Posts Tagged ‘UFW’

Teachers as Natural Social Activists

March 20, 2008

    Social activism begins the moment you feel responsibility instead of pity for others.

    While I have long been socially conscious, it wasn’t until I began teaching last year that I became a social activist. When I accepted the impressive responsibility of 130 souls, when I understood that I was entrusted to advocate for these young lives and the community they would inherit, I had no other choice but to begin to take action.

    Teaching has to be one of the best professions for becoming a social activist. Day in and day out, one is confronted with housing policies, welfare programs, child protective services, police, insurance policies, medical bills, immigration laws, educational reform, refugee policies, family reunification bills, literacy initiatives, and a host of other community services and government programs. The classroom is a crossroads of current events and a nexus of legislation and its effects on our most impressionable population – our children.

    I have been criticized from friends and family members outside of the teaching profession when I refer to my students as “my kids” or “mi’jos.” While I can appreciate their concerns, I don’t know if it is possible for a teacher to truly excel at their job if they do not feel like every single student is in someway their child. As I see past students in the hall and quiz them about their success in English class this year, it is more as a parent than a teacher. When I write recommendations for students like Jack, who recently was awarded a hefty scholarship at Our Lady of the Lake in Texas, it is more as a mentor than an academic instructor. When I speak with parents at open houses and conferences, we converse not as combatants but as co-guardians of this child’s future. It is impossible to be a good teacher without feeling this sense of responsibility and investment in students’ success beyond one’s classroom.

    This past spring break, while most of my students sat at home waiting for school to begin again, I had the privilege to march 126 miles against an unjust border wall proposed through my kids’ homes and lives. I was joined by countless other students and educators. I am sure teachers like Elizabeth Stephens, Elizabeth Golini, Andrea Guengrich, Patricia Flanagan, Mike and Cindy Johnson, and Cole Farnum all came to care about the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in much the same manner. All of us have students who have pricked our hearts; all of us feel a sense of responsibility for improving the community both because we see its shortcomings and because we see the enormous potential in each and every one of our students. We hope to help shape a community which will harness the potential for goodness that we have witnessed within every single young person.

    It is my earnest hope that, when I shake my freshman students’ hands on the graduation stage three years from now, that I will be able to do so as a person who has helped to change them and the world they are inheriting. As Cesar Chavez so eloquently wrote,

Once change begins, it cannot be stopped:

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.

You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

(“Address to the UFW’ 7th Constitutional Convention, September 1984, pg. 121)

Once my students have learned that “Words are Power,” once they have understood themselves and their own agency, and once they realize that they hold within themselves all they need to change the world – once they know this, I can rest assured that these students will take good care of my future children and grandchildren.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 or A Day of Thanksgiving

March 14, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 with the Heedless Horseman from Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

    Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso, like so many other churches along our walk, absolutely saw the sojourner in us and welcomed us like a Good Samaritan. We came asking only shelter, and Yolanda and Father Thomas fed us snacks. We were looking for a place to lay our head, and they provided us much-needed showers and our only laundry services of the whole 9-day walk. As tired and beleaguered wanderers, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by this faith community, and one gets the feeling that an extralegal immigrant and his family might find the same welcome at the doors of Holy Spirit. Surely they are living the call of Leviticus 19:33-34 which calls peoples of faith to embrace immigrants, stating, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    Day 7 was at least 99 degrees, and by some accounts as hot as 102. Many of us got burnt, I suffered heat hives, and all of us slowed our 2-3 mph pace considerably in the sweltering sun. It was hotter than a human heart, the organ this entire walk has targeted. Believing that people are innately good, we feel that they simply must not know the wonderful people and beautiful places which a wall would destroy and immigration legislation could enhance. As members of the walk give interviews with local news stations or national newspapers, we are laying out the facts of the immigration debate and the logic as to why the United States should not build a wall. The real story, the story we pray is reaching the hearts of the world, is on display behind us, in the gorgeous palm groves and birding preserves and in the single-story homes and land grant ranches which will be devastated by the building of any wall.

One of the most historically fascinating parts of the trip came at the Rio Rico historic landmark. Sipping some much-needed Gatorade (donated by yet another church), we learned that when the international boundaries were moved from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and everyone to the north was given citizenship status, some people took their rights into their own hands. The people of Rio Rico dug a canal in the 1800s, changing the course of the river so it would flow south of them and give them certain “inalienable rights.” Though this met with some opposition, all 200 of them were finally given full citizenship status and are now proud to be called Americans. People have been subverting unjust immigration laws for a long, long time…

This Friday’s march was another great opportunity to dialogue with the amazing people who have pledged 9 days of their lives and 120 miles of their feet to speak out against the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Some new recruits to the group were discussing political figures who have let down the American public, either through faulty promises or mismanagement or the profit motive. Hearing this rhetoric, though, I could see many of the through-walkers bristle at its negativity. We are not waging a campaign against people, because people are never beyond redemption. In his speech “Loving your Enemies,” our hero and mentor Martin Luther King said,

…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…

We are working to change oppressive and unjust systems in our nation and in the world, but our struggles can never be directed at a single person because it becomes hate and cyclical violence. So, I spoke up to him as he was bashing a man who has waived 19 different environmental laws in order to build the wall in Arizona. I said that it is fruitless and ultimately violent to direct anger at people. If we have a problem with someone, we should not even say their name. Our conflict is not with them but with their actions. On the other side, however, when someone deserves praise, we should use their names in the most intimate way. Praise should always be extremely personal and direct; critiques should always be directed at fixed systems or established actions rather than people, because people possess the power to change.

With that in mind, I would love to praise Laura and Jonathan Loveless for their generous providence of another homemade lunch today in the tiny town of Santa Maria – your surname is clearly a misnomer. I wish to praise the heedless horseman Vince for riding his horse Tocallo and enlivening us with his sage vaquero wisdom and his cowboy guitar-playing. I would like to thank Gene for riding his bike from Brownsville to join us for most of the day’s walk. Jose, your calm discussion about the border region and your work with UTPA students kept me walking when I was most affected by the heat. To all the ladies at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias, God bless you for your tambourines and noisemakers as we hobbled home to your fish dinner and your old-time Spanish praise songs. God bless you Nenna for sharing the lives of your eight children, your land along the levee and the site of the proposed border wall, and the encouraging shower at your house. Father Albert – we are so grateful for our kind reception at your church. You and Father Thomas from Progreso, both immigrants from the Congo, illustrate the beauty and the love and the potential immigrants can and do offer if only given the opportunity through our immigration system. Thanks to all 250 of you who have walked even a step of this march thus far; your footsteps give us the faith that we are not alone.

Continuing in the same vein of praise, I would also like to thank the individual members of this walk. These people have dedicated nine days of their lives, 126 miles of their feet, and 24 hours of every single day to the purpose of protesting the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, supporting the sanctity of all border regions, and respecting the divine spark of humanity in every single immigrant. I am eternally grateful to Mike and Cindy Johnson, both educators from the Brownsville school system who devoted their entire spring break to an issue in which they believe. Mike’s endless energy has uplifted our spirits on many a long day, and Cindy’s heart for each house we pass reminds me of why we are walking. Thank you Cindy for talking with each of these landowners, informing them of their legal rights, and encouraging them with the faith that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Matt Smith

Thank you Matt Smith for your love of the communities on both sides of the river. Your work in the maquiladora factories in Mexico prove that you are willing to work at righting injustice, and you bring that same moral indignation to this No Border Wall Walk. Your guitar-playing and IPOD-blasting have kept us dancing and singing and positive all 100 miles so far, and they are sure to see us all the way to Brownsville. Thank you also Domingo Gonzalez; your offer of transportation has been invaluable, and your happy car honks always seem to lift our spirits. Cesar Chavez, your fellow UFW mate, would be proud.

Crystal Canales

I have to thank Crystal Canales for her limitless energy, her youthful idealism, and her passion for people. Crystal is the only UTB student who sacrificed an entire spring break to protest a border wall in the Valley she has always called home. Her words of support and positivity, both in Spanish and in English, have been truly profound and have made the most cynical of us act in love.

Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth Stephens, we owe you so much thanks for your organizing skills in Progreso and your understated leadership on the march. Bearing blisters since Day 2, you have found a quiet reserve of strength and managed to “mount up on wings of eagles” when others would be plummeting like sparrows. Perhaps it has something to do with your button which states, “I am loved.” We all pray you will continue your activism here in Brownsville and the greater Rio Grande Valley for many years to come.

Nat Stone

Nat Stone, every single member of this walk is grateful for your constant encouragement and your affirmation of our work. Your daily documentary film-making reminds us that our protest is not here in the Valley but in the hearts of our nation. We all pray that your talented filmography manages to prick our country’s conscience. Seeing you leap-frogging us again and again has kept us walking when we would just as soon take yet another water break. We also thank you because no other documentary makers would be calling the Obama campaign office everyday, nor would they be handing out legal information to local residents, nor would they stop and be a first responder at a car accident. You make us all proud to live on la frontera.

Jay Johnson-Castro – your 600 miles of walks before March 8 made our march possible. Your guidance from walks past, as well as your teeming knowledge about this issue, have guided our thinking and our planning on this walk. You have brought media attention to the Valley and to the issues we confront, and we pray you will continue to nonviolently campaign for justice on the border.

Kiel Harell

Kiel Harell, how can we ever thank you for the days and days of accumulated time you spent on the phone rallying support for this March Against the Wall. Your quiet strength, your welcoming persona in your down-home overalls that harken back to the SNCC days of the civil rights movement, your conversational tone with reporters and recalcitrant locals, your well-read understanding of nonviolence and your recent exploration of faith – we are thankful that you canceled your plane ticket home and are campaigning for the homes of thousands along our nation’s southern border.

John Moore

Brother John Moore, this walk was your dream some two months ago. You have lived in San Diego, El Paso, and now Brownsville, and your triangulated perspective on the border gives purpose and far-reaching unity to our efforts here. We are not alone, nor are we simply campaigning for the rights of these people within a 120-mile stretch of this snaking Rio Grande. Our efforts are for the 5,000 mile Canadian border, the largest international border in the world, just as much as they are for the Mexican border. Thank you for directing our anger into purposeful, nonviolent ways; thank you for reminding us of the power of redemption and the promises of our God. Thank you for turning me on to nonviolence and its application to every part of my life.

The thanks could go on indefinitely. We have been brimming with gratitude for the opportunity to hear the stories of this Valley and the opportunity to participate in a story of redemption here on the border. Contrary to the opinions of many, this border wall has not been built yet, and although it is a law right now, so was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1924 Immigration Quota based on nation of origin. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable; it has only as much mandate as we give it. Please write your Congressman and convince them to vote for the Grijalva Bill which begins to bring the border wall discussion into environmental accountability, and also urge them to vote against the other bill which would set a certain date for the beginning of construction on this destructive symbol of division. Any prayers and support you can offer this march in its final days would be precious.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 or The Day of Pilgrimage

March 12, 2008

Marching with College Students

    The beginning of today’s march was a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage from the beautiful river to the hot pavement of industrial parks south of McAllen, a pilgrimage through the small land-grant town of Granjeno past welcoming gas stations, a journey from our lowest numbers to our biggest turnout for the walk thus far. The journey was shortened as we learned the stories of this Valley, the stories of La Lomita, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Las Milpas, and Pharr, as well as the stories stories of each other and those to whom we wave our tired hands. As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales,

                    You each, to shorten the long journey,

Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury. (“General Prologue)

Today was our shortest day of walking so far, coming in at only 12 or so miles. We took it slow, though, especially as we gave and received hope in the tiny town of Granjeno. Families like the Rendons were extremely welcoming, and they were wholly supportive of our efforts against the wall. They have boldly decided to stand up to the federal government by refusing to sign government survey waivers. Many of them are involved in the class-action federal lawsuit being launched Peter Schey, and many of them are vowing civil disobedience if bulldozers come to their front yards. Each of us on this walk will stand beside them in solidarity.

    Leaving the shade and encouraging multilingual words of encouragement from grandmas and children, dogs and roosters, cats and swaying trees, the sun could have discouraged our positivity. Instead, it gave us some much-needed time to reflect and connect with each other. Walking down a lonely road with like-minded people, one is drawn to Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Walking with these worthy women and men, I have been consistently challenged by their calls to the higher plane of nonviolence and encouraged on this March Against the Wall. Men and women such as the steadfast Jay Johnson-Castro, the tranquilly wise Nat Stone, the perceptive Elizabeth Stephens, the questioning Cole Farnum, the united smiles of the Johnson famiily, the motherly care of Beth Golini, the passionate dancing of Matt Smith, the quiet strength of Crystal Canales, the extremely personal encouragement and candor of Kiel Harell, the dependable leadership of John Moore. These people have challenged and will continue to make the entire nation listen to our moral indignation at this issue.

    At our usual 2:00 lunch stop at a Valero gas station, we were once more showered with blessings. News crews found us, and so did workers from the G & G Auto Wrecking Company, who graciously donated a case of Coke and a box of waters. This support from la gente, the everyday men and women of this Valley who would be most profoundly impacted by a wall between their families and heritage and culture and land, is really what empowers us day after day. We left with renewed vigor.

    The most powerful moment of the day came as students from the Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed their solidarity with our efforts and joined us for the hottest part of our march. Their showered and beautiful faces marched alongside our trail-weary souls, and we were all enriched and comforted that this is an issue which all people of faith, from all over, can rally behind with confidence. We sang “Father Abraham” and “And the Walls came Tumblin’ Down.” http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

    And just as they left and we were resigned to walking the final 2 miles with our 15 through-walkers, a group of 50 spring-break students from Miami, Texas State, St. Mary’s, and many other universities, joined us after a long day volunteering at Cesar Chavez’s LUPE organization. Their energy was all we needed to bring it in to the Las Milpas rally with style. We blocked off a whole lane of traffic, and our sheer positivity even won over a police officer who looked as if he were about to write us a citation. He asked for all my information, but when I told him a resounding thanks for all the police officers’ support along our walk so far, he smiled and told me to call him for tomorrow’s march to Progreso.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 College Alternative Spring Breakers

    One of the most amazing things about walking with these idealistic college students is the misinformation that is currently circulating our good country. If we truly believe that all people are inherently good, then we must also believe that the conscience of this nation has been miseducated about this issue. Well-intentioned college students who were devoting their whole spring break to help out the Valley’s people, thought that people on la frontera were united in support of the wall. How they couldn’t be more wrong! It was encouraging to see each honk of a car horn and each index finger pointing to the air educate them more and more that no one in the wall’s proposed trajectory wants this symbol of disgrace and division. The border wall would not go through barren wasteland but through backyards, not desert but downtowns.

    The Las Milpas rally was amazing. We had the pleasure to witness 4 members of the ARISE student ballet folklorico, and their dancing feet made our spirits light; my soul was dancing with them, even if the only part of my body I could mobilize were my clapping hands. It was encouraging to see schoolbuses and kids playing on the playground, seeing that Pancho Villa is not our hero, but Cesar Chavez. Joe Krause did an amazing job organizing this community event, even getting the 36h District Representative. Our meeting broke with chants and excitement. We are together, we are solidly united.

    And so ends this 5th day, a March day of pilgrimage that called out the entire community to join its voice with ours. In his “Letter from Cesar Chavez to Friends,” Chicano activist and social organizer Cesar Chavez wrote,

But throughout the Spanish-speaking world there is another tradition that touches the present march, that of the Lenten penitential processions, where the penitantes would march through the streets, often in sack cloth and ashes, some even carrying crosses, as a sign of penance for their sins, and as a plan for the mercy of God. The penitential procession is also in the blood of the Mexican-American, and the Delano march will therefore be one of penance—public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of all lesser motivation.

As we approach Semana Santa, the Holy Week, we are most assuredly marching for many reasons. We walk for penance that we did not speak out sooner when walls were being built in California and Arizona, we walk to rid ourselves of that self-defeating bitterness and hate which piles up if direct action is not taken, we walk on a pilgrimage to encourage the people of this Valley and renew our call to campaign for justice for both the immigrant and the border region.

 

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: