Posts Tagged ‘God’

Silence of Good People

February 18, 2009

In the nation’s fifth-largest city, more than 200 men were humiliatingly marched past video cameras to a tent-city where they will await deportation. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “star” of a Fox reality television show, was simply continuing his long abuse of power in cruelly and unusually punishing prisoners in his jail system. While he makes convicted offenders wear pink underwear and has been cited as serving green bologna to prisoners, he has particularly situated himself as “hard on immigration,” teaming up with the federal policing program 287(g) which partners the U.S. government with local law enforcement. (Garcia, Carlos)

In theory, federal-state cooperation makes the whole system work better. However, local law enforcement officials in 287(g) are given little guidance and engage primarily in basic racial profiling, which results in a myriad of pretextual traffic stops, “jaywalking” violations, and general harassment of Latinos in Phoenix and other like communities throughout the United States. (New York Times)

As new Secretary of Homeland Security (and former Arizona governor) Janet Napolitano seeks to reform the broken Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Department, surely Arpaio should be high on her list. Napolitano’s investigations into the 287(g) should probe into the abuses, both local and federal, and seek to craft an alternative which doesn’t criminalize people based on race or appearance.

On March 7, the 44th anniversary of the famous Bloody Sunday March from Selma to Montgomery which so galvanized the civil rights movement, a march will be held in Phoenix to protest the civil rights abuses perpetrated by Joe Arpaio. While this march’s purpose states it wants Arpaio sent to jail, more generally it will be a march against 287(g) and all the abuses it has invited. Dr. King had Bull Connor; America’s immigrants have Sheriff Arpaio. (Garrido, Jon. Hispanic News)

This past week, as California Border Patrol officers accused their superiors of setting quotas for apprehended immigrants, we must all question our current immigration system which permits and perpetuates such abuses. The Migration Institute recently revealed a chilling report that ICE shifted its goals from apprehending “the most dangerous” undocumented immigrants to deporting anyone – women, children, factory workers – anyone to highlight the agency’s success (Garcia, Carlos). In changing their role from Homeland Security to Heartland Insecurity, our immigration system has struck fear in the hearts of families and terrorized immigrants both legal and otherwise. It is vital we note that America’s immigration issues are bigger than Sheriff Joe Arpaio, larger than ICE, and deeper than the flawed quota system – at its heart, our current immigration system reflects the complicit silence of America. As Dr. King wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail, We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He goes on to write, though, that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.” This chance is there for all of us in this 21st century civil rights issue in the United States.

From where I stand, I can see wall ending

January 12, 2009

Judy Ackerman and me at Rio Bosque

Judy Ackerman and me at Rio Bosque

This morning I was picked up in front of the Gardner Hotel in El Paso by the only person who has engaged in civil disobedience against the border wall. Texas, once a center of the Chicano movement, the site of the Alice student walkouts and state-wide protests against segregated schools, hasn’t seen such civil disobedience in a long time. For an issue as appalling to border residents as the Secure Fence Act of 2006, however, it’s been a long coming.

Judy Ackerman was fifteen minutes early, waiting for me on Franklin Avenue in an unassuming sedan. We talked the 15 minutes to the Rio Bosque Wildlife Refuge, but I can’t remember much of what was said. I do remember the way the border wall seemed to extend forever, farther still than the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Madre, both of which end in this bi-national border community of almost 2 million. For years there has been a wire fence snaking along the Rio Grande, but lawmakers unfamiliar with the history of El Paso del Norte deemed it fit to separate Texas from the river and Mexico from its neighbor.

As we bounced and jounced toward Rio Bosque along the potholes containing some road, Judy seemed surprised that Diewitz workers were not already at work this Friday morning. Sadly, their work has progressed rapidly since Mrs. Ackerman first delayed the excavation on December 17. The wall now bounds most of the park, although many more miles are planned. In parts, it completely obscures the beautiful dun-brown mountains.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the enormity of the sadness that border fence evinces, Judy instead told me about an old cottonwood tree. “This border wall has really brought the community together. Take that old tree there,” she said, pointing proudly to a cottonwood with a perfect crown and brown leaves still holding onto its branches. “The Border Patrol came through and chopped down two others just like that, because they extend in part onto their service roads. John Souse stopped them just in time. He quickly mobilized the local activists, and pretty soon the media was calling the Border Patrol wanting to interview them about their part in the killing of the last great cottonwood. By that time, the Border Patrol changed their tune and denied ever having entertained such an idea.” Ah, behold the power of people.

Few other trees in this Rio Bosque wildlife refuge, or in the El Paso area in general, are native originals. About eleven years ago, Souse graded this land and rerouted the Rio Grande to recreate its once wild trajectory. It was this capriciousness which earned the river its Mexican name, “Rio Bravo.” Now, cottonwoods and the invasive salt cedar fill the refuge, providing ample habitat for a variety of animals and birds.

As John Souse drove Judy and I through the small refuge (the only of its kind for miles and miles), I was astounded at the number of hawks. Harrier hawks sat atop cottonwoods, flicking their striped tail and looking too heavy to balance on so tenuous a perch. Cooper’s hawks cut through the morning air, chasing each other in the joy of it all. Harris hawks and red-tailed hawks flew over the duck pond, artfully weaving and dipping like stunt pilots.

The duck ponds highlight one of the major problems posed by the border wall. With a border wall cutting the refuge off from the Rio Grande, the animals have no way to access the river. Ducks have been reported to fly into the mesh wiring of the fence as well. Additionally, with no access to the river, Rio Bosque has to fight for its water rights. Since it is not a “money-making” enterprise such as agriculture or industry, the refuge only receives water in the off-season – November through January. The new well which was installed to pump groundwater into the canal and pond just fell into the ground on account of the contractor’s poor craftsmanship. Without this water, particularly during the stifling dry months, Rio Bosque would dry up and leave this valley without a treasure trove of nature.

“When I was standing in front of the bulldozer, I kept remembering what the ACLU told me – ‘Don’t ask if you are arrested; ask if you are free to leave.’ So, as the Texas Rangers, local police, DHS agents, and county sheriffs bickered about whose jurisdiction my civil disobedience fell under, that was all I could think to say. ‘Am I free to leave?’” Judy laughed, “Their response was always, ‘Yes, please! We’ve been waiting all day.’”

Judy’s military training prepared her well for keeping cool in such a hot situation. She executed civil disobedience in near perfect fashion, contacting authorities before and remained calm, cool, and collected during the demonstration. Judy had been well advised of the consequences of her action, and show she exhibited no fear. More importantly, she showed no anger toward the individuals on site. “I wasn’t mad at them,” she reminded me more than once. “I was protesting the idea of this wall.”

While she remembers all the authorities being civil and respectfully during the civil disobedience, sadly some spectators across the canal yelled out taunts and jibes at the officials. Judy remembers the Texas Ranger getting particularly peeved at that. “She’s not risking anything, but she keeps yelling at us and trying to get you [Judy] into deeper trouble.” Thankfully, Judy and her composure ruled the day, and it was clear that this was about more than an “Us vs. Them” scenario.

I walked down to the river, marveling at its relative freedom. I have seen where this river empties into the Gulf, broad and flowing at Boca Chica. Here, a few good strokes would get me across to Ciudad Juarez. Upstream, it is dammed and controlled meticulously. Farms and industries sap its strength as well, using as much as 99% of its water before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Climbing back up the steep riverbank, the border wall comes into sharp focus again. Franklin Mountain barely shows its peak above the wall, and the free-roaming tumbleweed country of this old Wild West Town seems all but a memory in the shadow of these steel girders. Would John Dillinger know the Gardner Hotel and downtown El Paso today? Would Marilyn Monroe recognize the Kentucky Club in a Juarez robbed of most its customers? Will anyone remember the time before this wall?

Looking back east, I can make out where the wall ends. That sight still gives me hope. Perhaps we’ll see our folly before it’s too late and this history is already written. I thank God that the history written by man is never penned in permanent ink.

Border Wall on Rio Bosque

Border Wall on Rio Bosque

The Inescapable Network of Mutuality

April 28, 2008

¨Bah hua liomh biore.¨  In Irish cities like Galway, this Gaelic expression was the only way to get a pint of the best Guiness you´ve ever tasted.  While British rule in Ireland sought to eradicate all traces of the Gaelic influence on Ireland, this indefatigable culture lives on in the west coast of Ireland in particular.  Despite burning down the churches and razing ruins, despite prohibiting Gaelic teaching in schools and converting Celtic names to their English counterparts, Gaelic is still spoken, though mostly by the old.

Driving through Vigo, the largest city in Gallicia, Spain, I came across ruins that predated the Roman conquest of the Gaels in Spain.  Though little remains of El Castro, this city which once thrived both in the forest and on the bay, it is highly reminiscent of towers and dolmens in Ireland.  Highly aware of this coincidence, I began to notice more telling signs of interconnectedness between northwest Spain and the home of my Celtic forefathers the McCarthys and Burkes and Emmetts.  The distinct language of Gallicia, la lengua de los Gallegos, bears striking similarities to words in Gaelic.  Signs in this part of Spain bear words like ¨Beade¨and ¨Domh¨¨, both words which one is just as likely to find on a Sunday drive through rural Ireland.  The rich and verdant climate of this area makes me speculate that the Gaels felt right at home when they landed on the shores of the land of Eire. 

In Ireland, primary students are required to take Gaelic lessons, in hopes that by inundating the next generation, the Gaelic heritage and culture can be preserved and honored.  Gallicia is going through much of the same dilemmas, since its language was viciously suppressed during the Franco regime and needs to rebound if it is not going to be absolutely absorbed in popular Spanish. 

All of this makes me wax philosophical and grow proud of the indomitable spirit God placed in mankind.  In much the same way John F. Kennedy praised the immigrant spirit to thrive and survive in his book A Nation of Immigrants, I am wowed by the successful movements of people throughout history.  From the eternally migrant Jewish culture which serves as the basis for numerous religions and modern law to the Spanish culture and language which spanned seas and continents, people simply desire an opportunity to use their gifts in the pursuit of happiness.  From the pyramids of Egypt to the same pyramids in Aztex Mexico, to the persistent reoccurrence of flood myths in virtually every culture, immigration is far from a new phenomen which countries are struggling to legislate and control.  Immigration is a constant, and therefore cannot be prohibited but rather controlled so as to benefit the sending country, the receiving country, and the immigrants themselves.  The past successes of migrating peoples bear witness to the possibility of real immigration reform in the United States of America, especially in this age of globalization.

When I return to my classroom of F114 in Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, on the southernmost border between two North American countries at peace, I will most assuredly come back with a renewed dedication to devoting my time and efforts to enabling immigrants and guiding the immigration legislation in the United States.  At the same time, I am overjoyed to bring back to my students the long view of immigration history.  When I teach my 7th period class, I cannot wait to tell Ms. Gallegos that her family comes from northernmost Spain, where her ancestors spoke a language closer to my Irish predecessors than her español mexicana.  As I travel back to the place where some legislators misguidedly are pressing for a border wall between two countries separated only by an imaginary line, I hope I will be able to civilly speak reason into the public debate.  Immigration is more than Mexican migrant workers attempting to work cheap labor in U.S. fields, just as it is more than Spanish conquistadores and English Puritans and Italian shoemakers and Irish coal-miners and Pennsylvania Dutch bakers and Polish meat-packers and Scandinavian farmers.  To take a long view of immigration is to understand that the United States need laws which uplift human personality and grant legal status to that spark of the divine which is as omnipresent in the immigrant as the resident hence, now, and forevemore.

¨Mas claro no canta el gallo. The rooster couldn´t sing it any clearer.¨

Pontevedra, Day 1

April 26, 2008

One of the most beautiful things about traveling is that it absolutely opens ones´eyes to the Imagination of God and the inherent Good in all people.  Whether it´s the stewardess who helps you up to first-class seats and then showers free food on you, or it´s the friendly stranger who takes an inordinate amount of time making sure you understand his directions, it is good to travel because it puts you at the mercy of Providence. 

I find I understand most of the Spanish spoken here in the verdant city of Pontevedra.  My freshman English students, my primary teachers of Spanish over the past two years, would most certainly be proud.  It is humbling and thrilling to put myself in the place of my students coming across the bridge from Matamoros for the first time, to immerse themselves in a language and a culture alien to their ears and hearts.  Everything here in Spain seems new, as it surely must for many of my students the first time they realized that our public schools provide free food for lunches and have a surplus of computers.  As an ongoing Spanish-as-a-Second-Language student, I will try to make my ESL students in Brownsville, Texas, proud of their teacher. 

The chance to study immigration and education with Rotary International is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  New as I am to Rotary, its ideals of worldwide community, peace, and brotherhood sync with my own life philosophy of nonviolence.  As we were greeted at the airport gate by Rotarians Jose and Alejandro, we immediately felt welcome in this new land.  I am struck, though, by the fact that this welcome should not be peculiarly noteworthy if we truly believe in the ¨inescapable network of mutuality.¨ It is sad that so few immigrants receive such a welcome when they come to a new land.  May I learn how to extend this welcome to all.

Satyagraha in Manhattan and the Americas

April 11, 2008

The MET is staging Satyagraha in New York City. Philip Glass‘s 1979 opera about Gandhi’s life and philosophy of “holding on to truth” is a spectacle which makes me wish I were in Manhattan for a matinee. Julian Crouch, one of the artistic directors of Improbable Theater Company of London, stated that the giant puppets of this opera were chosen because “…we wanted to use very humble materials in the making of the opera…We wanted similarly to take these materials, maybe associated with poverty, and see if we could do a kind of alchemy with that, turn them into something beautiful” (NYT). This opera shows Mohandis Gandhi meeting with his philosophical mentor Leo Tolstoy and with his inspired follower Martin Luther King, Jr. In the meantime, newspapers are transformed into puppets, wadded pages represent rocks, and other texts are molded to resemble Hindu goddesses in a transformation of the mundane into the sacred, the profane into the divine.

I wish the Improbable Theater Company could travel to Brownsville, Texas, bringing with it the ideas of nonviolence and civil disobedience to a border region currently preparing to oppose an unjust border wall through its homes and backyards. If Satyagraha could be staged in Dean Porter Park, perhaps the poorest city in the United States would see that it does not need money or political power in order to stand for the Truth. The Truth is compelling, and when men and women refuse to resort to violence but instead seek reconciliation in the face of injustice, we have to believe that the spark of the divine will be ignited in our fellow Man when he is confronted with the morality of our plea. A border wall, above and beyond beyond environmentally unsound, politically backwards, and environmentally devastating, is morally reprehensible.

On April 1, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the REAL ID Act to waive 39 laws in an effort to speed up the construction of the border wall. All 100 Senators voted for this act, a piece of legislation predominantly concerned with driver’s licenses but with a rider granting unprecedented powers to waive all laws in constructing border barriers. In traditional Jewish law, a law which was passed unanimously was thrown out – something must have been amiss. In Gandhi’s book, Satyagraha, he writes, ““It is a superstition and ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority…all reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities” (18). The overwhelming vote for the REAL ID Act must not dissuade us from speaking truth and campaigning for the overturning of these waivers.

Valley residents are not alone, however. The minority in opposition to a wall is growing, and we have the moral power of knowing we are right. Thank you, Rep. Thompson, for your courageous stand along with 14 other Congressman. We pray your Amicus Curiae brief will persuade the Supreme Court to take case with Homeland Security’s ability to waive unlimited legislation to expedite the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It is encouraging to know that the unanimous vote in the Senate is not the entire story.

It is also encouraging to note that the European Union is currently considering the introduction of a decade of nonviolence, a year after dissolving the last of its countries’ borders. It is heartening to know that the E.U. recognizes, “Gandhian non-violence to be the most appropriate means of ensuring that fundamental human rights are enjoyed, upheld, promoted and respected” (http://www.unpo.org/content/view/7980/83/). It is encouraging to know that the spirit of nonviolence was not killed along with Gandhi and King, that it survives even though the United States has already started clearing brush from its levees in South Texas, fully intending to build a border wall between itself and its neighbors to the South. Nonviolence, that soul-force which King preached and which is parading in New York’s MET right now, still walks the streets and marches on, despite the fact that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 still stands as a blight upon our nation, culture, and all immigrants, a symbol of division in a time when we need unity.

We, the people of the Valley, call for the prayers and support of all concerned citizens at this crucial time in American history. The people of the Valley are already fighting the legal battle and will continue to campaign for Justice through the courts. In addition, we are readying for civil disobedience, should it come to that. Groups such as Fellowship of Reconciliation and Christian Peacemakers, as well as individuals like the American Gandhi, have already expressed interest in training a group of concerned citizens in proper, positive civil disobedience.  We welcome any and all support in our efforts of reconciliation as opposed to division. We join with Christian thought in recognizing that we inevitably reap what we sow, and we seek to keep the United States from sowing a seed of dissension and division rather than working on communication and mutually beneficial relations with brothers and sisters of the world.

A Strange Saint Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2008

    This St. Patrick’s Day is markedly different than all others past. I came to school today not clad in traditional green, but wearing overalls and a plain white t-shirt. Ringing in my ears were not the Gaelic jigs and Celtic reels but rather the worker chants and the pro-immigrant songs we sang over the past nine days’ march from Roma to Brownsville. I thought less today about the military Molly Maguire’s and their violent fight for worker’s rights and instead meditated on Cesar Chavez’s fasts for his people and Martin Luther King’s words of empowerment and hope. Today was less about nationalism and more about opposing nativism, less about drinking beer and more about living in such a way as to forward the cause of the immigrant, wherever he or she may originate.

    My great-great grandparents came from County Mayo, Sligo, and County Cork. They came to escape the ravages of the potato blight and the resulting famines. They came seeking a better life, and they found it buried deep in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Towns like Carbondale and Mauch Chunk welcomed them and buried them in their strip-mined hillsides. But, as is always the case with immigrants, they managed to survive and hew out a life for themselves in this America they helped create.

    It was their backs that fed coal into the iron-horses which shrank this vast country into a two-day trip. It was their leadership and collective bargaining powers which scared groups like the Know-Nothings, the first political party formed with the aim of opposing a specific immigrant group. They were able to overcome religious persecution, employer discrimination, and widespread xenophobia to become rightful heirs of the American dream.

 

    This past week, walking alongside many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, I was reminded of the Batalia de San Patricio, the group of Irish soldiers who defected to the Mexican Army during the Mexican-American War. There was and is so many similarities between those Irish immigrants of yesteryear and the immigrants of today. Both groups rely heavily on their faith in a God who champions the cause of the poor and the sojourner. Both of these immigrants focus on family values and a strong work ethic. Both the Irish of the late 1800s and the Mexicans of the early 21st century are immigrant groups which are being slandered for their desire to come to this land for a better life. News about both of these groups has centered on an “invasion” or any number of natural disaster metaphors such as “flood of immigrants,” “drain on the economy,” and “wave after wave of workers.” None of these nativist metaphors are new – no, they have been around since people first started emigrating to new lands. It is this brand of hateful rhetoric that spurred the command in Leviticus 19:34, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

 

 

    As I teach my class today, I am standing in front of them not as a college graduate, a son of Pennsylvania, a Texas-certified teacher, or a social activist. I stand before them in overalls and my walking shoes as the son of immigrants. There is a solidarity here which we must not deny. I do not believe in otherness; if we believe that every man, woman, and child bears the indelible image of God and the spark of the divine, we can never separate ourselves from one another. We are inextricably caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality, tied up in a single garment of destiny,” and that means that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As King also stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter;” this happens for the sheer fact that in not speaking up for the rights of others we are not speaking up for the rights of ourselves and future generations.

    To all those immigrants, past, present and future, I impart this traditional Irish blessing: “Céad míle fáilte romhat!” or “A hundred thousand welcomes to you.”

No Border Wall Walk- Day 9 or Triumphant Entry

March 17, 2008

End of March at Hope Park

    2,000 years ago, a young man came into a Middle-Eastern city astride a donkey. He came bringing a message of peace, of unity, of nonviolence, and la gente responded by laying palm branches in his path and crying “Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth!” His death and suffering five days later, and his resurrection a week later, spurred a nonviolent campaign of peace and social justice which continues to shape the world.

    The timing of this No Border Wall Walk, then, concluded on the perfect day. Its timing had been fortuitous thus far, overlapping the groundbreaking Selma to Montgomery March that was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But no amount of planning could have made it possible to march into downtown Brownsville on Palm Sunday, holding palm branches along with signs of “No Wall Between Amigos,” singing hymns and songs like “Don’t gimme no walls, no walls, just gimme that peace, ah, that frontera Peace.” Since the Bible speaks out so clearly on the side of the immigrant, and because Jesus’ own family was forced to be refugees for several years, this miraculous “coincidence” must have been more than that – we felt a pervading love for all humanity as we marched and sang down Central Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

 

    Many people were confused as we marched down main street, as they must have been in Jesus’ day as well. Our joy might have seem misplaced amidst all the tension and frustration and indignation generated by a wall which would be built but a few blocks south of our route. The abundant optimism of the 50 marchers might have seemed naïve to people resigned to cynicism regarding the United State government’s willingness to hear its people on its borderlands. And just as in Jesus’ time, perhaps some didn’t join us because they had lost faith in the power of nonviolence to create change for the good for good.

Palm Sunday- John Moore and Matthew Webster ending No Border Wall Walk

    But that didn’t stop our march as it concluded in Brownsville, nor did it stop any of the more than 300 people who joined their feet and their hearts with our march over the past nine days. Marching slowly through town, past the ropas usadas and the thousands of Mexican shoppers visiting on Laser visas which are being threatened by the restrictive immigration laws on the coattails of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we stopped periodically to dance and encourage those people to raise their voices with our own. Waving palm branches and our hoarse voices to the historic downtown facades, we were jubilant, because an idea whose time has come is the most powerful force known to man, and we were all raising our voices in a cause for which we had sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice.

 

    After marching some 126 miles over nine days, and after meeting thousands of people and broadcasting the message of this beautiful borderland and this Valley’s families, we arrived only 15 minutes….early. We were strengthened by churches like Church of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brownsville, who provided lunch for our cause. We were also strengthened by all three Methodist congregations in town, who gave us water for our weary voices and a seat to rest our feet before the final push into town. Yes, as we came into this city on the border by the sea, with a police escort of 5-6 cars at any given time, the overwhelming support for this march and its cause was made plainly evident. Every person of faith, every congregation, every politician, and virtually every organization in this border region is united against the invasion of a border wall and the backwards thinking it embodies. The message of this march can be summed up in two phrases – We are not alone, and Si se puede! (Yes we can!). Milling around in Hope Park, waiting our triumphant entry into the No Border Wall Rally in front of Jacob Brown Auditorium at of UT-Brownsville, I was overwhelmed with the divine Providence which had protected each and every marcher AND had made every phrase coming out of our mouths one of nonviolence not bitterness, one of hope and not cynicism, one of positive change and not discouraging negativity.

 

    Yes, standing on a truck trailer “rostrum” in front of hundreds of like-minded individuals, I was a proud man. One of my freshman students had walked 4 of the nine days, and four of my other students had helped organize the rally and man the food booth. I was overwhelmed to have been part of a statement of faith and purpose coming out of this Valley, one which is now echoing throughout the United States into Mexico, Canada, and hopefully throughout the world. The speech I gave was an attempt to encapsulate that hope for harmony and our need to continue campaigning for immigrant justice.

 

Our walk began at the birding bluffs of Roma, a national treasure that would be severed by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we walked this historic downtown, we began to see all the history that would be “history” if an 18-foot border wall were to cut a wide swathe through southern Texas. And our moral indignation was aroused, but we didn’t stop there…

And after being refreshed at Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, we set off once more with a full police escort. It is not often that a political protest enjoys the support of police officers and poets, faith leaders and public officials, mayors and manual laborers, Republicans and Democrats, but we began to see in the hundreds of honks and thousands of thankful smiles that the entire border region is unified agaisnt the invasion of a border wall. But we didn’t stop in Rio Grande City either…

And we stopped at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla, a tiny town the border wall might not affect immediately. We were reminded that the entire border region is interconnected. As our mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” La Grulla residents must speak out if their neighbors are threatened with a border wall. We must not fall into the trap of dividing ourselves on this crucial issue. I have heard some cynically suggest a wall in Canada, but how can we hold the moral high ground if we would wish this blight, this evil upon any other community near or far? Despite the fact that La Grulla has no planned wall as of yet, six little girls aged 10.5 to 16 marched 14 miles with us to let other little boys and other little girls know they cared and would not be silent. And we were all empowered by their youthful audacity, but we wouldn’t halt there…

No, we kept on marching past Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, where we were joined by members of the Lipan Apache tribe and by a Brownsville high-school student of mine. Yes, we stood in awe of the only man-powered ferry on our international borders, and we realized that all America – South, Central, and North – must use our hands to connect humanity and reach across barriers, rather than thicken divisions and entrench misunderstanding. Yes, we marched right on to Father Roy and the historic La Lomita Chapel, and we swam, swam in that river that brings nations together instead of dividing them. But we would stop there…

No, we kept on marching through the tiny community of Granjeno, which has agreed to face bulldozers and prison in nonviolent civil disobedience, should it come to that. Yes, we marched and our voice was strengthened by 75 other college students from all across the United States. Their youth invigorated us, and we had a powerful rally in Pharr, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, our pilgrimage continued through “the valley of the shadow of the wall,” past rows of onions and undocumented workers, past pristine palm groves and flocks of fascinating birds on wing. We were reminded of the men and women for whom we march and the place we hope to preserve. We were reminded that God did not create this world with walls or divisions. We walked along Highway 83 and 281 to nonviolently protest the border wall and encourage this law’s many victims. In return, we were given hope and happiness from the beauty of the Valley. But even after those 17 miles of blacktop, we still wouldn’t stop…

No, we kept right on walking from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso to Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias. We were welcomed by women of faith, who followed the command from Leviticus 19:34 to treat the immigrant the same as a resident. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Yes, in the loving eyes of women like Nenna and Alma, you could tell they recognized the very image of God in every single one of us. Surely they would see the face of God in any immigrant who came to their door as well. Yes, they welcomed us with songs like “Junto Como Hermanos,” and we were treated just like brothers and sisters by this border town. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about these border town in way of the wall, it is that they are welcoming and warm. And even though it may be as hot as a human heart out here, that is precisely the organ we are aiming at as we highlight the homes and humanity of la frontera. But no matter how welcome we felt, we would not be stopped there…

No, His Truth is Marching on, and so we followed Jesus’ call to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It led us along the levee to Ranchito and El Calaboz, the home of 72-year old Professor Eloisa Tamez who is resisting the federal government’s attempts to take her land. We stood with her in solidarity at San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, and we all supported her justified opposition to a government which would allocate her lands and erase her way of life. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of this border town, too, with its Beloved Community and its emphasis on faith and family, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, we walked right on in to Brownsville, down Military Highway to end the militarization of our nation’s borders. We were fed by Church of the Advent Episcopal Church here in Brownsville, as well as the Methodist Churches, just some of the dozens of congregations and organizations who physically supported our weary bodies on this March Against the Wall this March. It felt good to dance in the streets singing songs like, “No Al Muro, La Frontera Cuenta” and “We don’t need no border wall, we love people one and all,” as we approached this city on the border by the sea. We were overjoyed to be bound for this rall tonight where so many people are united together around a common purpose on this Palm Sunday of peace. But we won’t stop here…

No, so long as my students lack hope-giving legislation like the Dream Act, we will not stop marching.

So long as students getting A’s in my English classes and A’s in their Spanish classes are denied the right to attend our nation’s universities, universities they deserve to attend because of their academics, we will not be stopped.

As long as our immigration laws continue to separate families and discriminate based on quotas of national origin, we will not be silent.

So long as extralegal residents in these United States are not treated with dignity and not given a means to earned citizenship, we will not have arrived.

No, as long as more than 12 million people are criminalized by unresponsive immigration laws and the only piece of immigration law we can come up with in the last two years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we will not be stopped.

And so long as our government plans to build a border wall not through barren wasteland but through backyards and not through desert but downtowns, we weill march on…

We mustn’t stop because we believe that people are innately good and that this nation has a conscience. It is this conscience which Jesus pricked on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and which Dr. King touched 43 years ago on his famous Selma to Montgomery March. Yes, we believe all people are created good, and so if unjust laws are supported by the people, it must be because of misinformation or miseducation. The purpose of this nine-day, 126-mile sacrifice is to educate the nation about the issues of all borders and all immigrants.

We urge politicians to vote for bills like the Grijalva Bill and against bills like the Finish the Fence by Date Certain Bill. We beseech the people of these United States to appeal for a moratorium on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, so we can begin discussing the need and consequences of such a negative symbol as a wall.

People of faith, Border Patrol officers, government officials, students, teachers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters – we urge you to join us on this march against the wall and for our immigrants and borders. We will not be stopped.

And yes, “Soon we’ll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of Peace…

And yes we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at this river,

that flows by the throne of God…”

Speech at UTB

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/walk_85224___article.html/ground_protesters.html

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=615257032897

No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

March 15, 2008

Got Hope- Matthew Webster and Kiel Harell

Today began with chorizo and eggs, huevos con papas, and pan dulce sweetbreads. The eight church women who initially welcomed us to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias with tambourines and noisemakers were all there to see us off this morning in style. Everything was delicious, and it felt just like having 8 grandmothers as they watched us eat with sheer delight.

After our hearty breakfast, we went into the church and discussed nonviolence and immigration under the watch of the crucifix and the palm branches for Palm Sunday. These Catholic women, like almost every other denomination, firmly believed in loving humanity regardless of definitions or distinctions. They nodded and added their affirmation to our discussion. We left singing “Juntos Como Hermanos,” and we did leave with a sense of brotherhood and togetherness. Looking back at the church, all those women were still out front, still singing, still waving to us.

It was a great way to begin Day 8, and this send-off made today’s 10-mile walk go even faster than expected. Our four new recruits all sped up our beleaguered pace, and so we made it to the next church, San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, at the early hour of 1:00. I came in holding the sign of the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” how fitting as we received yet another warm welcome from this parish, despite the fact that we were five hours early.

I was a Stranger and you Welcomed Me- No Al Muro with Crystal Canales

After a lunch of watermelons and cantaloupe, a few of us ventured into the local communities. The levee runs close to the road here, and hundreds of houses have yards adjutting the levee where the wall is proposed. It was encouraging to engage in this, the pragmatic aspect of this No Border Wall Walk. We got to discuss legal options with local residents, many of whom didn’t know their rights or even that an eighteen-foot wall was intended to be built directly behind their lot. If our visit inspires even one of them to oppose the federal government or encourages even a singly family to refuse to sign away their property rights, this walk will have been more than worthwhile.

We returned to San Ignacio for a delicious dinner of chicken mole. Local resident and UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez said the prayer for us in this, her home church. Eloisa, looking all of 55 despite her 72 years, has partnered with Peter Schey and is continuing to fight the federal government’s attempts to survey and use her land for the building of a border wall. Her story has inspired the community and the entire border region to stand up for what is right, regardless of how indomitable the opposition may seem.

Thinking about this sleepy town and its national importance at this precise moment, it is clear that there are several different reactions to conflict. Each border community has had people respond in various ways and with varying degrees of success. As Dr. King laid out in his speech, “Loving Your Enemies,” there are three ways to respond to oppression and resistance. One is violence, though “[v]iolence creates many more problems than it solves…and unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” No, violence in words or deeds cannot be the way, because we seek not a negative peace, or merely the absence of a wall – no, we desire a positive peace, the presence of something greater than a wall such as immigration reform and real security measures in our ports and airports.

In the towns of Ranchito and El Calaboz, many residents have chosen the second response to opposition of which Dr. King speaks. King states that acquiescence is evil as well, “because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” The Catholic churches which have housed us this past week classify sins in two categories – sins of commission and sins of omission. Acquiescence is ultimately the sin of omission, because, “for him who knows the good that he ought to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Simply being silent or choosing not to act on personal principles because of fear is to aid and abet the side of wrong.

But there is one last way, the way of Eloisa Tamez and this 126-mile sacrifice from Roma to Brownsville. Martin Luther King said that nonviolence was the only way to create lasting, positive change that would ultimately benefit both the oppressed and the oppressor. Nonviolence is the only strategy which can bring about true love and peace, because the ends are preexistent in the means. King states that, “love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”

It is this force we have sought to channel this week through a sustained, nonviolent demonstration through communities bracing for the effects of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As it stands now, the border wall is federal law, and so to counter this legislation, we must begin to change the hearts of the constituents who voted in politicians who would espouse such an atrocity on our southern border. We must positively and nonviolently educate our brothers and sisters here and throughout the United States. We must appeal to that conscience with which our Creator endowed all of us. May God continue the work he has begun this week in the Valley and the ripples of morality that have pulsated out across the waves of media. His truth is marching on, and may it bring justice and education and action to this pressing issue.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:


An Exercise in Free Migration

March 2, 2008

Nacimos Tigres Unidos Ganamos     Sitting in Reynosa, Mexico’s immigration office, my mind easily wanders to frustration with the lines, the forms and formalities. One and a half hours later, my companions and I leave tired yet overjoyed to finally be legally on our way to Monterrey. Our 1.5 hours of inconvenience is but a flicker of the reality of so many immigrants hoping to get in through the unresponsive current quota system. My students, some whose grades beg for the best colleges, are symbolically stuck in this same immigration office with their families, waiting for their number to come up in this life lottery of the highest gravity.

    Idling though a security checkpoint, young Federales no older than my students hold automatic guns to highlight the government’s hard stance on trafficking and immigration. I am struck by the ease with which our car glides past these camouflaged jovenes with their red berets, faces softened as soon as they saw our American license plates. The grace of my United States birthright is overwhelming, utterly unwarranted, and it is striking that the chance of my birth in a Tennessee hospital should allow me to migrate freely and pursue my happiness to the ends of the world. In neutral behind us, stalled at Mexico’s southern border, parked at U.S. Customs and withering in refugee camps – so many other children of God are blacklisted by their birth. The Bible clearly states in Ezekiel 18:20b, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” Our immigration system must model for countries everywhere that birthplace and the home of one’s father should not give one undue privilege or unjust disadvantage. Yes, there must be criteria for immigrants, but to discriminate applicants based on their place of birth is all too similar to the Jim Crow laws we abolished not so long ago.

    Eating cabrito at El Rey Del Cabrito, I am assumed to be upstanding and respectable as an American. The waiter treats me with deference, even though I am wearing the wrong futbol jersey. The restaurant’s signs are in English, and throughout the meal we are treated with utmost respect. We are assumed to be legal visitors. How different must it be for those sojourning in Los Estados Unidos? How different to have your skin a synonym for illegality, your accidental accent a sign of guilt, and your work ethic derided on populist television talk shows. Reading the definition of cabrito as “kid,” my mind wanders to wonder how many kids feel trapped and dreamless en la frontera of the American dream, in the shadowlands of public society, squeezed out by the liability of their legality and native language.

    Visiting the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, I verge on guiltiness as I feast my eyes on his larger-than-life paintings so vibrantly campaigning for the proletariat, for his working-class people. Wondering how many Latin Americans could enter this museum to see the paintings that rightfully belong to them, I am humbled that my unearned American status, and not my occupational prowess, are the real price of admission into this grandiose museum. Outside, teachers in the plaza chant chants of change, striking for living wages, trying to gain respect and quality education in their country. I finger my museum ticket and my high-school teacher id card, pondering how my two-years’ experience as an American educator warrants my salary being 5x that of these veteran teachers.

    The sun is setting as I look askance at anti-scalping laws and negotiate for what I want – Tigres tickets. Americans disregard laws all the time for convenience sake – speeding, ticket scalping, parking. When laws seem ridiculously restrictive, petty, or at odds with our happiness, most Americans are fine with suspending law and order. When we begin to see an immigration system as legislation opposed to the happiness and dignity of millions, when we begin to see the quota system as a trivial method of separating legal from illegal, when we start to see the thanklessly vital contribution of our nation’s immigrants to the GDP and Social Security, we begin to understand the image of God in others and the will of God on the side of the immigrant.

    During the soccer game, I was caught up in the fraternal feeling of an entire stadium of people. As the chants of thousands propelled Los Tigres to a 3-0 victory, I was caught up and accepted into this community. Even though America, with its symbol of the united American continent, lost the game, I felt profound harmony with my southern neighbors and with everyone’s border-less hearts.

    Returning to Brownsville, under stars which Canadians, Latin Americans, and United States citizens all refer to by the same names, I am struck by the similarities and differences. I am driving from the richest city in Latin America to the poorest city in the United States. I drive from a city which welcomes immigrants to a nation which is contemplating a wall to keep out certain immigrants. I drive from the North of Mexico to the South of the United States, both famed for their rugged cowboy country. I drive from a city which viewed Spanish as a chic business tongue to a nation which equates it with the sub-proletariat language.

    Less than a week from now on March 8, I will be walking with the Border Ambassadors and many other groups to protest the border wall while supporting immigrants and borderlands. I protest because so many would-be immigrants are trying to escape countries in which nonviolent demonstrations are illegal. I am walking because immigrants in every city and every township in the United States are threatened by these damaging border policies. I am nonviolently demonstrating because it is my right, a right which so few global citizens have and which is being denied so many qualified immigrants caught in the never-ending lottery system. I would be proud if you joined me, in prayer or in person, in this year’s No Border Wall Walk.


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