A 10-year-old Survivor Became Uvalde’s Voice: The Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year finalist Caitlyne Gonzales shouldn’t be chosen. No one in the state should be familiar with her name. Every time her mother bids her “good night,” she shouldn’t be plagued by bad dreams. She shouldn’t make it a practice to go to her classmates’ graves. She should still believe that the president of the United States is named Joe Byron, as she informed her classmate Marley Arellano this summer.
However, what should be shattered in Caitlyne’s life, the lives of the hundreds of Texans devastated by gun violence, and what should never have horrifyingly come to pass? Caitlyn survived the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde on May 24. The shooter who killed 19 of their classmates and two teachers that day said “good night” as he fired the trigger as she huddled in the corner of Room 106 holding Marley’s hand.
Since that terrible day, Caitlyn has spoken for all the victims since she knew them all. She requested an explanation from the police officers who remained in the school corridor listening to gunfire for more than an hour. She traveled to the nation’s capital and urged politicians to enact gun legislation to save others from experiencing her horror. She spoke at protests and memorials, visited the shrines and paintings erected in their honor, and even decorated their graves to preserve the memory of her classmates.
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She was described as “Robb’s most visible survivor, a voice for her pals who were killed and for those who were surviving but too afraid to say anything… a 4-foot-8, 75-pound incarnation of the maroon “Uvalde Strong” banners flying all over Texas” by Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox.
Caitlyn carried a responsibility that shouldn’t have been hers while standing in front of senators, a school board, and hundreds of heartbroken Texans. It seemed excessive for someone wearing sneakers and a hair bow. When he posted images of Caitlyn addressing the Uvalde school board and the “Fearless Girl” sculpture squaring up against the Charging Bull statue in New York, the father of one of the victims expertly conveyed her fierceness.
The trauma she experienced might have been enough to destroy a soul and roll up a potential young life in a ball of worry, rage, uncertainty, escapism, and self-harm for most 10-year-olds and even most people. Indeed, Caitlyn will continue to struggle with PTSD for years to come. But according to Cox, Caitlyn views herself as a “helper,” thus she has handled tragedy by doing all she can to help others.
She thus stands in for the group of people who have helped one another over the past seven months as they dealt with the fallout from tragedy, the funerals, the media frenzy, Da de Los Muertos, the beginning of the school year, and the first holiday season spent without loved ones.
It’s unreasonable to expect Caitlyn Gonzales to help bring about the necessary healing for our state or the ignored gun reform by our legislators. That expectation will only worsen her loss if we put it on her. Her selection here ought to be interpreted as an expression of appreciation for the courage she has already displayed, not as a candidate for the position of spokeswoman for Uvalde. In 2023, Caitlyn must be a child.
But we’ll be grateful that she spoke up before 2022 is over. Because of her connections to a tragedy, she shouldn’t be a Texan of the Year nominee. If not for her grace, bravery, and maturity well beyond her years, she would not be.