Posts Tagged ‘Basque’

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

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. 

Pais Vasco & Northern Ireland – The Triumph of Nonviolence & the Futility of Terror

May 12, 2008

The tree is a gutted stump.  Leafless and hollow, rootless and pale, it’s only apparent purpose seems to be as an up-ended boat, perhaps, or a reminder of the ravages of time.  This old robla, or oak tree, however, symbolizes the home rule of an entire region named Pais Vasco in northern Spain.  In its gnarled trunk and knotty bark is contained the story of terror, hate, rebellion, nonviolence, and diplomacy. 

Much like Northern Ireland had its Troubles, Vasco still has its ETA.  The ETA is a nationalist terrorist group who continues to perpetuate a self-defeating cycle of violence to plead for Vasco’s secession from Spain.  A clear minority, especially in cosmopolitan cities such as Bilbao, the ETA and Northern Ireland’s IRA both have hurt public opinion via their efforts, detracting from the largely successful nonviolent diplomacy of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement or the Vasco home-rule compromise.  Both of these nonviolently reshaped their countries, permitting a peaceful resolution to decades-old problems of colonialism and home-rule rebellions.

The forest here is beautiful and full.  Acorns adorn the ground, just as they surely did in the 10th and 11th centuries when the first Vasque representatives met around an oak tree to discuss commonalities and compromises.  They developed a charter and representatives from each of every town in the region, so that all had a say in collective decisions.  Because of their unique form of democracy, they abolished torture and instituted habeus corpus much earlier than the rest of Europe during the Dark Ages.  Aroun this oak tree in Gernika, the Vasques could gather, despite their regional dialectical differences and provincial distinctions, to dialogue and come to working solutions.

Picasso\'s Guernica

All changed, though, with repression beginning in the late 1800s.  During the Spanish Civil War, the anti-Franco opposition centered in the Vasque region.  On April 26, 1937, Franco’s troops destroyed Gernika, burning it to the ground not because it was a military base or an important port, but because it stood as the heart of the citizenry of Pais Vasco.  Franco wanted to send tremors through the heart of the resistance, and that end he demolished centuries-old cathedrals, leveled familial homes, and destroyed most the meeting hall dating back nine centuries.  The oak tree was obliterated in this intense bombing.

But even violence can be redeemed, even hate can be cured.  Today a new tree grows in the old one’s place, right next to the Meeting Hall where Pais Vasco governs itself with home rule within the constraints of Spain.  Euskara, the official Vasque language which is a unique cross between Romanian and Finnish, is taught in the primarios right alongside Castellano Spanish.  The ETA, with all its bluster and hate, has killed 1000 people in the last 40 years, including a parking lot I used in Santender.  But largely, the people here have developed a workable peace with the rest of Spain and the E.U. 

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.


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