected in Parkland to commemorate the victims. A woman approached and said: “What a pity they moved to this country.”

It is a comment that they would not listen more. “It is an incomplete analysis to associate that we came from insecurity”, explains Manuel. “The problem of insecurity in Venezuela is terrible on a daily basis, but the problem [of violence] here is from here.”

“It is a terrible coincidence that we are one of the victims, but when you go to a country and decide to become a citizen, you assume the good and the bad. We are not sorry we moved. ”

The most painful absence

On Valentine’s Eve, Joaquín Oliver went from a basketball game to a Publix supermarket to buy a card for his girlfriend, a bouquet of yellow flowers – his favorite color – and a stuffed elephant. He had just received his first salary at an ice cream parlor, an envelope with $ 120 in cash.

That night, the 17-year-old asked his father, Manuel Oliver, to help him show off the most refined bouquet, cleaning the flowers of thorns and damaged petals, while he dedicated the card in the living room of his home in Coral Springs. The next day, they drank a morning coffee together and the father took him to school.

“You call me to tell me how you did with the flowers,” Manuel told him when he said goodbye with a “I love you, son.”

The call never arrived.

Since then, they carry a constant pain, which has its moments of outbreak, describes the mother. “Suddenly, I may be seeing something or reading anything and I grieve.”


Patricia and Manuel Oliver in Joaquin’s room on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, surrounded by photographs and beautiful memories of his son. “We could be parents of a victim of the shooting and that’s fine,” says Manuel. “But we decided that we are the parents of one of the boys who is leading the movement.”

Daniel Shoer Roth The New Herald

Every December 22, Joaquin and Manuel wrote on cardboard cards their wishes for the coming year, tied them to helium balloons and released them so that they would arrive “at the hands” of Santa.

It was one of several traditions between father and son. “I always looked for magical moments so that when I died, he remembered a dad cool and he will tell his children, “he says. “How unfair it is that those elaborate memories for him to remember me, now serve for me to remember him.”


This cereal box was created by Joaquin, with the help of his father, for a school marketing project.

Daniel Shoer Roth The New Herald

Especially physical absence hurts them, to the point that they still expect to hear him say “good night” and watch him leave his room, decorated with photographs of the young man and innumerable memories like a cereal box with his image created for a school marketing project .

“Search inside for your opportunity of a free trip to Venezuela”, announces, in English, the back of the box.

The trip of the Oliver family will always lack a passenger, a son left prematurely, leaving them an impossible vacuum to fill.

“We will never feel good in that aspect,” they conclude, emphasizing that only activism in honor of Joaquín will ease their pains. But, perhaps, someday, they hope hopefully, “we will achieve serenity”.

Sometimes, in quiet moments, they feel that they can hear their son motivating them to continue their fight: “I sacrifice myself, but the work must be done down there Take this torch, take it and solve it.”

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