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A Dad Keeps Slain Son’s Flame Alive

Parkland father Manuel Oliver fights guns in Guac’s memory

A “guerilla mural” Manuel Oliver created outside the NRA’s headquarters in Virginia.
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Untrammeled access to guns was at it again, tragically, in Santa Clarita, California, on November 14.

But Parkland Dad and artist Manuel Oliver is also at it again. Oliver and his wife, Patricia Paduay Oliver, lost their son, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver on February 14, 2018 — Valentine’s Day — in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They have been on an artistic mission ever since, fighting for sensible gun laws — and part of that mission is a performance piece coming to the 92nd Street Y this month, for one night only.

Through my gun violence work with Gays Against Guns, I have been so fortunate to get to know the couple. I have seen Oliver create a mural of his son outside of the National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, done “guerilla postering” with both parents in Greenwich Village, and joined their Change the Ref group’s “Back to School” school fashion bus tour of New York during last year’s Fashion Week.

You might have seen news of Oliver testifying to Congress, talking about gun violence elsewhere on TV, or introducing his board game “Impossible Operation” to get his message across.

I was invited to see a preview Manuel’s multi-media stage show, “Guac, My Son, My Hero,” while it was still in the development process. In a little over an hour, Oliver takes us through the life of his son and the entire family. Through it, we experience the joy of their lives, their deep and loving connection, and the actual events of their tragic day. We see how Guac’s parents have grown since their loss and also discover something new about their son — he was an anti-gun activist. Not even his parents knew.

Gays Against Guns and its sister chorale group Sing Out, Louise will be part of the 92nd Street Y performance at the 92nd Street Y.

Oliver had good reason dating back to his youth to fear and loathe guns. Gun violence brought him to the US from Venezuela. The story shows us a like-minded duo. Father and son had their differences, but those could have been the teasing squabbles of best friends. Who was the greatest — Hendrix or Slash? Joaquin was a talented basketball player, Manuel not so, yet he still stepped up to coach.

The Oliver family dynamic comes across in word, art, and music, and the show has surprises that can’t be revealed. It is artful, dramatic, terrifying, sweet, and, yes, funny. We meet a family Mom, Dad, sister, and dog — who still hold Guac tightly. The teen remains an inspiration, an activist even now. Lost but present. As Manuel says, “I am still his Dad.”

GUAC: MY SON, MY HERO | 92nd Street Y, Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1395 Lexington Ave. | $35 at 92y.org

Updated 4:46 pm, November 15, 2019
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