Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

Last week I was part of a delegation with the School of the America’s Watch, the non-profit group that is seeking to close down the School of the Americas Military training camp at Fort Benning, GA.  SOAWatch has added to their mission to understand the effects of militarization within Latin American countries and along the border of the USA.  Their hope is this additional understanding will aid in their goal of shutting down the camp at Fort Benning and aid in the goal for humane immigration reform.

So among the many delegations SOAWatch planned this year, one of them was to visit the Arizona/ Mexico border at Nogales.  Nogales is a city divided by the annexation of land in the 1850’s to enable a railroad to not cross the border into Mexico.  Prior to 1994, this was a city where its people crossed the border daily to be with family, to work, to enjoy the mingling of two cultures.

The United States of America has had a schizophrenic approach to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.  In 1910 we encouraged Mexicans to cross the US border to aid in harvesting crops.  The nation had a distain for Chinese immigrants so the nation passed a head tax on immigrant workers.  However, employers who hired Mexican immigrants were given a waiver on this tax to encourage the hiring of more people from south of our borders. Many of these workers came up seasonally, would follow the harvest north and then when the harvest was done, return to Mexico.  Then when the depression hit, we deported many immigrants back to Mexico but ten years later we were at war and the need for labor to harvest our crops and to build railroads was once again in demand.  Many came across only to be deported at the end of the war with the promise that their final pay would be soon forthcoming. There are still survivors of the Bracero Program living in Mexico still waiting for the USA to make good on their promise of payment.

In the 1950’s we passed two pieces of federal legislation, federal codes 1325 and 1326.  When we talk about the undocumented having illegal presence here, we are referring to code 1325. This code referred specifically to entry without inspection.  It refers to entering our country without going through a specific port of entry.  It is a civil offense, not a criminal offense. Part of the argument that the US Supreme court has with Legislation such as Alabama’s HB 56 is that the State sought to change this civil offense to a criminal offense.

Federal Code 1326 refers to re-entry without inspection after deportation. For those who have no violent criminal records this includes up to a two year sentence, if the person while here in this country also has committed violent crimes, the sentence can be up to ten years.

Along the border six of the 9 sectors are prosecuting individuals who are guilty of 1326, meaning they have been deported at least once before. It is considered a felony.  Operation Streamline, a misnomer because none of the courts are doing this in the same manner, will sentence and convict en mass a number of people charged with violating 1325 and 1326.  In Tucson, up to 70 people are sentenced per day in a court hearing that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two and a half hours depending on the thoroughness of the judge.  The defendants are encouraged to plead guilty to the civil offense of entry without inspection to waive the felony charge of re-entry. We have heard reports of being coerced or simply not having the charges explained and told to simply sign to waive their rights. Prior to Operation Streamline, a person would simply be deported, but now they are given an arbitrary sentence between 30 and 180 days in prison.

The federal court in Tucson since the advent of Operation Streamline in July of 2008, now devotes 60% of their time on deportation cases and no longer focus on violent criminals such as murderers and drug dealers. Of the 31 public defenders hired by the Tucson based Federal court, three are made available per day for these individuals. But to assist in processing such a large number, the federal government contracts attorneys at $125 an hour.  Each person is seen for about ten minutes before the mass hearing in the afternoon.  There is nothing the lawyers can do for their clients other than move them through the system.  Justice is not being served here, only a crass form of cattle ranching the accused.

Congress has told us that the federal government has no money and must sequester costs.  Beginning July 1st instead of rotating in three public defenders once a week to see defendants, the 31 public Defenders in Tucson will be rotating twice a year to see defendants. Because these defendants have the constitutional right to legal representation albeit brief and perfunctory, the contract attorneys will be given additional hours.  All at taxpayers cost.  The immigration bill before congress seeks to increase Operation Streamline to all nine sectors along the border and increase the number sentenced and deported in Tucson from 70 per day to 210 per day.  The court case we witnessed in Tucson carried a price tag just shy of one million dollars, this includes the cost of their prison sentence.  This amount of money is spent every day the court is in session in Tucson.   We are told this is a necessary move to secure our borders. It seems doubtful that removing gardeners and maids is insuring national security. The truth is this is a necessary move to ensure the 90% capacity contractual obligations to Corrections Corporation of America.    Our government is lying to us about the need for sequester when cost is of no concern when of utmost importance is the deportation of non-violent offenders for crossing the border.

In 1994 two events took place.  One was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, aka NAFTA and the other was the building of the wall between the two cities of Nogales. One can only speculate if these two events were connected to each other.  It seems twenty years later the answer to that question is yes.

President Clinton in signing NAFTA into law, said:  “… we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace. … through robust commerce …that protects our middle class and gives other nations a chance to grow one, that lifts workers and the environment up without dragging people down, that seeks to ensure that our policies reflect our values.[i] ” None of these outcomes are true.

NAFTA may have created an economic order but it did not promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment or even promote the slightest possibility of world peace. Where ever NAFTA has been implemented there have been massive job loss, displaced people, an increase in criminal networks and cartels, and a growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Also in its wake has been violence and civil unrest as people struggle to maintain what little they have and with fear of losing it all.

NAFTA has several components that were detrimental to the people of Mexico and it is one of the factors that led to a great migration towards the north.  The passage of NAFTA required that the Mexican government repeal Article 27 of their constitution.  Article 27 was the heart and soul of the Mexican Revolution in 1917.  This was the article that promised land to the people in perpetuity. The land was held in communal trust; it could not be sold or traded.  It could be farmed and harvested to feed the people and offer an income.  NAFTA required this be removed, the farmers became owners of the land but the real intention was so US Corporations could purchase the land out from under them.  This was to have devastating results on the Mexican economy which was already fragile after its 1994 financial crisis.

The other piece that NAFTA required was the removal of Mexican farm subsidies to their farmers.  The US farmers however would continue to receive US subsidies and they still do today.  The amount of corn flooding the Mexican market went from 2 million tons in 1992 to 10.3 million tons in 2008. The small farmer could not even grow the corn for the price the US was selling it. Without being able to sell their crops, the Mexicans were unable to pay their taxes and they were forced to sell their land to the US corporations who were eager to purchase it.  The poverty rate in Mexico grew from 35% in 1992 to 55% in 2008.  Over 6 million Mexicans lost employment to the implementation of NAFTA.  President Clinton promised NAFTA would create 200K jobs, a mere drop in the bucket to the number of jobs lost here in the USA and in Mexico.  The wall between our two countries began to take on a new meaning and purpose.

Along the borders of the USA on the Mexican side sprung up Maquiladoras, factories.  Nogales in Sonora Mexico has dozens of factories that are USA owned and ship their products through the Nogales border port of Mariposa.  One would think with all these factories that the people of Mexico are experiencing the development of a middle class in Mexico just as Clinton predicted.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The average days wage for a factory worker is $8 a day.  A pair of shoes made in Mexico and sold in the USA for $100 only yields 4 cents of that $100 to pay the wages of the Mexican worker. The retailer makes $50 the shoe company makes $33 on that pair of shoes.  If that worker was paid a living wage of $15 an hour, and all other costs remained the same, the cost of that pair of shoes would only go up by 60 cents.  It is a lie that cheap labor elsewhere makes for less expensive goods in the USA.   The truth is cheap labor elsewhere increases profits for the retailor and the manufacturer.

NAFTA has not uplifted the people of the Latin American countries.  The only people NAFTA has uplifted are the rich.

After 9/11 there was a rapid increase in the militarization of the border.  The goal stated was to keep the border safe from terrorists entering the nation.  Since militarization of the border with highly skilled marksmen, the number of terrorists that have been apprehended at the border is zero.  We have built surveillance towers that are not used, drones that fly 12 feet off the ground, biometric technology on our own citizens who cross the border daily and not one terrorist has been apprehended, however lots of gardeners and maids have been captured, deported, and sometimes randomly shot and killed. The wall is not protecting the USA from terrorists it is instead an intentional attempt to keep the oppressed from finding freedom and fulfilling their dreams. The ground on the USA side of the wall is deliberately angled and jagged to cause the breaking of ankles and legs of those jumping the wall.

Humanity is a migratory species.  We have always migrated to find new hunting grounds, to find new places to raise crops, and to find new opportunities.  This is part of our evolutionary make up that makes the human beast very adaptable to its environment. How many here today have lived in this town since birth?  Very few.  The human species is a migratory animal and when situations become intolerable in one location, humans will migrate to another location with the hopes that that new land will offer new opportunities to thrive.  Life in Mexico and in other Latin American countries continues to be intolerable with the exception of Venezuela.

That socialist government demonized by the USA has provided during Hugo Chavez’s life improved housing and education for its people. Those living in one room shacks with no running water now are in three bedroom condos with 1.5 baths.  The buildings include a community center where educational programs are provided. Their standard of living has risen where the standard of living in every other country of Latin America and in the United States has declined.  People are not seeking to leave Venezuela because life is livable, dreams are being fulfilled. Our Government has lied about Chavez in part because he fulfilled what he promised to do and the people of Venezuela are uplifted from the extreme poverty that plagued that country.  There are no mass numbers of migrants coming out of Venezuela because there is no need to flee a country that treats its citizens humanely.

Just as the USA border has become more militarized, the Mexican border has become increasingly dangerous with the Mexican Mafia and cartels.  A person can no longer cross the border on their own, to do so is to risk being tortured and possibly killed by the mafia. When I was in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, I heard a heart wrenching tale of two young men who had not heard that they must pay the cartel in order to cross the border. In their attempt to cross over the wall they were approached by a person who appeared to be someone willing to help them.  The person calls on his radio and soon a truck arrives.  The Men in the truck question the two migrants.  They are told they are not allowed to cross without paying the cartel. Who did they pay?  They are the ones that control this territory and they were not paid, so who did they pay? No one they replied. The men over powered them, taped their eyes and mouth shut, taped their wrists and ankles and threw them in the truck.  They drove some distance to a house.  The two men do not know where they are but they can hear chickens and sheep in the back ground. The men interrogate them asking them who they paid to cross the border.  Then the men beat them, place a pistol to their heads and pull the trigger but the gun is empty. This was just for psychological terror.  After a few days of this, a car comes with the head person, who also interrogates them.  He also beats them.  The man wanted to know if they were carrying drugs for another cartel. He eventually states that the men must be lying and that they escaped from a coyote.  So the coyotes who work for this man are brought in and asked if they know these men. If they did, the men were told they would be killed.  But none of the coyotes did so the men were released and told again they must pay to cross.  They wander and see police, they try to get help but the police ignore them.  Then a stranger takes pity on them and convinces the police to help them and they are taken to Nogales hospital.  They learn that the police are sometimes in league with the mafia cartel.

It is important to note who are the mafia leadership. All of the captains of the mafia are members of a Mexican Special Force that defected from the Army called Los Zetas.  “ About 200 of these former Mexican Special Forces … were trained by U.S. Army Special Forces at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1990s.[ii]”  We, the taxpayer, are the accomplices in this violence on the border.

While the Mexican and USA government make public statements that decry the atrocities committed on both sides of the border, neither government has made any move to address the situation.  There are US border patrol agents and Mexican government officials who are allies with the Mafia. The Mexican government does not interfere in part because it supports the doctrine of deterrence that the United States has taken towards immigration from Latin America. This doctrine has been implemented in Arizona and in Alabama; the notion of enforcement through attrition making the environment so horrendous that undocumented individuals will choose to self-deport. Their logic follows that if the process to cross the border becomes easier, then more people would cross but if it becomes increasingly a dance with death, then less people will attempt the passage.

But as one Honduran refugee stated after fleeing the recent coup conducted by School of the Americas’ graduates, “If I am going to die in Honduras of hunger, then I would rather die struggling to live.”   Such is the determination of a people who are desperate.

One woman I met told her story.  She and her family had lived in NYC for about 13 years.  Her husband’s mother and brother had become ill so they returned to Mexico to take care of them. Their children, one of whom born in NYC and the other only having lived less than a year in Mexico before crossing did not know Mexico, they do not speak Spanish.  They missed their friends in New York and they did not understand Mexican Culture. So after a year they decided to cross back into the US.  The son who was born in the USA purchased airfare and was flown back.  The father was able to cross the desert with no problems.  She and her other son attempted to cross the desert and were caught by the border patrol agents.  They were treated horribly by the agents, pushed and shoved.  They were deported to Nogales.  The mother was able to secure for her son car transportation across the border to New York.  She paid $3800 to do this. While we were there speaking with her, she received a phone call stating her son was now in transit towards NYC, he made it through the desert.  She is relieved. She stated she is determined to join them in the near future.  There is no question in her mind that she will be reunited with her family.  She will not stop until it is so or she is shot and killed.

A friend of mine wrote a song with lyrics of being like a mother bear that will do anything to defend her cubs.   This is the determination of the families who are being deported, separated from their families.  There is no law, no 30 foot high wall, no desert terrain no matter how dangerous can or will deter families from being with their loved ones.

The US government and the media call these people criminals.  How can something as inherent in our evolutionary development as love be criminal?  This is the ultimate lie that my government tells me about people who are immigrants.  May we continue to choose to stand on the side love.


[ii] http://www.tedpoe.com/newsarticle.php?article=128

 

This was presented under the title of “The Cost of Privilege: Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration” to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville in Alabama on 2 June 2013 (c)

The Workers of Nogales, Sonora

When NAFTA was passed under the Clinton Administration, it was heralded as ending the need for migration.  Instead it increased the desparation of people because the USA government in order to have NAFTA approved, demanded that Article 27, the heart of the Mexican constitution for which the Mexican Revolution was fought over, be eliminated.  Article 27 states that land would be held by the people, it could not be sold, but was to be held in common so there would be land for sustaining the Mexican people with food.  NAFTA also insisted that USA corn and other crops would continue to receive subsidies, keeping the cost of USA corn falsely low.   THis corn would be sold in Mexico at prices that Mexican farmers, the small one and two acre farmers could not even grow it at  forcing them to leave their farms. Because the land could no longer provide them with the means of a modest living.  Where would they go?

Along the borders were the building of Maquilas, the NAFTA induced factories.  Here workers were being hired at an equivalency of $8 a day for an 8 hour day, six days a week.  Our delegation visited the workers of one Maquila, The Legacy Imaging plant, in Nogales, Sonora.  One day this past February 2013,  the workers came to work only to find the doors locked.  THe factory had closed shop and had not told the employees nor had it paid them the required severance pay under Mexican Labor Law–which is 90 days.  THe workers told us this happens quite frequently in Nogales.  They have attempted to contact the employers based in Denver, CO and have received no response.  THey have filed a lawsuit but it is doubtful anything will come of it because Mexican law has little sway over USA corporations.  THe workers therefore have taken to a 24/7 vigil at the plant to ensure the equipment is not taken out of the factory in the hopes they will be given the authority to sell it and divide the money amongst the 134 employees of this plant.  The company has not answered inquiries from the Mexican Lawyers.

A few miles away on top of a hill is the Old Nogales Dump.  Here there are about a dozen families living in make shift hovels of furniture pushed together with tarps and scraps of tin.  These families harvest the dump for aluminum, copper, plastic, and cardboard to sell.  THey scour the site for these tidbits and place them into huge sacks that are weighed and sold by the kilo.  A days earnings might be equivalent to 8 or 9 Dollars  a day.  The same amount of money the factory workers are paid.  The difference is these families are not paying rent for their hovel,  they are not paying utilities.   So which of these workers, the factory workers or dump dwellers, are the poorest of Mexico?

We met with one family at the dump.   A grandmother, her son and daughter -in- law and grandchildren;  all work the dump every day.  She plays an important role.  She is the keeper of herbal remedies for medical needs, she tends the children, and she will cook the food.  She makes tortillas on a small grill outside of her hut.  SHe is quite pleased with her living arrangements. WIth furniture, tires, car bumpers, tarps and blankets; she has created a three room space, a bedroom for three people, a living room that also serves as a bedroom, and an eating area.    She has lived at the dump since she was 15 years of age.  SHe has a grandson who lives away who will be coming to visit them on vacation. She is excited at the possibility of seeing him.

One of the workers at the dump lived in the USA from age 13 until he was deported a few years ago.  He has a wife and two daughters in Iowa.  He worked in construction, in a meat cold storage plant, and in Chinese restaurants as a cook through out the USA and Vancouver, Canada.  For a few years he lived in Albertville, AL and had visited Tuscaloosa, where I currently live.  He misses his wife and daughters.  He does not get to speak to them often and he says his daughters do not speak Spanish.  He hopes to return to the USA to be with his family. He has a better chance of earning and saving the money needed by scouring the dump than by working in a factory.   I listen but do not tell him that crossing this time around will be vastly different than when he was 13 and crossed over at San Diego.  He was fortunate then.  Kindness of strangers took him across and kindness of other strangers then drove him to Los Angeles.  The strangers  today do not seem to be so kind to others.

Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 11:48 am  Comments Off on The Workers of Nogales, Sonora  
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The Cry For Freedom

I received the following quote via twitter this week.  The quote by Ana Levy-Lyons is from an essay she wrote for the recent edition of the UU World, our denomination’s magazine.  She states:  “It seems clear that there should be tension—enormous tension. Until the world is as it should be, until war and hunger are abolished, until power is shared and all voices are heard, we should not be able to fit comfortably into this culture.[i]

She is talking about religious communities being counter-cultural, as being a model of a way of life that prophetically calls society to be different than the way society is currently manifested.  She then calls upon James Luther Adams, our Unitarian Universalist theologian of the 20th century and quotes his words[ii]:

The element of commitment, of change of hearts, of decision so much emphasized in the Gospels, has been neglected by religious liberalism, and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement. We liberals are largely an uncommitted and therefore self-frustrating people. Our first task, then, is to restore to liberalism its own dynamic and its own prophetic genius . . . A holy community must be a militant community with its own explicit faith; and this explicit faith cannot be engendered without disciplines that shape the ethos of the group and that issue in the criticism of the society and of the “religious” community itself.

Harsh words to hear.  First the question of not being counter-cultural and then not committed to restoring liberalism, religious liberalism to its own prophetic genius that critiques society and our religious living within it.  Harsh words indeed.  But are there examples of this happening?

In 2005 I had the privilege of visiting Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico.  Chiapas is much like Alabama in some ways.  It too is among the poorest of its nation.  They too made international news for the ways the government oppresses people there. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico, the indigenous people of Chiapas realized that NAFTA was not for their benefit but would actually do them great harm.   All of the resources of this wonderful state, Let me repeat that,  all of the resources are owned not by the indigenous people.  The coffee, the beef cattle, the bananas, the honey, the oil, the electricity, and many other exportable resources; all of it is controlled by the Mexican government and American corporations. The people of Chiapas do not see any of the money produced by these resources.

The people who live here are living in dire poverty and they are exploited not only by their own government but also by the corporations from America and Europe.  But how are their needs presented to us?

In a piece that I wrote for the Chiapas Peace House Newsletter, The Children of El Pacayel[iii], I described the charitable organizations portrayal of such children.  I said I had been taken in by “the international charitable organizations that seek to raise funds by showing third world children.  You know the video clip.  The image of Sally Struthers walking down dirt trodden roads with children cast aside along the way unable to move from hunger or disease is meant to pull at our heart strings to donate money.   The closing clip shows her holding a young girl all gussied up and smiling.  See what your money can do?”

This form of charity, as well meaning as the donors are for those who are destitute does not answer the root causes of the poverty.  Leonardo and Clodovis Boff in their text, Introducing Liberation Theology, state this approach as “a strategy for helping the poor, but treating them as (collective) objects of charity, not as subjects of their own liberation…. There is a failure to see that the poor are oppressed and made poor by others; and what they do possess—strength to resist, capacity to understand their rights, to organize themselves and transform a subhuman situation—tends to be left out of account. Aid increases the dependence of the poor; tying them to help from others, to decisions made by others; again, not enabling them to become their own liberators.”

If some of this argument sounds familiar, it is because this is the argument of conservatives in this nation regarding welfare. Conservative voices might add the belief that poverty is caused by some sort of vice such as “laziness, ignorance, or simply human wickedness.”  Many liberals tend to see this argument as heartless towards those who are poor, not only in third world countries, but right here in America, right here in Alabama.   Liberals response to this argument is to maintain programs of aid to the poor as a form of compassion band aid or as Boff coins it, “objects of pity.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am one of those liberals who want to keep those welfare programs in tact.  But perhaps, it is time for me to recognize that it is at best a temporary safety net measure and not meant to be a permanent fixture in any one’s life.

And that might be why there is the reform argument which is the response from liberals who believe that with minor restructuring within existing systems the situation of the poor will be improved.  Alas, Boff writes, “Reformism can lead to great feats of development in the poorer nations, but this development is nearly always at the expense of the oppressed poor and very rarely in their favor.”
This is also the belief that third world countries and even poor states like Alabama and Mississippi are poor as a function of backwardness.  In the process of time, if stimulus loans for economic development in Alabama or foreign aid for third world countries were given, then the result would be prosperity and progress.

The problem with reformism is that it is generated not from within the community affected but from outside of the community. Those who are to benefit from reform are “passive objects of action taken by others.”

NAFTA was supposed to be one of those reforms of the system. The thinking was if there was more ease in the production and trading of goods between nations then all would benefit from it.  However over 2 million farmers lost[iv] their ability to farm in Mexico once NAFTA was fully implemented in part because they could no longer compete with factory farms in the US and in Mexico.  In short, the old adage rings true; the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

There is a third way to approach and explain the problem of poverty.  It is a dialectical explanation: poverty as oppression.  Boff explains that “poverty [is] the product of the economic organization of society itself, which exploits some—the workers—and excludes others from the production process—the underemployed, unemployed, and all those marginalized in one way or another.”

The way out is not through charitable contributions or through reforms but by replacing the present way of doing things by offering an alternative system—a counter cultural approach.  It is the poor themselves who stand up to create this revolutionary approach to their liberation.

Liberation theology seeks to do this by seeking to first understand the historical context of the poor and oppressed and then find ways to respond in relationship to that context.  Now Liberation theology is steeped in Christology—Jesus teachings about the poor and the transformative process through the death and resurrection of Jesus as being central to Liberation Theology.  As Boff explains, “the poor are not simply poor, as we have seen; they seek life, and ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). This means that questions relevant to or urgent for the poor are bound up with the transcendental questions of conversion, grace, resurrection.”  And conversion, grace, and resurrection are evident in the evolution of the resistance movement Mexico and other Central American countries.

In Chiapas, the Zapatista’s initially rose up and declared war against the Mexican government.  And after blood shed in the early years of their declared war, they decided war was not the answer but rather a sustained resistance to exploitation. This came about after the massacre at Acteal, where some 40 innocent men, women, and children were killed by the Mexican military.  These people were not Zapatistas but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The world community stood up in protest. Marcos writes in the Sixth Declaration[v]:  “the first thing we saw was that our heart was not the same as before, when we began our struggle. It was larger, because now we had touched the hearts of many good people. And we also saw that our heart was more hurt, it was more wounded. And it was not wounded by the deceits of the bad governments, but because, when we touched the hearts of others, we also touched their sorrows. It was as if we were seeing ourselves in a mirror.”

My visit to the Zapatista community of Oventic revealed a community where a democracy by consensus was being developed.  These were a people who understood the historical context in which they lived.  Not only did they understand their ancestry as indigenous people of Mexico but also their 500 year history as a people living under the domination of the Doctrine of Discovery.  The result of this context enabled them to incorporate into their communities an understanding of their own oppression and empowered them to create something new, an alternative to the corrupt Mexican government.

Anthropologist Duncan Earle writes: [vi][The Zapatistas] had no model except [for] their own indigenous belief that there should be consensus. They have been able to create a para-state that takes care of its own education, health, transportation and economics.”  In response to an article, he stated: “[vii]Chiapas is an island of peace and security, and in the Zapatista zones, good government and no drug cartel activity. That is why tourism is on the rise there, even Zapatourism.”

This approach was recently adopted by the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán in the Mexican state of Michoacán where the Monarch Butterflies winter.  This was a community besieged by organized crime loggers and drug cartels. Their pleas to the government for intervention and protection went unanswered.  They rose up as a community and stopped the violence.  They kicked out the crime syndicate and removed the corrupt government and set up a council that uses governing principles of their ancestors.  This includes having a series of neighborhood bonfires at night.  They talk, they cook food for one another, and they come to consensus as to how to protect their community and their forest.

A report states this about the community: [viii]Retaking old habits and customs; returning to the idea of la faena, work that’s done by all for the good of everybody. It wasn’t long ago that this tradition was still practiced. The elders will tell you: “we built this school with la faena” and remember how at a wedding or funeral, the tradition dictated that everybody helps with something: food, work, anything so that life is easier for all. This old way keeps people close.”

They have set up a counter-cultural community because the ways set up by the government were not protecting them from the violence of the crime syndicate or from the impotent and corrupt government. This community banned political parties as they see them as divisive.  They are a community under siege not only from the crime syndicate but also from the Mexican government. The community of Cherán is pulling together and creating something new because reform no longer worked.

But what about here?  How does Chiapas and Cherán relate to Tuscaloosa?  Yesterday, I met with Somos Tuskaloosa.  They are working on developing their goals for their future as the possibility of changing the system of immigration becomes feasible in an Obama second term.

Somos Tuskaloosa discussed the need to understand the historical context in which they find themselves.  They are realizing that they cannot simply allow the government to reform immigration without their ability to have a say in how that might be done. They see immigration as a piece of the racist history of the United States. They need to understand that history and the systems developed in response to that racist past.  Their desire to develop a community where all people are respected, not just as a rhetorical statement, but brazenly embraced for who they are is counter-cultural in Alabama.

And isn’t that what we want too?  To be a community that brazenly embraces the other as equal sojourners in life?  As Ana Levy-Lyons challenged us; how would we seek to abolish the war and hunger within our own hearts and in the larger community—figuratively and literally?  What would shared power look like here in this congregation?  How would we ensure that all voices are heard?

What would we need to change if we declared our community as an autonomous Human Rights zone in Alabama?  That is the definition of sanctuary—a place where people are safe and secure from the dangers of the world.   May we find the courage to participate in such a liberation—a liberation that yields to a just society. Blessed Be.


[i] “We should be more Counter-cultural” by Ana Levy-Lyons as found at http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/229846.shtml

[ii] IBID

[iii] http://www.chiapaspeacehouse.org/content/view/276/305/lang,en/ (website is no longer active, currently on hiatus)

[iv]NAFTA and the Mexican Economy, M. Angeles Villarreal, June 3 2010 Congressional Research Services as found at  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL34733.pdf

[vii] Dr. Duncan Earle (not verified) on April 16, 2009 – 01:53  http://hir.harvard.edu/blog/jason-lakin/fifteen-years-after-the-zapatistas

[viii] Pablo Pérez, Translation by Laura Cann  as found at http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2012/07/the-fight-of-cheran-day-it-began.html

 

“The Cry for Freedom” delivered at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa   by Rev. Fred L Hammond 11 November 2012 ©