Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic’

Something there is that doesn’t love a Wall, Part 6

July 22, 2008

           Belfast once vied with Dublin for the heart of Ireland.  It was there the Titanic was constructed; it was here C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and novelist of the Chronicles of Narnia came into the world. 

            After the Troubles started in the 1960s, however, this important port in Northern Ireland took a drastic turn.  The already tense situation of British control of a predominantly Irish city burst into violence by terrorist groups of both sides, the IRA and the UVF.  Beginning in the early 1970s, the first “peace lines” or intra-city barriers were erected in Belfast.

            These walls have increased to more than 40 today, covering over 13 miles and segregating much of this once-thriving city.  Alternately built of steel, iron, and brick, these walls stretch up to 25-feet high and prohibit the movement of people from the Irish-Catholic parts of town to the British-Protestant sections.  Some are open during the day and closed at night; some are manned by police; all were intended to bring “peace” by segregating sectarian groups.  The most famous of these walls runs parallel to Shankill Road, a site of several terrorist attacks.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Peace_Lines)

            Today, some of the tension has lessened since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.  The walls still stand, though, and they draw thousands of tourists a year.  The “peace lines” are still eerie and haunting, stark in the way they divvy up houses and roads, slicing their way through what must have once been a beautiful city.  Unlike the walls of houses, and even unlike the colorful propagandist murals peppering the city, these walls stand ominous and dark against the city skyline.

 

            While some may argue the walls saved a few lives over the years by separating the citizenry of Belfast and Northern Ireland, in reality it was always the cooperation of the people that staved off violence and determined such compromises and peace accords such as the Good Friday Agreement.  The walls had nothing to do with peace, serving instead to segregate people further, reinforce rifts between families, and replace real negotiations and co-habitation talks with solid, uncompromising walls.  It was only when the Irish and the British met without walls and were able to dialogue that any real progress was made in the line of peace.

 

            We in the United States have much to learn from the island of Eire across the Atlantic.  For as much as we hope to bring about “peace” and homeland security by erecting a 700-mile border wall on our southern border as per the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it will never be more than a negative peace. This negative peace, defined by Dr. King as an “absence of tension,” is also an absence of progress, a stultifying of cooperative relationships.  If we further open up the lines of communication with Canada and Mexico rather than erecting walls and militarizing our borders, perhaps the symptoms of extralegal immigration and terrorism will be able to be mutually solved in the Americas rather than in a bubble between Ottawa and Oaxaca.  God forbid that tourists should one day board Black Taxis in Texas, listening as the tour guide speaks about the failed “peace line” of yet another border wall of segregation.  

           

The Differences between Irun and I run…

May 16, 2008

The bay is peaceful, calm.  Fishermen troll both sides of it for merluzza and tuna.  Couples old and young walk the banks of the splashing ocean, taking in the beauty of a sunny afternoon in northern Spain.  Buoys bob, boats float, people talk, couples kiss, and life is as it should be despite the fact that Irun is a border town and the other side of this particular bay is France.

 Seeing people running along the jetties and beachfront sidewalks seems as normal as anchoas (anchovies) or vino tinto here in Pais Vasco. That is, until one thinks about the very different connotations of running here in the borderlands between France and Spain and the highly militarized frontera between Mexico and the United States.  Here, running is a great way to work off late-night tapas or to replace a siesta; in the Rio Grande Valley, however, it can imply that one is guilty of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, or a host of other activities prohibited by either nation´s border governances.  One runs on a sidewalks here in Irun, whereas to run on the southern border of the U.S. means to run on Border Patrol trails and run the risk of having a gun drawn on you or having to show some piece of identification, some sort of explanation.

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, Texas was alternately a sparsely populated state of Mexico, an independent republic, and then an annexed state in the Union.  The Border Patrol didn´t come into existence until the 1920s, and intense militarization of our nation´s southern border wasn´t realized until the 1990s.  Now however, every person crossing the US-Mexico border is filled with some sort of fear.  For regulars, they worry that if they are stopped and asked to have their car searched, they might not make it to that 8:00 a.m. meeting on time.   For winter Texans, they wonder whether it is legal to purchase cheap medications and transport them across the border.  And Latinos, be they recent immigrants or hand-me-down multigenerationals, are filled with a fear of racial profiling, discrimination, and the trepidation that perhaps they forgot their passport this time. 

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, France and Spain were at odds.  The ever-wealthy France was continually at odds with a Spain struggling to industrialize and modernize after the repressive Franco regime. The franc perpetually trumped the weak lyra, and the French vacationed on the cheap in every city in Spain.  But, with Spain’s economic rise, immigrant surge, and induction into the European Union, the two countries are coming to an equilibrium.  Brders in the European Union are no longer patrolled, no longer militarized, no longer stigmatized.  Crossing is as easy as walking, driving, jumping, swimming, talking.  It is easy to see the outlandishness of borders when people on both side of the imaginary line speak French and Castellano Spanish, eat seafood and drink wine, wake late and eat even later. 

For some Americans, it is easy to write the E.U. off as being very similar to the United States.  To an outside observer, it might at first seem that the countries of Espana, France, and Romania act very much like Pennsylvania and New York.  However, striking similarities bely the stark differences between these two situations.  In the E.U., countries apply for induction.  Nations maintain most of their autonomy, whereas states in the U.S. are mostly subsidiaries of the Federal government.  Additionally, whereas the United States had but a single civil war some 160 years ago, Europe has been torn by civil conflicts, dictators, marauders, raiders, and world wars for centuries.  Therefore, though the borders with the E.U. act very similarly to states in the U.S., it is no small feat.  The E.U.´s continued success speaks to the power of nonviolence over violence – what no war was ever able to accomplish (peace, mutual benefits, prosperity), the E.U. has been able to produce through diplomacy, compromise, and networking.   

The E.U. is far from perfected, but from where I sit on this side of the Atlantic, the United States could do well to model its North American policies after the European model.  Instead of perpetuating an outdated, self-limiting agreement such as NAFTA, we must rethink and reevaluate our relationships with Canada and Mexico.  The very issue of immigration is a symptom of our failure to properly address relations with our neighbors near and far.  And even though Italy´s restrictive immigration policies are cracking down by raiding Romanian ¨gypsy¨camps while Spain´s liberal immigration policies are humanely allowing extranjeros (literally strangers) a chance of earned citizenship, the E.U. at least is attempting to forge a copartnership where borders are less important than relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements trump xenophobic patriotism. 

Headed to Spain

April 24, 2008

This coming Monday, April 28, the Defenders of Wildlife will be hosting a “Congressional Field Hearing on the Border Wall and the Department of Homeland Security’s Abuse of Power” at UT-Brownsville.  The community event is a vital step in uniting environmental groups and community members in the open nonviolent opposition to the violence of a border wall in South Texas.

Regrettably, I will not be able to attend this meeting.  By Monday, I will be in the Basque region of northern Spain, researching second-language education programs and immigration systems in the developed country with one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world.  I will be thousands of miles removed from the present situation of the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act of 2006.  The civil disobedience training scheduled for mid-May, as well as many community events organized to call for a moratorium on the border wall – all of these events will go on in the month I am away from la frontera. 

But, in some ways I will be traveling closer to the solution.  Spain is a country who has confronted issues of immigration in a constructive, positive fashion.  Rather than entertaining the idea of a border wall to solve or salve its immigration issues, Spain has chosen to view people as assets, be they from Morocco or Romania or Bosnia.  I look forward to learning how these people are assimilated, how they are granted real opportunities to participate fully in Spanish society, and how they are guaranted the rights of all citizens. 

Since the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was born out of aborted bipartisan immigration discussions, real immigration reform is at the heart of any alternative to an atrocious 700-mile border barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.  The individuals throughout south Texas who plan to engage in trained civil disobedience to oppose the construction of a border wall have both my blessing and my prayers.  It is also my prayer that I will be able to apply the lessons I learn across the Atlantic to this issue, one which is fundamentally a domestic conflict due to inevitable globalization.  I will try to keep posting blog entries as faithfully as possible, so that my thoughts and meditations might add yet another perspective to the ongoing legal fight and nonviolent struggle against the border wall.

Quinceaneras and Coming of Age as a Mexican-American

April 22, 2008

It is hard for my students to understand that Mexican is a dirty word in some stretches of middle America. Here in Brownsville, most of my freshman prefer Mexico to the United States in terms of life – not living standards, not poverty level, not economic potential or educational excellence, but vida life. Many of my high-school children do not understand why Brownsville is so quiet at night, why no one walks the streets after dark, why there are so many cul-de-sacs and so few nightclubs. Though they complain that Matamoros always floods after rain, these 14 and 15-year-olds prefer its untidy reality to the American sprawl they see in the strip malls and the vacant 30-story hotels in Brownsville’s historic downtown.

The wall proposed for the Rio Grande Valley and, locally, between Matamoros and Brownsville, would force my students to make a choice they should never have to make – between their cultural past and their economic future. The Secure Fence Act is selective division, and while none of us want a similar wall with Canada or on our Atlantic beach front, the wall seems to be a pointed affront to Latino culture. A border wall through la frontera here in Texas would make the hyphen between Mexican-American more like a minus sign than a symbol of cohesion.

Each xenophobic nativist and any anti-Mexican Minuteman would surely change his/her mind about a Mexican border wall if only they were invited to a quinceanera. This past Saturday I had the profound privilege to attend a the fifteenth-birthday celebration of one of my freshman ESL students. As is a rite of passage when driving in Mexico, my fiance and I got hopelessly lost. Every person we spoke to was very understanding of our direction-less driving, as well as the green coolant leaking out of my tired ’94 Dodge Spirit. Finally, we followed a kindly man and his wife to the Salon de Santa Fe.

Although we missed the religious ceremonies at La Iglesia San Juan de los Lagos, I was immediately struck by the profound meaning of the quinceanera. It was a beautiful event, less like a Sweet Sixteen birthday party and more like a full-blown wedding. Each table had elaborate floral arrangements, hors d’oeuvres, and decorations. We were escorted to our table by the mother of my English-as-a-Second-Language student. She speaks no English, but she is entrusting me and my fellow American teachers with her daughter’s education every week. Her daughter Vero leaves their Mexican house on Sunday evening, not to return until Friday night. Her mom can visit Vero on a day-visa, but she would be outside of the law if she tried to make a permanent residence north of the Rio Grande. Vero is torn between her mother’s love and her aptitude for academics, and so she makes the long trip across the narrow river every week. And all this at fifteen years old.

I beam with pride to see my young student say goodbye to childhood through several dances with her father, her tios, and her childhood boy friends. The Vero who waltzes with her father is the same Vero who aces my vocabulary tests in English. The same girl who giggles and screams unabashedly as she pulls out a kitten from her giant birthday box is the same staid student who always is on time, always helps others, always gives her all. The same girl going table to table to thank all her family friends of Mexico is the same Vero who blesses her newfound American community by volunteering many hours each month.

La frontera is more than just the last home for endangered animals like the ocelot and Sonoran Pronghorn; this borderland is also one of the few places in the United States that celebrates quinceaneras. The quinceanera is a proud moment where a girls’ entire community is able to affirm her life and celebrate her maturation into womanhood. It speaks to the best in Mexican culture. As we snack on avocados and pickled peppers and watch a slide show of her life, I wish all America could witness this beautiful celebration. Dancing cumbias and salsas alongside my students and their vecinos, singing corridos and romanticos with grandmothers and granddaughters, I realize this culture calls out the best in family. The world would do well to look to the Mexican mode of making events significant. In 2007, the Catholic Church officially recognized this profound event with its own liturgy; America and all people of faith could learn a lot about community from this Mexican tradition.

Loving God,
you created all the people of the world
and you know each of us by name.
We thank you for Vero,
who today celebrates her fifteenth birthday.
Bless her with your love and friendship
that she may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and grace.
May she love her family always
and be faithful to her friends.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

(Quinceanera Liturgy)

Driving back across the Mexican-American border checkpoint on the international bridge, past the barbed wire and racial profiling, past the sniffing dogs and warning signs, I ponder why anyone would want to wall off the culture of quinceaneras. While the United States is busy enacting bills like the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act, students like Vero will continue coming of age in a multi-cultural community which is best when it learns from all its immigrants.

Native Americans Take a Stand on the Border Wall

March 5, 2008

    What is an American? What constitutes a native of this nation of united states? This question has been raised for centuries, with a myriad of answers. Harry Truman stated that, “being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.” Alexander Tocqueville, in predicting the faith-based nonviolence of the 1960’s, wrote, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” America has been described as a melting pot, a salad, a patchwork quilt, a list of hyphenated names – all these different metaphors only emphasize the fact that the United States is a working amalgamation of like-minded immigrants from a plethora of countries, cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs.

    Native Americans surely define Americans differently.  Indigenous people must look at this country as a nation of upstart immigrants. Their immigration over the Atlantic or the Bering Land Bridge happened so long ago that “Native” has become a part of their name. Recent immigration of the past 300-400 years has irrevocably changed their lands, their rituals, their ceremonies, and their daily lives. Immigration brought disease which wiped out thousands, hunters which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of buffalo, lumberjacks who felled the virgin forests, railroads and highways which shrunk the vast continent before their disbelieving eyes. Immigration, and the resulting dishonest treaties, robbed them of ancestral land and resigned them to criminally minuscule plots like the Choctaw in Mississippi or the Lipan Apache of Texas.

    Native Americans have experienced terrorism on a grand scale and immigration beyond their imagination. So it is from a place of well-grounded knowledge and unique perspective that Native American tribes band together to oppose the Secure Fence Act of 2006, an action which supposedly wold eliminate both of these issues.

    Perhaps Native American tribes oppose a border wall because they recognize no terrorists have thus far been apprehended crossing the Mexican border. As Chertoff stated, “I don’t see any imminent threat of terrorists infiltrating from Mexico.” Maybe Native American tribes feel that a wall is more terrorizing than what it would allegedly protect. Perhaps Indigenous Peoples see enough terror in racial profiling, unwarranted xenophobic television shows, and nativistic rhetoric from “new natives.”

    Native Americans most assuredly recognize that the cost of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will dwarf any of its intended benefits. Native Americans, with their long history of interconnectedness with Nature, can clearly see the destructive environmental effects this wall will surely have on their reservations, endangered animals like ocelots, thick-billed parrots, and Sonoran Pronghorns, last stands of Sabal Palms, wildlife preserves and birding refuges we’ve spend decades and billions of dollars preserving. Native American tribes like the Lakota, Mohawk, Oneida, Navajo, Acoma Pueblo, Hopi, and O’odham understand, and have understood for centuries, that immigration must be reformed and legislated so that immigrants have a net positive impact on their receiving society and culture and so that their rights are intact. From lessons throughout history, Native Americans would be first to second Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 189).

    Here is a segment of the declaration set forth by the Participants in the Indigenous Peoples Border Summit of the Americas II on Nov. 10, 2007, San Xavier, Tohono O’odham Nation:

 

Segment from the final declaration adopted by the Participants in the Indigenous Peoples Border Summit of the Americas II on Nov. 10, 2007, San Xavier, Tohono O’odham Nation

We express our collective outrage for the extreme levels of suffering and inhumanity, including many deaths and massive disruption of way of life, that have been presented to this Summit as well as what we have witnessed in our visit to the border areas during the Summit as a result of brutal and racist U.S. policies being enforced on the Tohono O’odham traditional homelands and elsewhere along the U.S./Mexico border.

We also recognize that many of our inherent, sacred, and fundamental human rights, including our cultural rights and freedom of religion, self-determination and sovereignty, environmental integrity, land and water rights, bio-diversity of our homelands, equal protection under the law, Treaty Rights, Free Prior Informed Consent, Right to Mobility, Right to Food and Food Sovereignty, Right to Health, Right to Life, Rights of the Child, and Right to Development among others, are being violated by current border and “immigration” policies of various settler governments.

We also strongly affirm the message expressed by many of the Indigenous delegates at this gathering: to be sovereign, and to be recognized as sovereign, we must act sovereign and assert our sovereignty in this and all other matters.

We therefore present this report with the intention of proposing, developing, and strengthening real and effective solutions to this critical issue:

We call upon the United Nations and the International community:

  • To end international policies which support economic globalization, “free-trade agreements,” destruction of traditional food systems and traditional land-based economies, and land and natural resource appropriation which result in the forced relocation, forced migration, and forced removal of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries, and cause Indigenous Peoples to leave their homelands and seek economic support for their families in other countries.
  • To ensure that the UN human rights system pressures States to provide protection and take action to prevent the violence, abuse, and imprisonment of Indigenous woman and children along the borders who often bear the worse effects of current policies; to also implement immediate and urgent measures and provide oversight to end the physical, physiological, and sexual violence that is currently being perpetrated against them with impunity as a result of their migrant status, whether it is being carried out by employers, human traffickers, private contractors, and/or government agents.
  • To implement International Laws and mechanisms to prohibit the practice by the United States and other States of the production, storage, export, and use of banned and toxic pesticides and other chemicals on the lands of Indigenous Peoples.
  • To provide protection under its mechanism addressing Human Rights Defenders to review and monitor all laws and policies which criminalize humanitarian aid to immigrating persons and provide protection for those carrying out these humanitarian acts.
  • To call upon the United Nations Permanent Forum 7th Session to recognize and take into consideration this Report and its recommendations and to transmit them to the United Nations system to ensure their implementation.
  • To establish as a priority by the Human Rights Council, its committees, subsidiary bodies, Special Rapporteurs; the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and other Treaty monitoring bodies; the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and all other appropriate UN bodies and mechanisms to monitor the compliance to international Human Rights obligation of the United States, Mexico, Canada, and all other States in the creation and implementation of Border and immigration policies, in particular those affecting Indigenous Peoples.
  • To call upon the CERD to specifically examine U.S. immigration laws, policies, and practices as a form of racially based persecution and racial discrimination.

We call upon State/Country Governments and Federal Agencies:

  • To fully honor, implement, and uphold the Treaties, Agreements, and Constructive Arrangements which were freely concluded with Indigenous Peoples and First Nations, in accordance with their original spirit and intent as understood by the respective Indigenous Peoples.
  • To fully implement, honor, and respect the rights to land, natural resources, and Self- determination, which includes the right to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, for Indigenous Peoples in their traditional home lands.
  • To immediately initiate effective consultations with impacted indigenous peoples who are divided by borders for the development of respectful guidelines relating to border crossings by those indigenous peoples which ensure the recognition of each indigenous nation as culturally distinct and politically unique autonomous peoples and uphold their rights to move freely and maintain relationships within their homelands.
  • To respect and facilitate the use of Indigenous Nations/tribal passports, identifications, and immigration documents for travel across imposed borders, specifically tribes along settler borders between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
  • To end to the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border along all Tribal and Indian Nation lands, and an end to military and law-enforcement activity and occupation in Indigenous Peoples’ lands everywhere, without their free, prior informed consent.
  • To end forced assimilation perpetuated by immigration policies which categorize of Indigenous Peoples as “white” or “Hispanic/Latino” while they are in the process immigrating, acquiring residency and/or naturalization in the United States or other countries.
  • To end the production and export of pesticides which have been banned for use in the United States and other countries, and to accept full legal accountability for the health and environmental impacts of such chemicals that have contaminated Indigenous peoples, their health, lands, waters, traditional subsistence, food systems, and sacred sites.
  • To end to the continual violation of the Native American Freedom of Religion Act and the destruction, desecration, and denial of access for Indigenous Peoples to their sacred sites and cultural objects along the border areas, and to enforce all cultural, religious freedom, and environmental protection laws and polices for federal agencies operating in these regions.
  • To provide protection for and end the intimidation of Indigenous and other peoples providing humanitarian aid along and within tribal lands to Indigenous and other displaced migrant peoples crossing the borders and to call for an immediate end to the criminalization of such expressions of basic human caring and assistance.
  • To end to the ongoing environmental contamination, ecosystem destruction, and waste dumping on Indigenous and tribal lands along the border by the military, border patrols, and private contractors doing business with federal agencies.
  • To ensure that the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies operating on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands are held fully and legally accountable for restoration, reparations, and/or remediation of any damages or harm they have caused to peoples, ecosystems, and places, in full consultation with the affected persons and Peoples.
  • To reinstate the Sovereign rights of Indigenous Peoples whose rights and status have been terminated through colonialist rule of law and daily practices of forced assimilation in all countries.
  • To ensure respect for Indigenous Peoples’ land and resource rights in their own homelands in all countries as the most effective way to address immigration issues and Indigenous Peoples’ human rights concerns overall.
  • To implement humane immigration policies that fully respect the inherent human rights of all Peoples and persons and fully comply with States’ obligations under International Human Rights Law.

It is with great pleasure that the Border Ambassadors partner with members of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. We also hope that our invitations to Wallace Coffey of the Comanche Nation, and Billy Evans Horse of the Kiowa Tribe will be appreciated, and that they and they will unite with us in solidarity against the border wall this March 8-16 with the No Border Wall Walk.


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