Begging children with dirty faces and clothes approaching cars with outstretched hands is a common sight in many large Mexican cities. So common in fact, that it seldom warrants notice, much less a picture and plea for help on Facebook. But last week a Facebook user posted this photo of a begging child who approached his car in Guadalajara because he suspected she might have been kidnapped because she had blonde hair, green eyes and light skin, while “her parents are brown”. He immediately contacted the public child welfare agency and state prosecutors, and requested others on Facebook to “spread the photo around”. Officials placed the 5-year-old child in an orphanage and detained her 23-year-old mother for two days while they investigated. Although, DNA test results are pending, the grandmother of the child (who happens to also have green eyes) was able to produce a birth certificate.
While some have praised him for taking action, others have condemned his actions as racist.
“We need to see a white girl to worry about kidnapping, trafficking of children and child exploitation,” wrote human rights activist Yali Noriega. “I’ve never seen photos of Indian children or simply dark-skinned kids circulating on the Internet with people asking others to help them.”
On the surface, a man sensed something amiss (a child’s hair, eyes, and skin were different from her mother) and he raised his concern. We usually praise such action. A similar response of a California public official who sensed something “off” with the family before him resulted in the rescue of Jaycee Dugard 18 years after she was kidnapped. When you look below the surface, however, the child’s race probably played a role.
This man took special notice of this child because of her race, and then further noticed that she looked strikingly different from her mother. It is true that there is no one racial profile of a Mexican, but also true that green-eyed, blonde haired, light skinned begging children are not the norm. Families that don’t match are also not the norm, and like it or not, draw greater attention.
As the mom of a “mismatched” family (otherwise known as a transracial adoptive mom), I am more than familiar with public attention and enhanced scrutiny of my actions. I don’t always like the attention. Once I was out with my kids running errands and tried to fit one more stop into an already overstuffed afternoon. One of my kids had been in a particularly pill-ish mood all day; in fairness, at that point in the day she was also tired and was more than ready to get home. I too was tired and ready to get home, but not before I finished my ever so important to-do list.
To make a long and uncomfortable story short, she melted down in the store (which translates into throwing a major fit). A tired cranky mom and a tired cranky kid is not a good combination. Rather than scooping her up, leaving the store, and calling it a day, I got down on her level and hissed a few well-placed threats and threw in a few bribes for good measure. (I was much more in the mood that day for the “carry a big stick” approach to diplomacy, rather than the “placate them with bribes” approach.) Seconds into my own hissy fit, I became aware of what at the time seemed like a store full of judging eyes. I am sure these folks had seen stressed-out moms poorly handling screaming kids before. They might have silently judged them, but I doubt they would have given it as much attention as they gave to us. We are a conspicuous family, made all the more so by my actions that day.
I chose to become a transracial adoptive family, and most days I handle the added attention with good grace and sometimes even pride. I don’t know the details of the Mexican mom and her child–she has changed her story on who the father is, and it doesn’t really matter. She may not have chosen this, but her family stands out and will draw added attention. It is human nature to notice the unusual.
The Facebook user might well have noticed and felt bad about all the dark haired, brown eyed, dark skinned beggar children. Sadly, they are quite common. Is it fair to fault him for noticing more the one that seemed uncommon? He took action to prevent a kidnapping, not to prevent underage beggars in Mexico. I suspect that if the DNA results come back showing the child is unrelated to the “mother”, then he will be hailed as a hero. You do have to wonder however, if maybe we shouldn’t all be more concerned about poverty that results in childhood begging regardless of the skin, hair, and eye color of the child.