March 29, 2005

Your Turn: The Shrine


(click on image to examine larger version)

In what seems like a growing consideration of the price of the Iraq war, the media is full of stories.

Particularly fateful are losses suffered by immigrants who enlisted in the U.S. military in hopes of a quick path to citizenship and a more stable economic future.  Pfc. Jesús Fonseca was originally from Degollado, Mexico, although he mostly grew up in Marrieta, Georgia.  Just 19,  he was killed by a sniper in Ramadi this past January.  Despite his U.S. residence, he used to return to his hometown every summer.  That is where he met and married his wife, Marlene Zaragoza, in November 2003.  Marelene, shown above, is now 18.  According to the NYT article (Mexican Pride and Death in U.S. service – link), approximately 41,000 permanent resident aliens are serving in the United States military — over 3,600 of them from Mexico.

I am interested in your interpretations of this image.  I’ve been looking at it on and off for about a week now, and I find it as curious as it is moving.  (Of course, it’s almost impossible not to speculate about the television.) 

Unlike other news images, the accompanying article supplies a certain amount of information about it.  It could just be the reporter’s characterization, but the assemblage to the right of Ms. Zaragoza is referred to as a “shrine.”  Here is the specific description:

The shrine set up on a broken television in the corner would be familiar to many American military families. The somber Stars and Stripes is folded neatly in a triangle, encased in wood and glass. A couple of medals lie in boxes, inert as rocks, collecting dust. …A stern young man in his dress United States Army uniform peers at visitors from a small photograph. His dog tags hang beside the photo. A photo of the same young man with his even younger wife, caught in a swirl of laughter, is nearby.

There are a couple other pieces of information you might want to know:  According to Mr. Fonseca’s parents, attaining citizenship was not what motivated Jesús to enlist.  It was part of it, his father reports, but he got good grades and could easily have gone to college.  Instead, he was interested in a military career, and wanted to be an intelligence officer.  I mention this last point because the article also profiles two other young men from Mexico who recently died in Iraq.  Whereas Mr. Fonseca might have seemed more secure in his future, the other two soldiers were of quite limited means, and apparently had been heavily solicited by military recruiters, one from the age of 14.


(click on image to examine larger version)

By the way, this article was actually accompanied by two photos.  The other shot, featuring Mr. Fonseca’s brother and grandmother, is also very striking and strange.  The empty, unfinished picture frame is almost as curious as the “shrine” in the other image.

I’m interested in your thoughts about either, or both.

(image: Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times)

(story referral: Tom)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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