Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

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 2

March 9, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 2

  Wake this morning to snoring, fit enough to wake the dead. Make my way over to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Rio Grande City for an inspired message by el padre. The lectern forgotten somewhere behind him, this Padre walked the center aisle like the evangelical preachers of my childhood. His message about Lazarus woke me up far more than a cup of joe.

    “Levantante, Lazaro – Rise, Lazarus! Levantante a vivir, levanantante a caminar – Rise up to walk!”

    He could have been speaking to me and the 20 others waking up in the Immaculate Conception Parish Hall, readying for Day #2 of walking blacktop and tasting diesel because we feel compelled by a force every bit as compelling as Jesus’ voice outside the tomb that Sunday. There was a jounce in my step when I came down the front steps in the pre-dawn.

Sisters Fran, Nancy, Luella blessed us with a blessing we could taste. Their contribution highlights the philosophy of Cesar Chavez, the philosophy we are trying to follow. Chavez writes in 1978’s “He Showed us the Way,”

We can gather the support of millions who have a conscience and would rather see a nonviolent resolution to problems. We are convinced that when people are faced with a direct appeal from the poor struggling nonviolently against great odds, they will react positively. The American people and people everywhere still yearn for justice. It is to that yearning that we appeal.

A group of people, young students and idealistic teachers, mothers and fathers, filmmakers and journalists and people of faith – a diverse group making a positive statement on a crucial issue at a crux in history cannot but call out sympathetic positive outpourings of love from all those around them. The Valley is an extremely warm place, but add to that the positivity of a unified nonviolent statement, and people react with offerings of love.

    The widow’s mite is powerful because it demands great sacrifice. Everything someone has, no matter how small or miniscule it may seem – that is true involvement, true dedication. That zealousness is what will make causes powerful. But the widow’s mite is also powerful because it begs a community of such widows. One cannot eat on merely a widow’s mite – one needs hundreds, thousands of mites. If we had received a generous donation from the UFW or the Mennonite Central Committee covering all the costs of this march, we might have been beholden to their interests out of a sense of gratitude. Plus, we would not have had the community support, investment, and involvement in our efforts; we would not have had to seek it out, we would not have needed la gente, the everyday people.

    As it is, we are receiving support from at least 3 churches in almost every leg of this trip. Today we had at least three cops from Rio Grande City, including Lieutenant Rodriguez, and then we were passed off to a constable and a sheriff for the next remaining stretch. The Beloved Community requires all people to give a little, not one or two to give a lion’s share but all to give a widow’s mite. For dinner tonight, a journalist from the Spanish-speaking El Informador treated us to pizzas. The Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla graciously opened their church facilities to us, and their large youth group gave us a warm welcome. Nancy Rivera from the Mennonite Central Committee and Andrea, who is a Mennonite Brethren board member, treated us to snacks and then came back to provide us dinner and stay for the evening’s discussion about Cesar Chavez, nonviolence, and the Mennonite Central committee statement on immigration.

Grassroots. Grassroots movements like this March Against the Wall are powerful because you talk to people at the BorderTown Foods grocery store when they generously let you use their staff restrooms. Grassroots movements involve people pulling off the highway, curtailing their Sunday drive to walk a mile in protest of an unconscionable absurdity such as a border wall. Grassroots nonviolent demonstrations mean that you interpret every honk as a smile, every wave as a slap on the back, every head nod as the most compassionate gesture of a Tejano cowboy. Nonviolent grassroots demonstrations mean that you make up songs like “It’s the end of the wall and we know it” to the tune of REM’s “It’s the end of the world” and “No al muro” to the tune of “Sha-na-na-na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye.” Grassroots nonviolent demonstrations mean you make your own signs on the back of bookcovers, you wear overalls and Canadian ties and Hecho en Mexico belt buckles.

    Grassroots nonviolent movements only work when people like you become passionate about the issues. It is not enough for one zealous high-school teacher to oppose the border wall because he is indignant that his students will be disrespected by such a symbol of division. It is not enough for a soccer coach to wish that his A+ students and soccer captains could actually attend the great universities they deserve to attend if only they weren’t trapped in the immigration lottery system. We welcome your support, in prayers and in car honks but also in donations of pizzas and votes of confidence. Most of all, we welcome you to walk with us, be it a mile or a day. Levantante a vivir, levantante a caminar.

Check out Day 2 on Youtube at:

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.

Public Comments at Brownsville City Commissioner’s Meeting- 2/19/2008

February 20, 2008

Teachers are always talking about how their students teach them so much more than they have taught. This is not empty rhetoric. Yesterday evening, I attended my first City Commissioner’s Meeting here in Brownsville, Texas, because 2 of my students wrote essays on what Martin Luther King would say today about immigration. They taught me that Honor Roll students are still entered into the same lottery system for citizenship as everyone else. They taught me that the power of hope, that the “faith of a child” to send their essays to Princeton University is the type of powerful force which can and is changing our country as we speak. As I sat there, overwhelmed to see my students receiving accolades and shaking the hand of Mayor Ahumada who has defiantly opposed the wall, Alexa and Mayra and their families taught me pride.    So, when I got up to give my Public Comments to commemorate my students’ hard work and their indefatigable optimism, I was more than a little nervous because I wanted to do them proud by their teacher. The following is my speech:

 

“Walls are made to support roofs, not to divide neighbors. Walls are supposed to keep out the rain, not hard-working students who earn 100% in English-as-a-Second-Language classes and dream of one day attending excellent American universities Walls are made to support a family, not separate spouses and children from their mothers. Walls are intended to keep families safe, not to terrify immigrants and not to segregate nations. Walls have always been used to make a home, but they should never be used to keep out hard-working, well-meaning people who just are not “lucky” enough to have been born 1-mile to the north. Walls are for hanging pictures of people we love, not to send a message of hate to would-be immigrants and to those who are legally here.

Martin Luther King wisely said, “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.” The entire United States can learn ideas of coexistence, integration, and community strength by simply studying the Rio Grande Valley and its relationship with its neighbor. While politicians in capitals are debating the “idea” of some 12 million extralegal residents, Brownsville and other cities on la frontera are living proof that 99% of these immigrants sincerely want to work and contribute to American community and economy. The very idea of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is ignorant of the real contribution these immigrants make on a daily basis.

My students Alexa Mireles and Mayra Flores are the epitome of this. Both of them represent newly-immigrated Mexican-Americans who are highly successful in America. I have the pleasure to teach many talented and ultra-motivated ESL students at Rivera High School everyday. These scholars are A+ students and have dreams of one day attending some of the best universities in the land. A border wall, the border wall they wrote against in their essays for the Princeton University Martin Luther King Day Celebration essay contest, would separate many of these students from their parents, sisters, friends. This human element, largely ignored when discussing 700 miles of wall, is why I am against the wall.

Tonight, I stand in support of this Valley’s mayors, politicians, and landowners who have courageously defied the idea of a border wall in their backyard. Mayor Ahumada, you have made this the issue of your tenure as mayor, and I applaud your efforts to nonviolently oppose the destructive influence of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. You and I both know that the money which would be spent on separating two nations and thousands of families could be better spent building homes in our city on the border by the sea, the poorest city in the nation.

Tonight, I wish to invite you, the Commissioners, and every concerned citizen from Roma to Brownsville, to join me and the Border Ambassadors as we walk on this 43rd anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. This March Against the Wall will show the solidarity of border communities against the Secure Fence Act, and it will also encourage those willing to stand up for the immigrant and la frontera. We ask for your endorsement, your public support, your prayers, and we hope to see you on the 16th as we finish our march here at 5:00 on the UTB lawn. Dios te bendiga. <http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/moore_84628___article.html/king_guerra.html>

So far, Mayor Pat Ahumada and Commissioner Edward Camarillo have accepted the invitation to come to the closing rally and the challenge to continue nonviolently opposing the border wall.