Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation’

Life is a Story

April 14, 2008

Life is a story.

Life is a story, and we are more than merely actors.  We get a part in the writing, we get to actively work for happy endings.  Every relationship, every conflict, every contact we experience through life is a storyline.

One of the best words in the English language is redemption.  This idea of buying back, of making good, of righting a wrong – it is the heart of movies such as Shawshank Redemption and books like Les Miserables.

The most beautiful thing about nonviolence, then, is the fact that it always holds out hope for redemption.  Because nonviolence never physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually views the “other” as an enemy or essentially evil, reconciliation is a constant possibility.

The saddest thing about violence is that it ends the possibility of redemption and reconciliation.  The worst thing about murder is that it ends that “storyline,” that relationship, precluding the hope or chance of reconciliation.  Violence says, “there is nothing you can say or do to ever reconcile yourself to me.”  While morally arrogant, this popular philosophy of violence has permeated so many parts of our society, from wars to classrooms and international policies.

A border wall is the end of dialogue.  A border wall, just like the walls in China and Berlin, Hadrian’s Wall and the Maginot Line, all send the same message – we are no longer willing to communicate.  A wall is the end of communication, the end of attempts to reconcile different beliefs or lifestyles or philosophies.  Walls are acts of violence in that they do not allow for redemption.  Walls are irreconcilable because they divide peoples into two categories, when we are all so unimaginably different and yet so amazingly the same.  Walls are a physical attempt to cease communications, but they never last because people can be redeemed, people can and do seek to be at peace with their neighbors, people will find ways to communicate and redeem themselves.

May we seek harmony instead of rigid security.  May we hope for reconciliation rather than militarization on our borders.  May we be more creative than walls, more optimistic than secure fences, more moral than muros, more human than high-walled divisions.

The story will go on, and I will be holding out the chance for redemption.

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.

America – The Story of Integration

March 21, 2008

    This past week, Obama gave a speech for the ages when he openly confronted the issue of race in a conciliatory fashion. Like him or not, the speech was noteworthy in that it spoke to the future of the United States.  The “more perfect union” he addresses is one in which every little boy and every little girl is afforded the same opportunity to participate in our country’s democracy.  To be successful, we must integrate.

    American history is a long story of integration. Our greatest successes have been ones of inclusion, from Emancipation Proclamation to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. The most abysmal times in our nation’s history, similarly, have been those times when our nation was most segregated. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow Laws, and the long residue of the original sin of slavery are just some examples of the sad moments in our nation’s history when it has refused equal access or equal rights to all its people.

    Our story is one of integration, and it must continue to be so if we are to continue to live up to our moral and social potential. Currently, our country has some 12-20 million people residing and working within our borders who have been refused the rights, protections, and opportunities most basic to the American story. The same individuals decrying these workers’ rights smack of the same rhetoric segregationists employed with chilling effect in the 1950s and 1960s.

    When my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to these United States, they were greeted by Army recruiters like so many immigrants. The military has always been ready to bestow citizenship on those immigrants who would be willing to die for their newly adopted country. How much more impactful would it be if our nation were to tender the same means to earned citizenship for workers who have been contributing to, but not benefiting from, Social Security and taxes all these years? To truly call ourselves an “integrated” nation, we must move beyond the rhetoric of black and white and extend the discussion to human beings with and without rights.

    Harvard Professor Charles V. Willie once stated that school desegregation was worlds better than it was 50 years ago, but only nominally different than it was 30 years ago. This idea of an unacceptable plateau can be equally applied to the issue of immigration. Our nation’s immigration policies are more just than they were in the 1920s, when nation of origin and the idea of a racial ratio became the measuring device for who could and could not immigrate legally. However, our nation’s current immigration legislation is much more backward, prohibitive, and segregated than it was 150 years ago before nativistic policies began stemming the full integration of immigrants.

    The United States must decide that it has to abolish the class of illegal immigrants, not through massive and fiscally prohibitive deportations but rather through laws which would moralize the quota system, enhance family reunification policies, allow all students to pursue higher education, and extend a means to earned citizenship for our nation’s extralegal working class. Integration must advance from the limited fields of voter rights and school systems to the heart of civil rights, which is equality for all. Dr. King famously stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that “Anyone who lives within the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” The civil rights movement of this past century stemmed from the migration of peoples and sought to reconcile their rights. For the sake of American history and our country’s future, we must apply this same reconciliation and extend this same palm branch of redemption to those working families who have migrated or would wish to migrate here. Our future depends on the integration of everyone, the full participation of every resident in the American dream. As Joel Millman writes in his book The Other Americans, “Our future is being born today in a village somewhere far away. Our welfare depends on the quality of our welcome when that future arrives.”


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