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Manuel Oliver performs 'Guac: My Son, my Hero' at MSU Latinx Film Festival

February 18, 2024
<p>Manuel Oliver performs 'Guac' at the MSU Latinx Film Festival on Feb 17th, 2024. </p>

Manuel Oliver performs 'Guac' at the MSU Latinx Film Festival on Feb 17th, 2024.

Photo by Hannah Holycross | The State News

The MSU Latinx Film Festival hosted activist and artist Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin Oliver, was fatally shot in 2018 at Parkland High School. 

Oliver performed his one-man show entitled “Guac”-- in reference to his son’s nickname– that circles around losing a child to gun violence.

The performance included a mix of comedy, anecdotes about being a father and a Venezuelan immigrant as well as his passion towards preventing what happened to his son from happening to others. 

Oliver’s wife, Patricia, spoke to the audience before the performance

After the death of their son, Patricia and Manuel founded the non-profit advocacy group Change the Ref, which seeks to empower young leaders to end gun violence in America. 

“It’s the worst thing that you can imagine any parent going through,” she said. “We knew that we had to do something.”

Because their non-profit has a focus on young leaders, MSU-gun violence activists joined Patricia on stage, founder of Sit Down MSU Maya Manuel and co-founder of Students Demand Action Saylor Reinders.

“Every kid and every young adult that comes to me is like having a new piece of Joaquin,” Oliver said

Michael Cotey, the director of the performance and artistic producer of “ENOUGH! Plays to End Gun Violence,”also spoke. 

Following the Parkland shooting, Cotey was inspired to take action but didn’t know how. He said that he decided to combine his activism with his passion for theater, founding his playwriting initiative that calls on teens to write short plays that confront gun violence. 

“This is to amplify and highlight the youth voice and the youth movement behind this issue,” Cotey said. “It’s through this work that I’ve met some truly, truly incredible people, among them are Manuel and Patricia, who were forced into this fight. They are some of the most badass activists working on this issue.” 

During his performance, Oliver expressed his frustration with the reality of living in a country where gun violence is normalized

“It’s a horrible reality that we live in the land of the free that has restrictions for every single thing, every industry, but if you want to buy a gun, it’s very easy,” Oliver said.

He talked of his persistence to talk to the people who can help put out more restrictive gun laws, going as far as to climb a crane in front of the White House to get President Joe Biden’s attention

Oliver succeeded, attending a meeting with his wife to speak with Biden in the Oval Office

Oliver told the story of what his day looked like on Valentine's day in 2018, his son picking out sunflowers to give to his girlfriend at school, Oliver waiting for a call from him to hear how it went, a call that would never come. 

Oliver took a 'time out' in the middle of the performance and encouraged the audience to call someone they love, because he said you never know when that last phone call will be.

He talked about the grief that comes with losing a child. Remembering the smell of the carpet from when he fell to the floor from the news about his son or how every birthday is a milestone that was stolen from Joaquin. He still wears a necklace that contains the sunflowers Joaquin gave to his girlfriend the day he died. 

Oliver ended the performance by playing one of Joaquin’s favorite songs, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd while drawing angel wings on a portrait of his son, placing sunflowers where there would be bullet holes and encouraging the audience to play the air guitar, something Joaquin loved to do. 

Oliver also emphasized that his performance is a branch of his fight against gun-violence

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“I don't do this because I want to be here, I do this so that you don’t have to,” he said. 

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