Posts Tagged ‘muro’

Ourense or The Rivers once were Studded with Gold

April 29, 2008

Ourense is a city located in the northwest of Spain. When the Romans first came to Ourense, they were enchanted with its thermal springs and mesmerized by the gold in its streams.  After a time, the gold ran out, and the springs are not quite the attraction they once were during Pax Romana, but Ourense is a city thriving in its unique blend of highway modernity and byway Castellano.  I only wish the United States had an interpreter who could translate Catalan into an English that xenophobes and nativists alike could understand.

My fellow Rotarians and I were granted an honored audience at the State General Administration building with the Governor of Ourense and his Secretary and Administrator of Immigration. While being thoroughly diplomatic, the Governor still managed to come out with a position stronly opposed to the current status of immigration in the United States. The Governor was adamant that to control immigration it is necessary to focus on employers rather than the employees they lure into a Catch-22 status of legality. ¨Control the businesses,¨ he intoned with his administratorial voice, ¨and you will not have any illegal workers.¨ Such measures of strict policies against employers hiring extralegal immigrants would help cut down on the number of victims currently exploited by American businesses ranging from forestry to farming. Rather than victimizing or criminalizing extralegal residents, such measures would merely get rid of the illegal pull factor which still draws hundreds of thousands of workers into the U.S. annually.

Additionally, the Governor echoed some of my deepest sentiments towards immigration. He came out very strongly with the idea that it is human right to migrate, but it is the state´s necessity and responsbility to assimilate those immigrants so that they can fully participate and contribute to the country that lured them with its desirability in the first place.  Here in Spain, he said, immigrants have been crossing from Morocco and Africa since time immemorial, but Spain has also experienced a surge in Eastern European immigrants through its induction into the European Union (E.U.).  In the borderless E.U., Spain has worked very hard to keep its country distinct from France and Germany and Soviet bloc countries. All this positive integration starts in its nation´s schools.  One gets the general idea that Spain would frown on the United States´bilingual education.  As many teachers in such classrooms will attest, this seemingly compassionate education system actually hamstrings students from becoming truly bilingual, and often keeps them from being proficient in any one language.  The Governor would definitely be appalled to learn that some students arrive  in my freshman English class with insufficient writing skills after 8 years in a bilingual ESL system; he would say, and I would concur, that the State has failed that child and the family he/she represents.

 The conversation concluded with a lengthy discussion about the United State´s proposal of a 700-mile border wall on its southern frontier.  The Governor, his Secretary, the Administrator of Immigration, and all the Ourense attendants listened with rapt horror as I described the construction of a wall in California and Arizona and the impending border wall bound for south Texas unless the federal laws are changed or sufficiently challenged.  Just as Catalan is distinct from Spanish, so too was this American mindset for these dignitaries accustomed to the E.U.´s concept of borders.  The Governor stated outright that, ¨it is difficult to defend the borders without rigid barriers, but it is our responsibility to use sensitive negotiations and work for better solutions all the time.¨  In a country like Spain, with its porous borders and flexible entries, the government has developed ways of encouraging legal immigration and withholding incentives from persons who neglect to register for authorized documents.  The United States would do well to follow Spain´s example which, although far from perfect, is far more progressive and comprehensive than the outdated American system of rigid quotas and would-be walls. 

As the dialogue came to a close, the Governor made a confession.  ¨My grandparents were immigrants to three different countries.  In my province, I realize that this is a place, a nation purely of immigrants.¨  Smacking of John F. Kennedy´s optimistic idealism, I wish the Governor could discourse frankly with American officials regarding our stalled immigration reform.  Immigration, far from being an American dilemma, is an issue all countries face.  The greater a country, the greater its pull on immigrants and inevitably, the more it must deal delicately with issues of immigration legislation.  We must not shirk from these issues.  Beyond mere legislation, these issues are real lives.  Someday, ages and ages hence, some sojourner will come across old New York just as I came upon el centro antiguo in Ourense.  The way we deal with immigration in this generation will dictate what is written on the historical markers of Greenwich Village and what is inscribed beneath Emma Lazarus´s poem on the placard at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

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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.¨

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.

Something there is that Doesn’t Love a Wall- Part 4

April 22, 2008

It is the longest fence on the planet, stretching over 3,000 miles from the Darling Downs to the Eyre Peninsula. Built in the 1880s, the Dingo Fence or Wild Dog Barrier Fence of Australia is still patrolled by 23 employees. The fence was originally built to keep dingoes out of the the fertile and heavily populated southeast of Australia and also protect the valuable sheep herds of Queensland. While the wild dogs have not been eradicated entirely from this fenced section of Australia, their numbers have been significantly reduced. Instead of increasing sheep herds, however, kangaroos and rabbits have grown in number, keeping the sheep population constant.

Shortly after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed, Latin America expressed its sadness and revulsion at such an isolationist gesture. Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, whose government is a close friend of George W. Bush, said, “It seems to us a real affront that a government that calls itself a friend and regional partner only wants our money and our products, but treats our people as if they were a plague.”

The current walls in California and Arizona designed to stem the “flood” of people dubbed undesirable by the United States are not working. Rather than stopping border crossings, they actually catch fewer border crossers and reroute illegal entries through more remote and lethal sections of the border. Putting up walls to discourage illegal immigration, without dealing with the root push-and-pull factors of immigration is irrational and irresponsible. Our government is a man who walks into a flooded house and begins mopping the floor, even though he sees an overflowing sink, faucet still running. A border wall is an ineffective Band-Aid when we need real change, much like the “Vaseline of gradualism” which Dr. King railed against in favor of real civil rights reform.

Rancher Thomas Austin missed his homeland of England. In 1859, he released 24 rabbits on his lands, stating these famous last words, “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting. By 1894, rabbits had taken over the Australian mainland.

Running a little over 2,000 miles, the Rabbit-Proof Fence of Australia was constructed between the years 1901-1907. The purpose of the wire fencing, which ran three feet high and six inches underground, was to keep the rabbits from spreading through the entire continent. To actively patrol the fence, Chief Inspector of Rabbits Alexander Crawford sent out boundary riders on bicycles and camels. Despite these efforts, though, the rabbits soon could be found in every state. Without any natural predators, the rabbit population exploded and eventually overran the fence. Ranchers and farmers were forced to fence in their crops to protect it from the rodents.

While more than 39 laws governed the environmental and sociological surveying of the potential border wall in southern Texas, these laws were waived on April 1, 2008, with the assurance that the potential threat far outweighed very real risk. The same thing happened on September 22, 2005, when Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waived “in their entirety” the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act to extend triple fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego.

Since 1904, the Border Patrol has grown from an unofficial 75-man unit of mounted riders designed to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act to an 11,000-member squad aiming to thwart all illegal crossings. Despite this manpower, which is only expected to grow over the coming years, the number and cost of each illegal entry into the United States has simply increased. A border wall will only add to the cost, while being about as effective as a rabbit-proof fence in a continent not far away.

Something there is that doesn’t Love a Wall- Part 2

April 15, 2008

Berlin Wall, 2004

Walking along this wall, I am a ghost among ruins. It lacks a roof on the other side, to shelter a family or a friend. It is only one long wall, which doesn’t serve to protect those enclosed inside. Though it only continues a couple hundred yards, it is easy to imagine it going on forever, past light posts and stop signs, past bakeries and magic shops, past bookstores and groceries, past schools and prisons. How strange it is to come across a wall which does not contribute to a home.

Between East and West Berlin, the Wall ran 26 miles with 302 watchtowers and 20 bunkers. It was almost 12 feet high and made primarily of concrete. It was constructed by the Russian forces occupying Berlin after the end of World War II. More than 2.6 million people had fled Communist East Berlin in the 12 years leading up to 1961, a number which represented close to 15% of the total German population. Its purpose, then, was unlike almost any other walls. Its sole purpose was to keep its citizens locked in, rather than outsiders without. It was the walls of a prison more than a buffer of defense.

The 700-mile, 18-foot border wall currently mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would lock some 12 million extralegal residents inside our nation’s borders. Citizens like Selena, who came here at 15 as a house-maid but has also managed to graduate high-school, are trapped in the United States, without a legal means of advancement but also scared enough not to return to Guadalajara for her grandma’s funeral.

Typically viewed as a solution to our nation’s immigration issues, the wall has some damaging side-effects. Compounded on the environmental devastation and economic backlash of such a wall, the immigrants here in the U.S., both legal and illegal, will be adversely affected by such a wall. For legal residents, who successfully won what can be a ten-year lottery system or who fast-tracked in on a highly-skilled workers’ visa, the border wall is an affront to their homeland and a clear nativistic symbol. For extralegal residents, the border wall means that they are stuck here in a nation which does not afford them basic human rights and protections. As Douglas Massey wrote in the New York Times on April 4 this year,

America’s tougher line roughly tripled the average cost of getting across the border illegally; thus Mexicans who had run the gantlet at the border were more likely to hunker down and stay in the United States. My study has shown that in the early 1980’s, about half of all undocumented Mexicans returned home within 12 months of entry, but by 2000 the rate of return migration stood at just 25 percent.

Despite the fact that from 1980 to 2000 the chances of getting caught decreased from 33% to 10% because border-crossings were funneled through barren, under-patrolled areas, the wall is still touted as a way to cut down on the number of illegal entries while doing absolutely nothing positive for the assimilation of these immigrants or compassionate return of extralegal residents to their native countries.

192 people died, and over 200 were injured through this militarization of the border between these two Berlins. The wall separated families from families, neighbors from neighbors, fathers from children and wives from husbands. First erected overnight on August 13, 1961, some West Germans went out for a loaf of bread and didn’t return home for 30 years. Children sleeping over at a friend’s house were separated from their mothers for 3 decades, coming back to them with Rip Van Winkle beards and bass voices changed through the passing of life. The saddest thing about the Berlin Wall is that it obviously did not separate one people “group” from another. The inescapable network of mutuality, that interconnectedness of people that Dr. King referred to as the Beloved Community, was clearly there in the living, breathing city of Berlin.

To this day, countless Valley residents will say that the border crossed them. When Rio Grande replaced the Nueces River as the newest border between the Texas and Mexico, hundreds of families instantly became unwanted American citizens. Being land-rich but money-poor, many of them lost land to big ranchers, Texas Rangers, or mob persecution. The remaining Mexican-Americans were treated as subhuman for many years, with the first Mexican-American government official being sworn in almost 100 years after this change in nationality.

Watching boys and girls swim in the muddy Rio Grande, it is impossible to tell from which side of the river they leaped. Pesos and dollars are accepted on both sides. Spanish, English, and Spanglish are used interchangeably in stores, churches, city hall meetings, and television shows. Many of my students commute from Matamoros, Mexico, everyday, further blurring the lines between either side of la frontera. A wall would not only be a militarization of a border; it would be the rigid enforcement of a line that exists only on paper, not in hearts, culture, language, or souls. In his New York Times Op-Ed piece, Douglas Massey writes,

The number of Border Patrol officers increased from around 2,500 in the early 1980’s to around 12,000 today, and the agency’s annual budget rose to $1.6 billion from $200 million. The boundary between Mexico and the United States has become perhaps the most militarized frontier between two nations at peace anywhere in the world.

The “peace” introduced by a border wall would be a negative peace, an absence of tension in a few scattered square miles, whereas the Secure Fence would be replacing a positive peace where two cultures have been able to coexist and mutually benefit each other.

Digging in the summer grass, I look for a shard of evil. In the zealot’s fervor and the tourists’ hurry, I hope to find a forgotten piece of this long wall of shame. Berlin’s new motto – “Never Again” – is both a call to memory and a cry for forgiveness. When I finally clutch a broken piece of wall, no bigger than the palm of my hand, I hold it tight. It is cold. It is harmless. I can almost imagine it belongs to a home’s foundation rather than an internationally despised symbol of division. I fly it back across innumerable national borders, vowing “Never Again.”

Something there is that Doesn’t Love a Wall, Part 1

April 14, 2008

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….

It currently extends some 4,500 miles. Though never a continuous wall, it was guarded at times by as many as a million men. These fortifications of earth and brick were built and rebuilt from the 5th century B.C. until the 16th century A.D. Some of the most famous sections of wall were built by the Qin and Ming Dynasties. The Great Wall of China, while a popular tourist attraction now, claimed the lives of 2-3 million people during its centuries-long construction.

The current plans for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, while only 700 miles for a border half the length of the Great Wall of China, do follow in the tradition of walls of all shapes and sizes. The border wall proposed for America’s southern border, locally referred to as la frontera, will not be a continuous wall. Instead, it will highlight “high-traffic zones” like wildlife sanctuaries, schools, churches, and depressed downtowns, and conspicuously passover places like River Bend Resort and Hunt family’s Sharyland Estates. With all the grace and diplomacy of a Chinese Emperor, Homeland Security has waived 39 laws for the wall in Texas and 19 different laws for the Arizona portion. And, just like the Great Wall of China, people will surely die as a result of this costly edifice. Close to 400 people die annually with our current militarized borders, a sad statistic which has doubled in the last decade. As Professor Wayne Cornelius of University of California – San Diego, stated, To put this death toll in perspective, the fortified US border with Mexico has been more than 10 times deadlier to migrants from Mexico during the past nine years than the Berlin Wall was to East Germans throughout its 28-year existence. If a border wall is erected through la frontera, that number could easily double or triple.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?

In China, the intent of the Great Wall was to keep the marauding Mongolian and Manchurian tribes out of their land. This isolationism mentality lasted for millenia, only beginning to change in the last portion of the 20th century. The wall successfully repulsed successive Manchurian invasions for almost 40 years until finally a Ming general named Wu Sangui who disagreed with his commanders simply let them in through a gate.

Walls have never proven effective for long periods of time. The border wall intended for 1/5 of the southern U.S. has already created some opportunistic evasions of the Secure Fence Act. An unjust law breeds injustice and creates criminals, and this 2005 legislation has done that. Far from discouraging border-crossers, it merely drives the prices and lethality of such dangerous ventures. Coyotes have been making news in the Rio Grande Valley after several car-crashes which have sadly left immigrants dead or wounded and without rights; the coyotes, however, have lived to try another day. And since almost ½ of extralegal residents in the U.S. have come here legally, immigration reform seems to be a more practical way of beginning to assimilate these individuals who have come by air or by sea over or around the trajectory of the proposed border wall.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

(Robert Frost, “Mending Walls“)

While not visible from the moon and only able to be seen by a trained eye at low orbit, the Great Wall of China is certainly an imposing feature. While architects may debate its construction and the merits of its foundations, people from all walks of life can readily agree that it was not a success and actually sapped China of resources, labor, and interchange of ideas. Materially, it is a lasting structure; economically, politically, socially, and morally, it was a failure from the moment it was made.

The very idea of a wall went against the progressive thinking of the Chinese people. A border wall would seriously call into question the democracy and moral high ground our nation has claimed and attempted to impart to dozens of other nations. When Chinese students protested in 1989 at the Tiananman Square, they did not build a replica of their nation’s giant man-made monument. Instead, they fashioned a model of America’s symbol of freedom and hope, of opportunity for all peoples, immigrant and resident. May we not betray the legacy of Lady Liberty for the infamy of a divisive border wall.

Letter to Editor: April 13, 2008

April 14, 2008

The following Letter to the Editor was published in The Brownsville Herald Sunday edition April 13, 2008, as a call to action.

Many people opposed to the border wall might feel that the lion’s share of the work is done. The court ruled a partial victory for UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez in early February, and on March 19 ordered that the federal government could only survey UTB’s campus for alternatives to a border wall. These signs of progress must not, however, be interpreted as a sign that the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which originally calls for 700 miles of wall here in Texas, is null and void. These victories must serve as encouragement, not as final pronouncements.

The government still fully intends to build a border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley, and some of it is slated to be completed by this December. Several members of the No Border Wall Walk this past March 8-16 have continued their efforts by walking door to door in communities like Southmost, and in speaking with these border residents it is clear that the government, far from being deterred by the recent court decisions, is moving ahead with its plan.

We, the people of the border, recognize that this law is an unjust one. In his Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King wrote, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust;” Valley residents are keenly aware that the Secure Fence Act is an affront not only to human life but also to irreplaceable ecosystems and endangered animals, poor communities and Mexican shoppers, immigrants legal and extralegal.

It is the duty of every border resident to take immediate action to counter this immoral and unjust legislation. What follows are ways which all of us can make a difference right now.

1.) If you have not already done so, please write and call our Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both of whom voted for this wall in their own “backyard.”

2.) Take part in the numerous nonviolent demonstrations going on here in the Rio Grande Valley. The No Border Wall Walk involved more than 300 walkers, but there are hundreds of thousands of us on the border. Imagine if we were all saying the same thing at the same time…

3.) Encourage your faith leaders, churches, and social organizations to actively work on this issue. Virtually ever faith believes in the moral obligation to care for the immigrant, and a border wall is a devastating distraction from real immigration reform. Already, local faith leaders such as Rev. Juan Trevino and churches ranging from Methodist and Episcopalian to Catholic and Unitarian have taken courageous stands on this issue.

4.) Add your name to the growing petitions such as those organized by No Texas Border Wall. Petitions like this have made an impact in the past; when Hillary Clinton was confronted with thousands of signatures, she mentioned the absurdity of a wall in her UTB speech and on the CNN Texas debates.

5.) Stay informed. Do not let a wall get built here in Texas as it did in Arizona and California, cloaked by secrecy and aided by apathy.

6.) VOTE and/or REGISTER TO VOTE for this November.

The time to take a stand is now. As Martin Luther King goes on to say in Why We Can’t Wait, “

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

The border wall is not inevitable, but neither is the ultimate victory for our community. May we come together in solidarity to oppose this wall of division, showing the nation and ourselves what power we possess.

Hanen’s New Decision, Our New Resolution

April 12, 2008

In addition to waiving 39 laws through its use of the REAL ID Act, the federal branch of the U.S. government notched another victory in its continuing lawsuits against homeowners on the border. UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez, who has been refusing the government access to her land since January, was just ordered by Judge Hanen on Thursday to allow the government to survey her land for six months.

73-year-old Eloisa Tamez wanted to know the government’s intentions in detail, but the government stated that it wouldn’t know those intentions or the scope of its construction until it surveyed her Spanish land-grant acreage. This deliberate murkiness has permeated every phase of the U.S. government’s efforts to raise a wall on la frontera. From the Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report, which gave two different proposed trajectories of the wall so that no one is quite sure where it will be built, to the indiscriminate waiving of laws to expedite a process which is either top-secret or undecided or both – every interaction of the government with the people of this Rio Grande Valley has been evasive and less than honest.

For a $50 billion project, the American public deserves the right to know exactly what it is going to look like. The EIS report shows metal fencing, plexi-glass, concrete walls, and double-thick walls, all of which are “possibilities,” yet none of which are decided upon. The government report shows tiny paths of entry for small lizards and rodents, but government officials have also promised people like Jimmy Paz, the manager of Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, that they will have a gate and a key for such a wall. Even the intended purpose of the wall, which began as a piece of immigration legislation, has been touted as a solution to terrorism, drug-smuggling, Social Security, and borderland trash. No one is quite sure how the wall will look, how it will impact the communities, and what effects it will have. Yet still, it has managed to pass through our legislature and dozens of local courts on its way to presumably land in the Rio Grande Valley by the beginning of next month.

Although members of the Smart Borders group will continue visiting local communities along the RGV corridor in order to alert them to their rights and register them to vote, we must also begin training and preparing for a nonviolent campaign of direct action. Should bulldozers come to our peaceful Valley, we must be prepared to engage in the civil disobedience which transformed India and Jim Crow. These apparent defeats for the rights of border residents must not discourage and enervate but encourage and inspire us to bring this issue to national attention. Please join us as we oppose an unjust law in a morally ascendant manner.

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.

Central Park to Sabal Palms

April 8, 2008

Nailing down Homeland Security’s plans is like trying to spot the elusive ocelot. When asked whether the agency intends to build the Fence north of the sanctuary, its chief spokesman, Russ Knocke, said: “I can’t rule that out, but I cannot also definitely tell you that that will be the case.”

It is quotes like this which make Dan Barry’s New York Times article about Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary important in framing our national conflict over the Secure Fence Act. The wall has millions of detractors with very valid reasons, from my students whose heritage and extended family would be affronted by such a wall to outspoken advocates for the endangered species huddling in these last remaining stands of a lost ecosystem. The federal government and a few outspoken, if misinformed, syndicated talk-show hosts keep lauding the wall as an answer to everything from immigration to terrorism and drug smuggling. They do not let the facts get in the way, nor their own statements about the wall being a $50 billion deterrent rather than a panacea.

New York Central Park, 2006

The indefiniteness of the Secure Fence Act could be attributed to either indecision or misdirection, and since the United States government seems more determined than ever to build a wall, one must assume the latter. Last week, heavy equipment cleared brush from the levee in Brownsville’s Southmost community, presumably in anticipation of wall construction through this tight-knit community. Some residents hadn’t ever caught wind of a wall, perhaps because the proposed plans were 600+ pages in English and only 30 pages in Spanish. Other people we talked to in the Amigoland Mall community this week doubted that the wall would bisect their houses. They had heard that the plans for the wall circumvented their community; what they didn’t know was that this was only Plan B, and the government has still not specified which plan they will follow or how faithfully they will follow these plans. The only clarification they keep reiterating is this: it is coming, and it is coming fast.

Jimmy Paz, the director of Audobon’s Sabal Palms Sanctuary, is equally at home with noisy chachalacas and my students he also refers to as “Chachalacas” because their incessant teenage chit-chat sounds like the birds nesting in his refuge. At 62, he has walked these paths more than 50 years, observed Border Patrol and new immigrants come and go, seen some birds make a comeback and other species fade into shadows. He realizes the importance of the ground he stands upon, the grounds he invites my students to walk and clean sometimes. Paz, whose Spanish surname means “peace,” realizes the tranquility his stand of virgin Sabal Palm forest can offer city dwellers and native Brownsvillers. He understands that wildlife is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s greatest assets, with eco-tourism being the 3rd largest industry in Brownsville. It is with the full weight of this knowledge, then, that he says building a wall to cut of his wildlife sanctuary is akin to “…putting a fence around Central Park.”

Having lived in both Manhattan and Brownsville, I can recognize the collective pride both communities share for their parks. What the Brownsville sanctuary lacks in park benches and ice-skating and dog-walkers it more than makes up for in endangered species, migrating butterflies, and bird-watchers. Central Park is the pride of New York, and to see my students’ eyes light up as birders told them the distances they’d traveled to come for Brownsville’s beauty, it was clear that refuges like Sabal Palms are the pride of la frontera.

Dan Barry’s article in the New York Times is noteworthy most because it connects these two distant communities. If New Yorkers could understand the peaceful coexistence here on the border, they would most assuredly stand in opposition to a wall’s disruption. If the refugees with whom I waitered could see the harmony of new immigrants and old residents, Spanish-speakers and English-only citizens in the Valley, they would be outspoken against this symbol of division. If the NYPD could see the way the Border Patrol lends its watchtowers for hawk-sightings sometimes or the way Sabal Palms has sensors to monitor illegal activity, they would surely campaign for more of this cooperation and less rigid and costly barriers. If Times Square were made aware of Jimmy Paz and his birds in Brownsville, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would seem the unconscionable, ill-planned, destructive and distracting suggestion that it truly is.

Sabal Palms Spanish Moss, November 2007