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A Survivor Who Was Only 10 Years Old Became the Voice of Uvalde

Caitlyn Gonzales should not be a finalist for Texan of the Year, according to The Dallas Morning News. Her name should be unfamiliar to most individuals in the state. Every time her mother says “good night,” she should not be tortured by horrible dreams.

She should not make a habit of visiting classmates’ graves. She should still be under the naive, fifth-grade assumption that the president of the United States is named Joe Byron, as she told classmate Marley Arellano this summer.

But in Caitlyne’s life, and the lives of thousands more Texans devastated by gun violence, what should be has been destroyed, and what should never have been having become terrifyingly true. Caitlyn was a survivor of the May 24 school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. That day, she hid in the corner of Room 106 with Marley, listening to a gunman across the hall execute 19 of their students and two teachers, saying “good night” as he fired the trigger.

Caitlyn knew all of the victims, and she has spoken on their behalf since that terrible day. She wanted accountability from the law enforcement officers who sat in the school hallway for more than an hour listening to gunfire.

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She went to the nation’s capital and implored politicians to approve gun control legislation so that her nightmare would not befall others. She kept her classmates’ memories alive by speaking at rallies and memorials, visiting shrines and paintings dedicated to them, and adorning their graves.

“Robb’s most public survivor,” wrote Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox, “a voice for her pals who were killed and for those who were alive but too scared to say anything… a 4-foot-8, 75-pound incarnation of the maroon ‘Uvalde Strong’ flags flying all over Texas.”

Caitlyn stood in front of senators, a school board, and hundreds of heartbroken Texans, carrying a weight that should never have been hers and looked far too large for someone wearing shoes and a hair bow. When the father of one of the victims shared a photo of Caitlyn speaking to the Uvalde school board with another of the “Fearless Girl” sculpture facing down the Charging Bull statue in New York, he caught her fierceness perfectly.

The trauma she endured might have been enough to wreck a soul, to curl up a potential young life in a ball of anxiety, rage, uncertainty, escapism, and self-harm for most 10-year-olds — indeed, for most adults. Caitlyn will have to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of her life.

Caitlyn, on the other hand, sees herself as a “helper,” according to Cox, thus her reaction to tragedy has been to do what she can to help others. In that manner, she represents the community of people who have supported one another over the last seven months, through grief, funerals, a media frenzy, Dia de Los Muertos, the start of a school year, and the first holiday season without loved ones.

It’s unrealistic to expect Caitlyn Gonzales to assist in the healing our state requires or the gun reform our legislators refuse to implement. To burden her with that expectation would only exacerbate her sorrow. Her nomination here should be interpreted as a thank you for the strength she has already demonstrated, not as an appointment to the position of Uvalde spokeswoman. Caitlyn must be a child in 2023.

But, before the year 2022 is through, we’ll be grateful to her for speaking up. She should not be a contestant for Texan of the Year because of her involvement in a catastrophe. She is, nonetheless, notable for her grace, courage, and maturity beyond her years.

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