Posts Tagged ‘barbacoa’

Nopales, Enemies, and Assets…

April 6, 2008

Gandhi once wrote, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy” (Satyagraha, 93). This concept is key to understanding the dynamics of India’s liberation movement, King’s civil rights movement, and the ongoing use of nonviolence. For Gandhi, an “enemy” is just someone who doesn’t realize they are his friend yet. If one views opposition as a potential ally, then reconciliation is the aim rather than victory. Victory is achieved together through mutual progress.

Relocating to la frontera, one is confronted with a host of new cuisine. Barbacoa (stewed beef cheek), tamales veracruzano (corn paste baked in a banana leaf), elotes (roasted corn swimming in mayonnaise), menudo (spicy stew made of cow intestines and touted to be the ultimate hangover cure) – all these new foods astound newcomers to the border and remind us all of limitless creativity.

But the food I love best here in Brownsville and Matamoros are nopales.

Nopales are prickly-pear cacti. Their fruits, tunas, are a delicious mix between honeydew and pomegranate. But it is the spiky cacti themselves that are a delicacy here on the border. De-spined, the green fleshy vegetable is diced and stewed for hours. It is often served with eggs for breakfast – mmmm, huevos con nopales in the morning.

I am struck by the nonviolence this food embodies. Most people when confronted with a cactus write it off as something to be avoided, a painful and dangerous plant. Other people would try to clear these cacti from their land, equating them with weeds and scrub. But the Mexicanos and Tejanos on this border look at these short, spiky plants and see nourishment. Instead of a nuisance, nutrition; instead of an enemy, an asset.

In life, there are those who view people as assets, and those who view people as liabilities. Those who call for the mass deportation of 12 million people, even at the staggering cost of $100 billion dollars, see people as liabilities. Homeland Security currently views people as liabilities and threats so much that it is willing to disregard 39 laws protecting men, women, and animals in order to rush the construction of the border wall. Nativistic dialogue from xenophobic showman highlight the worst in us humans, while neglecting to show the millions of individuals committed both to their family and this country.

We must recognize that every person is an asset to our nation if this is truly to become a fully-integrated Beloved Community. As a teacher and a nonviolent social activist, I must look at people and see their potential for goodness rather than their capacity for evil. In the end, everyone’s a nopale – it simply depends on how we look at them.

Charro Days Without a Wall

February 28, 2008

Charro Days Parade Elizabeth Street     Charro Days makes me happy to live en la frontera. Teenagers too cool to read come to school dressed in native Mexican caporals and anguila boots. Their jangling galas harken back to the first Charro Days some 71 years ago. Charro Days celebrates Frito Pies and tostadas, the indiscernible difference between American tejano music and Mexican norteño songs, the wild festivity of a good grito, the seamlessness of real integration.

    Charro Days, Inc., is a sister-city celebration between Brownsville and Matamoros. With the three bridges and shared population between them, these two cities flow into each other like the lazy Rio Grande which separates them. Parades march through both cities, celebrating life and bi-cultural peace on the border. Sombrero Fest brings several of the best tejano bands to Brownsville, while tacquerias flout their best flautas, tacos, menudo, enchiladas, pozole, elotes, carne asada, barbacoa….

    This local festival flies in the face of the 2006 Secure Fence Act. This act, which calls for the construction of 700 miles of border wall, some of which will cleave Brownsville from Matamoros, cannot have been made by people who have celebrated Charro Days in Brownsville or Matamoros. No longer is Matamoros a potential haven for drug lords; no more is Brownsville the poorest city in the nation. For these few days, these cities are united in celebrating their history, their interconnectedness, their “inescapable network of mutuality.” The laughter, the bilingual children dancing in the streets, the cowboy hats and Mexican mariachi bands – what place does a wall have here? Even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton weighed in on the wall’s effect on this tradition, saying, “”It is troubling to me that our country’s current border security plan threatens a South Texas tradition historically created to celebrate the sharing of cultures. As I discussed during the debate at the University of Texas at Austin last Thursday, I believe we need to re-evaluate the border wall as it is currently being implemented.” (Brownsville Herald)

 

    Coming from New York, I thought it strange at first that Brownsville schools do not celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I longed for a special day to honor my personal hero, and I wanted the chance to talk to my students about this supremely important figure of nonviolence and social activism. I could not understand why a celebration called Charro Days was replacing the MLK Day of Service I had always known.

    While Brownsville could certainly use a day of service, I now feel Dr. King would revel in the Charro Days’ festivities. Charro Days celebrates his concept of the Beloved Community. For one day, Mexicans and Americans join together to make real the idea that, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 189). The single garment of destiny Dr. King envisioned looks like a charra outfit worn by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike. In Sombrero Fest’s jubilation or the tremendous optimism of the Children’s Parade, King’s dream is realized as little white girls and little white boys hold hands with little brown boys and little brown girls. Immigrant and resident, legal and extralegal – none of these terms matter as the sounds and tastes of Matamoros and Brownsville mix in the February air.


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