Thursday, December 15, 2011

DA Morales of Three Sonorans Gets It Wrong

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 at 2:00 PM


I have to admit up front, that before reading Gabby, the memoir largely penned by Mark Kelly, I was expecting an entirely different book. This isn't the fault of Kelly or even the publisher, but when the book hit my desk on the day of release, I guess I assumed there would be some sort of revelation inside. Even typing that seems ridiculous now, but after spending so much of 2011 following every bit of information that I could find about Rep. Giffords, occasionally feeling like I wasn't hearing the complete story, reading the book was almost like another part of that fact finding mission.

So, I read the entire thing cover-to-cover the night it came out, and the next day came to work planning to write some sort of review, discussing what was notable about the book. I think I started a post four or five times, but I couldn't quite figure out what to say. It's an interesting book, for sure, and as much as possible, I'd say I enjoyed reading it, but it's really a memoir at it's core. Mark Kelly tells his and his wife's stories, both before they met and after, and of course, that includes January 8th. If you want to get to know either of them better, it's a great book for that. If you want to know more about what Giffords' recovery has been like (for her and for Kelly), it's a great book for that too. It's a love story, it's a tough tale of coming back from a disastrous event, and it was Kelly's moment to talk about his wife ahead of a million other people who were going to do so.

All of that being said, there's probably plenty of room to still talk about Gabrielle Giffords, whether she should stay in office, whether she'll run again, whether she was good for her district before the tragic shooting, whatever. However, if you're going to talk about Mark Kelly and the book Gabby, you should tell the truth and DA Morales' post on Three Sonorans today ("Hispanic heroes? How Mexican American history is white-washed today in Arizona") doesn't do so.

There's a lot to unpack in his article, and I guess what I got out of the long preface (although I should talk, apparently) is that there's a pattern of rewriting history to exclude those who don't fit in the triumphant narrative of the majority, that the fight over ethnic studies is part of that larger struggle to tell a bigger and more accurate picture, and that there's some fear that Daniel Hernandez's action to save Rep. Giffords life could be taken away from the Latino community.

While that might be a point worth making or at least discussing, Morales' attempt to do so is fueled with inaccuracies about Kelly's book:

I don’t remember his name because the book fails to mention the Hispanic hero at all in the telling of the history. Maybe there was no hero. It was the wonders of Houston hospitals not Hispanic heroes that saves lives.

But maybe this history book was trying to avoid the politics, and stick to being an uplifting story of the love between two people. There was no time for talking about Mexicans and the good they do, the lives they save?

Except that's just not true. Morales quotes the book later in his post, so I assume he actually read it. However, even a quick search of the text on Google Books shows that Hernandez was mentioned in the chapter dealing with January 8th:

After a paramedic named Colt Jackson got to Gabby, he asked her, "Can you hear me?" In response, she squeezed his hand. One of Gabby's interns, twenty-year-old Daniel Hernandez, had remained at her side, his hand pressed against her head to contain her bleeding. As Daniel lifted Gabby up and cradled her, Ron Barber, on the ground and wounded in the face and leg, looked over at them...At about 10:40 a.m., Daniel accompanied Gabby to the ambulance, and she was rushed to University Medical Center. [pages 176-177]

At the end of Morales's post, he makes another statement about the book:

The acknowledgements at the very back of the book does mention Daniel Hernandez, last in a list that includes doctors, in one brief sentence.

I suppose this is (at best) true at face value - he is a part of a list that does include doctors and it is a sentence. However, there are a lot of acknowledgements at the end of the book (eight and a half pages worth), and for good reason, considering how many people were involved in Giffords' care, combined with the list of family, friends, associates, etc. that are generally mentioned in that space. Hardly anyone gets an extensive mention, but Hernandez is mentioned among the people who were at the event and provided care, following a sentence about Pam Simon, and on the second page, ahead of quite a few people (including the doctors of UMC and Barack Obama, for what it's worth):

We also want to thank Dr. David Bowman, Nancy Bowman, Dr. David Beal, Anna Ballis, and Gabby's intern, Daniel Hernandez, who administered first aid to Gabby and the other victims.

Notice that that list is in alphabetical order by last name. It's hardly a snub, and he's included in a list of other people that makes perfect sense. What exactly is Morales expecting from Kelly? Whatever it is, it doesn't make much sense, considering how many people can be credited with "saving" Giffords' life, both on January 8th and beyond.

I honestly don't know what Morales feels his ideas gain from misrepresenting what's in the book or how Hernandez is treated by the text. Anyone who has read the book notices how little of the book is actually about January 8th itself. The chapter that discusses what happened at the Safeway takes up only eight pages, and quite a bit of those words are about those who died there that day and what brought them to Oracle and Ina on that Saturday.

Thinking about it, that's probably for a good reason. To some extent, whether intentional or not, Gabby makes an attempt to recapture the narrative of Giffords' life from focusing on one terrible day. Instead, reading the book, you feel like you get to know Giffords better, what made her the type of congresswoman she was and what's driving her in her recovery from a serious brain injury. In the end, while that part of her story doesn't go away, no one wants their life story to focus on something that happened to you. Instead, we want it to be about what we did with our lives. That's probably true for Daniel Hernandez as well, who I think is well on his way to a career in public service that might put January 8th well in the rear-view mirror. Hopefully, that day will only merit a brief mention in a memoir he'll write someday about his life, with a series of accomplishments filling pages about his life after 2011.

Cultural politics are complicated enough here in Tucson and there are real issues left to be tackled and resolved, if that's even possible. However, at this moment, at least twenty people have shared Morales' post based on a false premise on Facebook and elsewhere. We only complicate the conversation when we don't start by telling the truth.

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