Venezuela. Trump’s Wall. U.S. and Latin America beyond the click bait.

 

(This essay was originally published in the Women Against Military Madness Newsletter April, 2017. Several lines have been changed. )

UDW.Cuffe_.photo-1-1-678x381

Photo of mural of Berta Cáceres’ by Sandra Cuffe

Dateline:April 25, 2017:

Venezuela is in revolt.

Trump promises a border wall payment from Mexico in September.  

Central American and Asian migration to the U.S. grows while migration from across the southern border diminishes. For the first time the majority of undocumented  immigrants in the U.S. are from places other than Mexico. 

Beyond Venezuela’s demonstrations, beyond immigration trends, beyond Donald Trump’s overt anti-Mexican racism, his war on immigrants, and his puzzling anti-NAFTA rhetoric are issues in U.S. Latin America relations not covered in the headlines.

New products dominate the market and new players hold the reins. Still, the centuries-old practice of impoverishing masses to enrich a tiny elite, while depleting resources for future generations, continues. For peace and justice activists in the United States, these changes and continues alter our strategies, while sustaining our goal of building solidarity across borders, putting the needs of Latin American grassroots activists committed to a sustainable and equitable future, at the forefront.

Palm oil and a new era of mining

When trans fats went out in 2002, processed food companies turned to palm oil. Overnight former jungles in Brazil were clear-cut and transformed into palm plantations. In the “banana republics” of Guatemala and Honduras, palm oil began to replace the yellow fruit. The pesticide practices of the palm oil industry are so destructive to water tables that activists in Guatemala are charging the industry with ecocide. Likewise, new mining enterprises are extracting formerly unextractable subsoil resources using techniques that are more environmentally destructive than anything we have seen before. They are also more mechanized, creating fewer jobs for shorter periods than historic mines. Aided by these new technologies, markets for gold and silver are on the rise again, fueled by new investors from Europe and Asia. China’s growing consumption of steel is industrializing jungles and traditional subsistence farming regions. Iron ore production has skyrocketed. In addition, there is a new productcoltan—essential to cell phone production. It is especially lethal, poisoning both the water tables and workers. Brazil and the Congo are primary regions for coltan extraction.

New Players

For a century the United States dominated the export economies of Latin America. It was the majority buyer and seller to the region, taking the place of Britain and Spain as the dominant power in the region. The U.S. would intervene militarily when political and economic pressures were not enough to protect its interests. At first these interventions were overtgunboats on the shore, military interventions in a dozen nations and long-term occupations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Later the intervention would be covert (hidden from the U.S. public) the CIA coup in Guatemala in 1954, Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1962, the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, the decade of wars in Central America in the 1980s. Destabilization of regimes threatening U.S. economic interests continued into the 21st centurymost notably Venezuela. Barack Obama continued the imperial relationship, funding its interests with drug war money, and supporting a coup in Honduras to unseat a president who curtailed mining interests.

In the 21st century however, the United Stated is no longer the economic king in the region. China, Canada, Japan, and the EU are investing heavily in the region. China’s interests are growing especially fast, and they have become the dominant power in some nations, such as Nicaragua. Regional powers like Brazil and Argentina have gained the economic stature to be able to aid or exploit smaller neighbors. In addition, the fact that there are national industries within Latin American countries does not mean local people have any more control of profits than external parties. The Honduran palm oil company Grupo Dinan, for example, has resorted to assassinations of activist leaders fighting for worker and water rights.

Finally, there are non-state investors in Latin America whose interests are not as direct as a fruit or mining company. TIAA-CREF, a retirement investment company, is heavily invested in the palm oil industry. It uses the hard-earned savings of U.S. workers to steal land, suppress Latin American workers’ rights and facilitate environmental crimes.

Such diversity in investment and trade should be good for local sovereignty, providing a measure of leverage, but for Latin America to use its leverage, it needs a level of regional cooperation, and national administrations committed to regulating export industries to maximize the profits that remain in the country, and social policies that distribute those goods for public welfare. Without those things, market competition can actually lead to more oppression for workers. Those of us who lived through the Cold War know well how struggles amongst the big global powers get played out in the regions they are exploiting.

Problems and possibilities with Regional Integration and Distributive Administrations

In the 1990s and 2000s there was a so called “pink tide” in which more left-leaning regimes, committed to regional cooperation to loosen the hold of the United States and distributive social policies, took over in a majority of Latin American nations. Hugo Chavez’ Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela in the ’90s provided both the leadership and the revenue to make regional economic cooperation possible. Unfortunately, while leading regional trade groups and providing oil grants and barter deals to its neighbors, Venezuela did not diversify its own economy. The inevitable fall in world oil prices put an end to those deals and sent Venezuelan economy into a tailspin.

Today we see a rise of right-wing regimes in the southern cone—a desperate response to the failures of the “pink tide” to deliver on or sustain their distributive promises. One of the most egregious examples of how fractured regional cooperation is today: the new Argentine president has initiated an anti-immigrant crusade à la Trump, criminalizing Bolivian migrants who provide cheap agricultural labor in Argentina.

The roots and strength of local Latin American grassroots organizations.

Still, what inhibits wholesale exploitation of workers and land, is local nongovernmental community- based organizing. Bolstered by the recent rise in global environmental and indigenous movements, activists confront plantations and mines at every turn. We hear about the tragic crimes such as the murder of the indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras,
but we may not realize that day in and day out grassroots activists make life difficult for corporate exploiters.

This 2012 quote from AZO Mining, the “leading online publication for the mining community,” illustrates how concerned the mining interests are about this activism:

Guatemala’s mining conflict is a major roadblock for mining operations in the country. Recently, many communities in Guatemala protested against mining companies as they fear that indiscriminate mining in certain areas will lead to damage of land and water pollution, thus affecting their livelihoods. These communities accused the government of permitting exploration in indigenous territories without consulting local communities and failing to fulfill its international obligations.” tinyurl.com/n4dxgad

What should we in the United States do?

The global economy is changing, altering struggles for economic sustainability and sovereignty in Latin America. As we fight walls, bans, raids, detentions, deportations, and disappearances on our side of the border, we also need to support the right of Latin America to stay home, and build sustainable economies and small “d” democracies. We need to stand with the Latin American people as they uphold indigenous sovereignty and the protection of resources for future generations.

Anne Winkler Morey has a Ph.D. in Latin American history and U.S. foreign relations from the University of Minnesota. She served as an Executive Director of the Central America Resource Center in the 1980s. She currently teaches at Metro State University.

Teresa Ortiz. Mapping Injustice from Tlatelolco to Lake Street; Mapping a Mother’s Heart.

 

 

… We requested permission to interview Zapatista women. At first I was overwhelmed by the project. My mentor said “You need a map. You are all over the place. Decide where you want to go and what you want to learn.”…

 

Mexico City Student Movement, 1968.

We are entering the first world! Things are so cool now, because we are going to have the Olympics. That was the government facade when I entered college at the National University in Mexico City (UNAM) in 1968. But in reality, things were pretty bad. The one party system — the PRI — had been in power for fifty years.

There was very little dissent in Mexico in the 1950s, but by the time I went to college, teachers, railroad workers, farm workers and oil workers had begun to engage in strikes. It was really an exciting time. There had been a couple student marches downtown and the police beat people up. There was a lot of discontent.

The Mexican Student Movement had started when I enrolled as a freshman in June 1968. I came from a middle class background, but it did not take me long to become aware and active. In July the Student Movement erupted. On September 19th the army took over the University to quell the protests. The Olympics were set to start in mid-October and the government wanted the student movement subdued before the whole world came to Mexico City. The army held the University until September 30.

On October 1st, student leaders held a meeting and decided to call a mass demonstration for the next day — the famous rally in Tlatelolco — held at the Plaza of Three Cultures. I went. It was huge. It was not just students. There were whole families there. Kids. The army started shooting from the balconies of buildings. I and my friend ended up in a basement apartment until 9pm. It was really scary. I got a taxi and went home. My friend stayed there because his sister lived in one of the apartments.

When I got home and watched the news it was full of lies! They said students were fighting one another. At 2AM I got a call from my best friend’s mother asking if I knew where he was. Finally she found out he was in jail. He was there for about a week. He told me later that he was running, trying to get into a church. He fell on top of a young girl. They arrested him. They filled trucks with people and took them to jail. The leadership of the movement were incarcerated.

Hundreds of students were killed that day.

After that there were no classes. The University closed. There was also no movement. It just ended it. It was so depressing.

In 1969 the University was reopened. I went back. I had an internship in a high school that had been taken over by the students. The University wanted to reincorporate them into the system so they sent students to be teachers. It was wild and crazy. I taught ethics and aesthetics (I was a philosophy major) and English. I was also a tour guide at the University. Tourists would come and I would explain the meaning of the murals at the University.

I was “paid” for that work with an opportunity to come to the University of Minnesota — part of a group of Mexican students who came up in the Summer of 1969.

Border Crossing 1969 – 1999

I met Luther ‘Tomas’ Johnson in Minnesota and we ended up getting married. He came back with me to Mexico while I applied for a U.S. visa. It took 18 months. We came back in the 1973 — Watergate scandal time. It was difficult to find a job here. We painted houses, my husband and I, for a long time, and then started a little business selling artisan products from Mexico and Central America. We would spend the winter in Mexico.

We got a farm in Southwest Minnesota, six miles from the South Dakota border, lived in a cabin without indoor plumbing. I got my degree from South Dakota State University, teaching Spanish and English. I had never lived in a rural area. It was always windy, no shade — but the prairie was so beautiful. It was new to me.

My son Gabe was born there. It was a difficult birth. He was premature. Then we had Aaron and Carmen.

We moved to St. Paul after I got my degree. We wanted the kids to go to Spanish immersion school there. I started teaching Spanish at Anoka senior high school and Tesseract, but then we found out about a position at the Center for Global Education at Augsburg. My husband and I got the job. We lived in Guatemala for about five years, 1990-95 conducting political travel seminars and semester programs for Augsburg students, teaching about the civil war, U.S. complicity and grassroots resistance movements. It was an amazing job. You get to know a country really well when you work with political and community organizations, and teach their realities to visitors. The kids went to school in Guatemala.

In 1995 we decided we wanted to go to Chiapas, Mexico, to be a part of what was happening there — the Zapatista movement standing up against NAFTA. The Center of Global Ed would not move us there, so we quit our jobs and moved to San Cristobal. I became involved in a women’s literacy project and got a grant to write a book about the Zapatistas woman organizers. We started an organization — Cloudforest Initiatives — which would support development projects — artisans and fair trade coffee. We also did delegations, political tours. The kids finished middle school there and started high school.

I conducted interviews for the book in 1997. I had a year to complete them. I wanted to know how people organized. My mentor, Mercedes Olivera, was an anthropologist from Mexico, in charge of the women’s literacy project. We requested permission to interview Zapatista women. At first I was overwhelmed by the project. My mentor said “You need a map. You are all over the place. Decide where you want to go and what you want to learn.”

She facilitated one of the first interviews I did in a community called Emiliano Zapata, (named after the Mexican Revolutionary) in the jungle very close to Guatemala. I met a woman who set the stage for what the book was about. She told me that for years they were farmworkers and had horrible lives. Then in the 1960s the government began “giving” indigenous people plots of land in the rainforest. The government thought this was a great way to dispose of the problem of landless peasants. She and her family literally walked across the Chiapas Highlands to the jungle and were one of the first families to obtain this land — to colonize the rain forest. Her husband was an agrarian leader negotiating with government offices to get land for a community of families — using the communal ejido system. They started organizing cooperatives, lending institutions.
All the books I read about this said it was like a garden of Eden. They were organized way before the Zapatistas. That became the point of my first chapter.

When we were living in San Cristobal we started hearing about paramilitaries made up of community members supported by the military attacking their neighbors who had joined or sympathized with the Zapatistas. I was able to interview people from northern Chiapas who had been evicted from their villages, who were now in the capital of Chiapas. These paramilitaries were stealing coffee from cooperatives. People forced from their homes were fleeing to the mountains. On December 22, 1997 there was a massacre of men, women and children by paramilitaries. I interviewed someone from that region and a Catechist who went to rescue survivors. Those were my last interviews — documenting that horrible event.

It took me several years to finish writing the book.

We were invited by a community — Magdalenas — not far from San Cristobal, in the highlands to facilitate the creation of an iron works cooperative. This artisanal iron work was common in San Cristobal, but it had always been made by urban non-indigenous people. Indians were not allowed to do it. Now they do it all the time.

The Magdalenas community was mixed politically. We met with the entire Zapatista half of the community. We presented our proposal and then they said, “Now you have to go out.” They voted “Si” and invited us back in. We trained four guys, they trained other people. Pretty soon we began to get funding for a clinic and a place for them to do their artisan work. And coffee cooperatives, sold in the U.S. as fair trade.

Our time in Chiapas was really good for all of us, but it was also very hard. Tomas and I separated. The boys came to Minnesota with their father to finish school. Later on I came with Carmen. All of them finished high school here. Carmen finished as quickly as she could and went to college in L.A. and then went back to Mexico.

Calle Lago

When I came back I started to work with the Resource Center of the Americas doing a project called Centro de Derecho Laborales — Center for Workers Rights with Jorge Flores. I was there for about five years, until the Resource Center closed. It was an exciting job — an exciting time. Minneapolis was a totally different place.

I remember in 1969 thinking I was the only person here with dark hair and eyes. I had very few Latino friends. In the 1980s I was in a group. Gilberto Vasquez Valle and Rafael Varela were in that group. Just a few of us. I met a few people while supporting the hunger strikers at the St. Paul Cathedral after the Jesuits were killed in El Salvador in 1989. Roy Bourgeois, Rene Hurtado, Jorge Flores and Jorge Montesinos. Those are the people I knew. A handful of people.

When I came back and I worked on Lake Street in 1998, the whole landscape had changed! There were so many Latinos! In the 1990s there was a bubble of jobs here and people flocked to Minnesota. Then the bubble burst and people could not afford to go back. In Mexico meanwhile — in 1994, immediately after NAFTA — people started losing their jobs. The government started disinvesting in agriculture, cutting social services, not spending money on infrastructure, so of course, people started leaving.

At the Resource Center, Derechos Laborales I had plenty of work. We had many volunteers, students mostly. We had an open door. We trained volunteers to do intake. Anyone could come who had a work issue. If they came with other needs we helped them find support elsewhere. I was shocked at the stories I heard from our clients. Stories of racism, wage theft.

Looking back I think, the way CTUL is doing the work is brilliant, because we didn’t organize workers. We were helping them one by one. Very time consuming. We would call the employer and say “Juan Perez hasn’t been paid for two months.” Next step was to go to court. Small claims court. It was easy to get in. We would win. Many times the employer would just pay.

I remember one case — this woman came to the office. She was working at a laundromat, with those big irons. She burned her arm. Her employer said just put this cream on. It got infected. So first I took her to the clinic. Then we filled out forms for workers compensation and sent it to the employer…. The employer wanted to avoid workers comp and just settle. We told her that is not how the law works. People think they can get away with murder!

We got a grant to teach a course that simultaneously taught English and worker’s rights. We also started working with a group of women trying to start their own cleaning company. Later on we became involved in immigration reform issues.

Even after the Resource Center stopped getting funding we continued to get financial support from various foundations. The day I found that the Resource Center had closed we had just hired a new organizer, new teachers. I had to call them back and say, we are not going to do it.

That was a tough time. All of the sudden I had no job.

I taught for a while at a middle school, but by that time I was too far away from that. I didn’t like it. I started working part time at CLUES. It eventually became a full time job. I love it. I have been doing it for six years. I began working with CLUES in St Paul, but soon moved to their Minneapolis site which is much bigger.

This whole area from Hiawatha to Uptown is Latino. It is also becoming Somali which is exciting. I am getting more Somali students, learning English. Things are changing constantly.

The spirit of survival and resilience among my students is amazing. There are those success stories that keep me going. I have a class “English for Employment” — helping people create goals and then achieve them, go to college, whatever steps they need to take. Education issues are complex. I have students who were displaced by war in Central America who never went to school until now. They come here and they are trying to learn English and they don’t know how to read or write in Spanish. Or Somali students who spent years in refugee camps. Some times the success story is learning how to read and write, as an adult, in a second language.

I am so happy about the $15 an hour campaign. That would make a huge difference for the people I work with.

Palabristas

I started writing poetry in Guatemala.* I wrote in English – as a way to getting away from the war. In Chiapas I began writing in Spanish. When I was at the Resource Center, Emmanuel Ortiz invited me to perform with the Palabristas. That is how we started. We are still around. Some have left. Some are famous now. We have invited young people. I also helped found the Calibanes — Latin Americans in the Cities writing in Spanish. I was invited to do a program at Intermedia Arts, working with young people.

I used to write fiction. In recent years — more poetry. This years have been taking a class with David Mura at the Loft, writing short stories, and I’m working on a memoir of the 1960s in Mexico. I am really committed to my writing now.

Gabriel

I have three kids. When it was just the two boys I thought: “can two people be so different – night and day!” Then I had Carmen — three opposite paths! But they are also very similar. Gabriel and Aaron political activists for social justice; Carmen and Aaron, talented artists; all three of them have wonderful hearts.

Gabe was, is, my first born. It was a difficult birth. He almost didn’t make it. He was in intensive care for three months and then he came home and started growing! He was developmentally delayed. We wanted to bring him up like the other kids — mostly because he was like “I am just here, like you.” Growing up on a farm, in the Twin Cities, in Guatemala and Chiapas — my three kids have that eclectic upbringing in common. It taught them each to be their own person.

Gabriel always had it tough. He never complained about it. Sometimes he was bullied. It didn’t stop him from working and learning. School was hard for him. Especially in San Cristobal he went to study at a rural school, but it closed. He ended up volunteering at the Women’s organization where I worked.

In Minneapolis he went to Century College, working and going to school. He got run over by a car and ended up in the hospital a few days. He got a job at a hotel and became involved in the union. He never stopped.

He went to live with his brother in Illinois, because he was having trouble here.That is when he started complaining about headaches. It was a couple years after the car accident. He went to a clinic. They sent him to the hospital for an MRI and found a tumor. His brother brought him to the University of Minnesota hospital and he was operated on immediately. He had to have two operations because when you operate on the brain you have to be very careful. You can’t do everything at once.

He was not doing too well for a while. Chemo. Radiation. For about a year. But then he started doing recovering! He tried to get a job, but he had a hard time keeping it. Worked at Goodwill. Lost that job. Then he started getting sick again. We went to Naperville for special radiation treatment that made him a really crazy. But he never complained. He was just up all night long, listening to music.

I get a little annoyed when people complain. I think, “Well yeah — you should have seen my son — he didn’t complain!”

He always wanted to go to Cuba, so two years ago he went. The three kids and I spent the Christmas in Yucatan, and afterward Aaron and Gabe went to Cuba from Cancun. That was his special trip.

1498901_693233357825_991514658_o

Carmen, Teresa and Gabe

When he came back he got worse and worse. He started losing a lot of weight, being tired, disoriented sometimes. He died January 17, 2015.

He had so many friends. He knew EVERYBODY. When he was three years old we would go to a restaurant and he would disappear. We would find him talking to the staff in the kitchen. Or we would go to a concert and he would be up there dancing with the performers. He was like that. He had friends in Guatemala, Chiapas, here, everywhere in the world. He would tell me about his friend in Chicago and how he was going to go see her. I thought he was making it up but he wasn’t. Everyone was his best friend. “My very best friend” he would say. I would say “How many best friends can you have?”

He was deeply committed to a better world. He couldn’t understand why anyone would not spend all of his time as an activist, because it was so important. Of course he grew up with this — but it was him. Gabriel would be at five different events in a day. He didn’t drive but he would get there. He was human. He would drive me crazy sometimes. He was a really special person.
I feel so lucky to have had him as my son. I miss him like crazy. Everything reminds me of him. I learned so much from him about enjoying every moment of my life.
Sometime’s I think, “Why did it happen?” I wish he was still here. He’s not.

I feel so very honored that I was with him when he died. I was holding his hand, talking with him. I looked up and it was like he was sleeping peacefully. I see young men getting killed and I think how lucky I am that he died the way he did. Because it could have been him. He was everywhere. He was proud to be a person a color. He was in solidarity with so many social justice issues.

I do get annoyed with people don’t support Black Lives Matter. These are our children who are being killed!

I am so blessed to have two other wonderful children. Carmen and Aaron are so committed to what their art, to helping people, to making this a nicer world.

I am so proud of my children. All three of them.

_____________________________________

13043378_1034469969972844_6508722271919115649_n

Lucila Dominguez of CTUL, Teresa and Aaron.

Altar de Muertos by Teresa Ortiz

Corazón de los Cielos, Corazón de la Tierra
Corazón de las Aguas, Corazón de los Vientos
Bendícenos

Orange… pink… yellow… rojo… yosh!
Shinning circles of color cover the heaven, competing with the sun
November is the windiest month in the Guatemalan mountains and the round barriletes
Take off with extraordinary force,
Peleándose unos con otros por llegar más rápido,
To reach the souls up above,
To remind the spirits to come down to party with us
Children run up and down the hill, holding tight to the kite strings,
Looking up the sky, bumping into each other,
Tripping with rocks and bushes in their race,
Trying not to fall on the gravestones,
Not to step on the food lay out on grassy plains, on tombs
While their parents are eating, and drinking,
And having a merry good time and sharing it all with the souls
Of those already gone
Come our loved ones, come to celebrate!
With music and canciones,
With posh
Baskets and baskets of bread have been baked for you today
Candles are lit to bring warmth to your dead spirits
Copal smoke reaches the heavens, calling you to come down to play with us
El cementerio in San Antonio Aguascalientes is having una gran fiesta
Crowded with the living and the spirits of the dead
Every cementerio in Guatemala is sharing with their dead
So many visitors are coming today!
Thousands and thousands of people were assassinated in Guatemala
Four hundred villages disappeared from the Heart of the Earth
Corazón de los Pueblos, Corazón de la Gente
Recuérdalos
So we may never, ever forget
In San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, México,
Across the border to the north (or west)
There are weekly funeral processions in front of my door
They walk slowly, solemnly, dressed in black behind their dead
Hay tantos muertos en Chiapas todo el tiempo,
Y en Oaxaca, en Veracruz, en Guerrero, en México,
En Juárez, en la frontera, en el desierto de Arizona…
En las calles de las ciudades de los Estados Unidos…
Hay tantos muertos every day
So many muertos de la pobreza,
So many muertos de la violencia
But come November, people celebrate,
The market is busy with shoppers
Buying candles, incense, flor de muerto
Tamales de chipilin, gourds elotes, calabazas
La plaza está llena de fiesta, mil colores decorada, con los altares de los niños
People spending three days and three nights con sus muertos en el panteón municipal
Every cementerio in Mexico is sharing with their dead
So many visitors are coming today!

In Acteal, a village in Chiapas,
Where forty five people were massacred while praying, while fasting for peace
The Dia de Muertos celebration takes place outdoors, on a mountaintop
Overlooking the shrine where the martyrs lay
The procession has arrived with the sacred carved tortuga for the altar
And the coro is singing “Bienvenidos, Bienvenidos”
Sounding even sweeter when they sing it in Tzotzil
We all pray to the heavens with our feet during the mass
To remember, to never ever forget
Tcha, ah tcha, ah tcha, ah tcha…
A home altar for our parents and grandparents
Para los tíos, para el primo, y para mi hermano
Don’t forget the cigars and chocolates for Papi Mingo
Don’t forget the fancy earrings for mama
Bring the pictures de los abuelitos
No te olvides de poner una veladora con la Virgen
Did you buy the flowers y el pan de muertos?
A la tía le gustan las uvas, don’t forget
Y las calaveritas de azúcar with their names
On the table over here, we lay the offerings
For the ones who passed away
We start with yosh in the middle
Azul cielo, verde campo
With a candle, with a cross, with a tree of open branches
We go round and round and round
Like the circle of life, like the circle of death
Yellow corn to the east, and black corn to the west
White corn to the north, and red corn to the south
We fill the circle with beans and squashes and orchids and cocoa seeds
With salt and oil and refrescos and posh
With golden flowers, zempuazuchil, all around
And then we pray:
Corazón de los Pueblos, Corazón de la Gente
For we have rejected the killings
For we have rejected the violence
We honor our dead
Corazón de la Vida, Corazón de las Almas
Acompáñanos
Come to us and celebrate
Que es Día de Muertos
Everywhere!

Gilberto Vázquez Valle. Mexican Folk Musicologist Finds Poetic Justice in Minneapolis.

 

Gilberto at KFAI - 1

All my education in Mexico was in public schools, and, since I was a teenager, I was conscious of the moral responsibility I had towards working people of my country, who paid for my education. But I have learned … the concept of nationality can be relative. There is another Mexico and another Latin America within the United States. One can be ideologically and morally congruent without having to be in a particular place.

Coming to Minneapolis

I was born in Yurécuaro, in the State of Michoacán, Mexico. When I was 14, my family moved to Guadalajara. I went to college there, at the Facultad de Ciencias Químicas of the Universidad de Guadalajara, which had a relationship with the University of Minnesota. Students and scholars would come up to Minneapolis to do research and to study. I came in the 80s for some research projects and then to go to graduate school. So I was unusual – I wasn’t part of a migrant stream like so many of my relatives. I had nothing of the experience that my uncles or father had.

My father spent chunks of time here in the U.S., starting when I was about four, until I was thirteen. At that time it was easy to come if you were sponsored by relatives, as he was. In Mexico he was a tailor all of his life. In the U.S. he did agricultural work in California until he found more lucrative work in the steel industry in Chicago.

Today — even though I like that city and have relatives there — “Chicago” is a sad word for me. In my childhood it meant my father was going to leave us again.

When I came to Minneapolis, I lived in the Centennial Hall dorm at the U. I felt isolated at first. But soon enough, I found other Spanish speakers at the dorm, mostly Latin American. We’d get together for dinner, taking over two or three tables in the cafeteria. The language drew us together, but that wasn’t the only commonality. There was culture, traditions, history. . . I was surprised at how easy and natural it was to have an immediate link, a strong connection, with other fellow Latin Americans: Chileans, Argentinians, Uruguayans. . . people born and raised thousand of miles away from my hometown. We had many heated political debates about what was going on in Central America in those years, in particular Nicaragua and El Salvador, and especially about the U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America.

I was very critical of the United States government. I felt hypocritical coming and staying in the U.S. to work at the University of Minnesota —a little like José Martí: inside the entrails of the beast. All my education in Mexico was in public schools, and, since I was a teenager, I was conscious of the moral responsibility I had towards the working people of my country who paid for my education. But I also learned — both through my own family history and through simple observation — that the concept of nationality can be relative. There is another Mexico and another Latin America within the United States.

I made myself available to talk to groups about the role of the U.S. in Central America. We would have events at the University — educational forums on what was happening. I wanted to give U.S. students some historical background and a radically different perspective, to get them to question what they heard in the media.

One can be ideologically and morally congruent without having to be in a particular place.

La Raza Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota

In the early 90s I met the late Guillermo Rojas, faculty in Chicano Studies, and he asked me if I wanted to be a faculty/technical adviser for La Raza Student Cultural Center. It was going to be something temporary, just to clean up the place (there were accusations of financial mismanagement) and to reorganize it. The activist mission of La Raza’s creators in the 1970s, had disappeared and it was run by a cohort of students from wealthy families —-mostly from Central America —people with whom I would never have had contact in other circumstances. They couldn’t care less about activism and social responsibility. For them, La Raza was a social club.

Also fighting to regain control of La Raza , were a number of mostly Chicano students from throughout the United States —mainly women — determined, courageous, hard­-working, and politically aware. Most of them were of Mexican descendant, frequently first generation Americans and the first ones in their families to get to college. They regained control of La Raza.. and it became a place for community, activism, consciousness and a vibrant cultural center.

When the Zapatista uprising happened in Chiapas, Mexico, on January 1st 1994 (the same day that NAFTA was implemented), we began having educational and political events every week focusing on the uprising and indigenous issues in Mexico and Latin America, the poverty, the discrimination, the cultural genocide still happening. Zapatista Sub­-Comandante Marcos sent communiques through the internet, and we were getting them a day after they were published in Mexico City — which was amazing at the time. La Raza became a sort of unofficial Zapatista resource center in town.

One of the sad parts of that uprising is that many of the issues that the Zapatistas were talking about, Ricardo Flores Magón was talking about in 1908 at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. But on the positive side, there was a new respect and interest in the struggles of the Latin American indigenous peoples and a new understanding of the social and political movements in Mexico and the whole of Latin America. For the first time the word neo-­liberalism was used to understand what was happening on a global level. That was meaningful and refreshing. The Zapatistas had a global view, connecting their uprising to the struggles of workers in Bangladesh, Chicago and elsewhere.

The beauty, poetry and eloquence of the language of the Zapatista communiques also inspired and moved everyone, including myself. I remember reading the communique “¿De qué nos van a perdonar?”, in a coffee shop in Dinkytown and openly crying. Because of the Zapatista Movement, I saw many formerly apolitical young people in La Raza beginning to show an interest in the social and political movements in Latin America — and making connections with patterns of oppression and resistance in the U.S. That was the richest moment of my experience in La Raza —seeing that awakening, not just in others, but in myself.

My activism was focused on the U of M. I was trying to stay behind the scenes, keeping a low profile. At that time, my immigration status was as an international student. I knew my legal status was vulnerable. So I was trying to frame all the events I was involved in as academic. I was invited to speak at some rallies in front of the Federal Building in Minneapolis, and I had to decline.

When the energy around the Zapatista movement diminished, I still continued being involved in La Raza, providing continuity in the organization as students came and went. There were many more first generation Mexican American students, in the late 1990s and their stories of immigrant struggle and resistance inspired me. Even though they spoke English among themselves, they enjoyed speaking Spanish to me. I have a fascination with Spanish language proverbs and know thousands of them. Those young students would come to the office and ask me “so, what’s the proverb of the day?” They enjoyed the wisdom, earthiness, sparkling quality and sense of humor present in the proverbs.

In spite of the age difference, with those young students I had a feeling of prodigal sons reunited.

Youthful obsessions: comic book super heroes and Latin American folk music.

When I was little in Yurécuaro, my hometown, I was so much into comic books that my father went around to all the barber shops and asked them not to let me in because they had comic books there and he thought I was reading way too many of them.

There used to be a system where you could buy comics for a peso or sit on a bench and read them for ten cents. I was so obsessed with the characters and the stories being told, that I got to the point of stealing money from my mother in order to rent them. One day she found me at the rental bench and asked me to come with her immediately. When she saw me pay for 13 comics, she immediately knew who had stolen her money. Back at home, I got such a monumental spanking that, many years after, it still mortified her to the point of tears.

The comic books I read avidly were made in Mexico— “Chanoc”, “La Familia Burrón”, “Kaliman”, “El Payo”, “El Diamante Negro”, “Memín Pinguín”, “Fantomas”, “Tawa”, etc. —even, to my father’s mortification, “Lágrimas, Risas y Amor”. There were also many American comic books, translated, of course, which never got my interest. It wasn’t only that I was indifferent to them: I openly disliked them. Perhaps it was the language: They were probably translated in Spain and the dialogs always felt contrived, silly. So, I was totally oblivious to “Superman”, “Batman”, “Los Cuatro Fantásticos”, etc. There was, however, one of those American characters and comic books for which I’ve always had a soft spot: “El Hombre Araña” (Spiderman).

When I was fourteen I gained a new obsession. We had just moved to Guadalajara, which, at that time, was a town of about 2 million people. Almost immediately I discovered the radio stations, one run by the Department of Fine Arts, the other by the Universidad de Guadalajara, that played some folk music. I’m immensely grateful to both of those stations. They enriched my life beyond measure. The music I heard there for the first time, sounded strange yet familiar. In a primal, visceral way, I knew that it was my own. It was like hearing an ancient tune apparently long forgotten but in actuality always present within me.

By the time I was 18 there were already a few places where Latin American folk music was played live. Some were small venues related to the local Department of Fine Arts the others were “Peñas” (coffee houses) that appeared in Mexico City, Guadalajara and other large cities throughout Mexico. Most of the performing groups were local and non-professional. Through college, I met two brothers and their uncle who, together with two other friends, formed one of those groups: “Los Cachicamos”. They took me with them everywhere they played: Schools, Peñas, labor union halls, music festivals, small villages’ festivities, public plazas. They were really good and played not only folk music from the Andes but also from Argentina and Mexico, which, amazingly, few of the Mexican folk groups at the time played. They even traveled to South America to get music and instruments, and they lent me recordings that were impossible to get in Guadalajara.

From their trip, they brought back several “Charangos,” a string instrument with five double strings (similar to a mandolin) that is fundamental in the Andean music tradition. The back of its box is made from the shell of a small furry armadillo that lives in that region.

My friends got their Charangos directly from a legendary Bolivian charango maker, Sabino Orozco. This man introduced my friends to his son who was chosen to continue the Charango making tradition. His name I can not forget: Clark Kent Orozco.

Bringing Latin American Folk Music to Minneapolis through KFAI radio.

In Minneapolis my Latin American friends were often surprised that I knew old folk songs from their countries. They would give me names of genres, groups and performers they thought would interest me. They would also give me tapes. My collection grew.

KFAI, the local community radio station, was one of the first stations I heard in the U.S.  I also listened to obsessively to the classical music station of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). The whole concept of a public community radio station struck me as both beautiful and powerful.

One Saturday morning, a couple of weeks or so after I had arrived to the U.S, while listening to KFAI, I  heard “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional Mexican celebratory song used in Birthdays and Saint Days. I was moved to the point of tears. I had discovered Willy Dominguez’ show, “Sábados Alegres” —one of the longest running shows at KFAI, that plays Tex-­Mex music. Soon afterwards I discovered the Latin American music program run by Rafael Varela, from Uruguay, as well as shows centered on American folk music (which was one of my “discoveries” upon coming to this country).

After a few years volunteering and subbing at the Station, I applied for and got my own radio program, “Encuentro” —now airing Thursday nights 8­-10 pm. The show aired first on July 29, 2007; so I have been doing my program for nine years! I explore the cultural history and traditions of our continent, and to tell that story, folk music is fundamental.

I put in six hours every week just preparing the show. Sometimes more. My program is never improvised; it always has a defined order and structure, a theme or themes to explore for the day. I believe that to improvise implies that I don’t take it seriously and that would be a disservice to my community, to the station, to the listeners, to myself. I usually explore a composer, a genre of music, a country in particular, or certain themes or historical events that can be talked about or explained through music, like “The Music of Liberation Theology” and “The Music from the Life and Times of Frida Kahlo”.

I think I would never be able to find space on a commercial Latino radio station for my program. Those stations are all about business, commercial interests and commercial music. My program, proudly, doesn’t fit that model at all. At first I was disappointed that the people calling in to my program were mostly White, or not from the Latino communities. I would have been happier hearing from Latin American communities from South Minneapolis, and youth like those I worked with in La Raza. It was with them that I witnessed first-­hand, the power and inextinguishable relevance of language, history, culture and traditions.

Changes in Latino Minneapolis in the 1990s

Before the mid 1990s, if I wanted to buy a hint of home I had to go to West St. Paul and the options were very limited. It was rare to hear somebody speaking Spanish in the bus or in the street .

Lake Street had historically, been a sort of entry zone for immigrants in town. In the 1990s it was the front line, the border where demographic changes were most visible and tangible. Small Latino restaurants, stores and bakery shops started opening up there, seemingly out of nowhere. Latino communities revitalized that area, not only Lake Street but that whole part of South Minneapolis.

Visiting some of those Mexican and Latino stores on Lake Street was a lesson for me in the perseverance of memory and traditions. I found the same brand of laundry detergent (“Roma”) and bar soap (“Zote”) that Mexican working class families have used for generations; I found healing herbs and teas that, in Mexico are available only in a special store or market. I saw “leche de burra” soap — a product I heard about from countryside people from my parents’ generation, but never actually saw until the late 1990s, along Lake Street in Minneapolis!

And the food!

Food is a living manifestation of memory and tradition. It is also a noble, fundamental thread that, along with language and music, provides some the most immediate and visceral links between immigrants and their country of birth, their family history, their ancestral memories. Food is also a savior. Selling cooked food is frequently how a struggling family can get back on its feet; a means available to immigrant families to aspire to a measure of economic independence and one of the precious few venues available to them for upward mobility.

The traditional Mexican “refresco” (bottled soft drink) “Jarritos” —especially the tamarind flavor is easier to find in Minneapolis (you can even find it in Cub foods!) than in Mexico, where, in conventional stores, the only “refrescos” you can get are Coke, Pepsi and such. I see a measure of poetic justice in this.

Living in Seward/Surviving Assaults/ Growing  impoverishment in Minneapolis 

I don’t know how to drive. I walk, I bike and I use the bus. These observations, below, are the perspective of one who has been riding the bus and walking in the city for more than 20 years now.

When I first moved out of the dorm, I lived in Marcy Holmes near the University Campus — a fairly transient neighborhood. Then I moved to Seward, also near to Campus, where I have been ever since. I really like living in Seward, even though I have had some bad experiences. I was assaulted twice. Because of those incidents I have become much more watchful and alert of my surroundings.

I do not think these assaults necessarily reflect Seward. It is just part of living in an urban place, within the inner city, especially when you walk alone at night. Both times, those who assaulted me were Native American youth. That is only incidental— a reflection of other underlying factors, among them the growing impoverishment in Minneapolis and the ever-growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots throughout the U.S.

When I first came to Minneapolis I wrote home saying that everyone here seemed to be well­-off. But I have seen a noticeable and continuing growth in poverty since then — more homeless people, for instance.

I see it on the bus and in the streets: Everything from more clothes and shoes that are not appropriate for the weather or that don’t fit, to obvious signs of poor health, especially in people’s teeth. This might be considered only anecdotal evidence but the fact is that data and statistics confirm it.

I have noticed an increase in the body language of sadness. In the early 1990s I used to travel by bus to go to Madison, Wisconsin. For me it was fun and convenient, but I saw that those who traveled by bus seemed to always be sad and down on their luck. Now I see the same sadness every day in the city buses and in the streets.

I also see more conflict, more tension. Twenty years ago or so, it was the sort of conflict that normally happens within a crowded urban space. Now I see more signs of confrontation —in racial, social and economic terms.

Of course, there has always been some grumbling about immigrants. But the resentment now seems to be greater, more openly belligerent and confrontational. Two examples that have happened recently:
— In downtown Minneapolis there were two East African youth waiting for the bus. An African-American guy stopped by, just to cuss at them, to say he hated Somalis. When he left the girl said to me, “They are always hating us.” I told her “He is probably struggling —maybe he doesn’t have a job.” She said “You know, I didn’t see it that way…. but… this happens to us all the time.”
— A Native American man, complained loudly to the whole bus about how the immigrants have come and taken all the jobs, the resources.

I think that when I was assaulted those two times, I was a victim of this growing poverty, exacerbated by a massive housing crisis and a recession, and that ever-growing social and economic disparity. Before at least there was a feeling of hope in a not too distant future. Now even that is gone. And people are taking it out on each other.

Disparity and Hope. 

But there’s something else: mounting disparity,  long-­lasting hopelessness, and the closing of venues to upward mobility are by themselves a form of inflicted violence and, as such, it have been detonators for community activism.

In the 1990s there was little evident signs of activism among new Latino immigrants. People went to work, and, on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps to Mercado Central to eat some tacos, menudo or tamales with champurrado. People just stayed in their corner, making as little waves as possible. That has changed significantly in response to the desperate immigration situation, the constant political backlash, lack of upward mobility, and limited, low-paying and frequently exploitive job market for people in our communities. Recent restrictions on driver’s licenses (since 2001), have brought into the streets many immigrants who, because of fear, would never have been active in the political process. People now have the boldness to be directly involved in different stages of political activism, even if it implies taking significant risks, including being deported.

In that sense, I’m hopeful. I see different community organizing efforts going on locally at different levels: grass-roots, faith-based, workers’ centers, etc., and the growing consciousness that comes with these efforts. I particularly admire the work done by CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha) a local workers’ center that is doing amazing organizing with retail cleaning workers.

Something else: These movements also plant a seed for future generations. A tradition of consciousness and community organizing doesn’t happen overnight, it is nurtured and that is what all of these community organizing movements are doing.

One thing immigrants from Mexico  know quite well is that they are very valuable to both the U.S. economy and the Mexican economy. The U.S. economy desperately needs the cheap, vulnerable labor and their remittances are absolutely essential for Mexico. There is power in that.

We saw an assertion of that power on May 1st 2006 when millions of Latino workers and their families throughout the United States rose up and marched through the streets —40,000 here in the Twin Cities — who marched to the State Capitol wearing t-shirts that proclaimed:  “Undocumented and Unafraid”.

May First, the International Workers Day is, of course, rooted in the rich, proud, obscured and ignored, U.S. labor history. It was celebrated in nearly every country in the world except the United States where it originated — until 2006, when the most marginalized exploited immigrants of this nation, rescued it, dignified it, and brought it back to its place of origin. Poetic Justice.

A final thing: I had my own stereotypes when I first came to the U.S. — about the “average” White U.S. person. I did not know there were people here concerned and aware about the policies (both foreign and domestic) of the U.S. government, that there were so many people committed to change things, doing so out of solidarity.

And that’s the key word: Solidarity —not empty, self-gratifying charity, not condescending attitudes, but understanding and solidarity. I meet people all the time, many times young, who are active and committed, to achieve and build a more just economic and political system; people who talk the talk and walk the walk, as the saying goes; not out of empty romanticized notions, but out of solidarity. I think that Minneapolis is special in this way. It has a rich local history of solidarity movements and I constantly see that tradition not only being kept alive but also moved forward.

 

Jim Northrup, Rest Easy.

IMG_5513-1My partner Dave and I visited Pat and Jim Northrup at their home on the Fon du Lac Reservation, on July 28, 2012. I had told Jim we were coming by bicycle at the end of an epic adventure, but our hosts in Duluth had offered their car so we could make it an afternoon excursion, and we accepted the generous offer. As we drove up in civilian clothes, cleaned and rested, I felt as if we had violated the invitation.

When we arrived Jim was making a birch basket and Pat was watching the Olympics. Jim occasionally interrupted the conversation to explain what he was doing.

“We only make baskets in the summer.”

“ The oil in the bark makes it curl.”

“Pat does the sewing, I carve and make the holes.”

“Making baskets you can’t be angry or in a hurry.”

“We found that’s true for bike touring as well,” Dave said.

I thanked Jim again for speaking to my classes at St Cloud State eight years earlier. I had assigned Rez Road Follies. The students, most of whom came from small towns in Northern Minnesota, were thrilled to meet an author from their neck of the woods. I was jealous and grateful of his ability to connect with the students. Yet Jim was a neighbor they did not know. Most grew up in proximity to reservations but many  had never had a conversation with an indigenous neighbor.  I reminded Jim that out of four classes and 129 students, I had only two students from the Rez… and they were white.

Jim shook his head. “White ownership goes back to the Dawes Act of 1887 that turned communal reservation land into 80-acre allotments. What was not claimed by Indians was open to anyone. Now those 80 acre allotments, passed down to multiple children, are so fractionalized they are not worth much. Allotment was an extreme form of divide and conquer.

Today our tribe owns 25%-33% of Fond Du Lac, up from 20% a few decades ago. We are using Casino money to buy back land little by little. What we own is divide into three parts, one where the business is done, another where our ceremonies are held, and a third, which we are restoring, where we have the best birch and maple trees, wild rice, hunting and fishing. Our food sources.”

Pat, who is Dakota, added, “On my reservation we are supposed to own 10 miles on either side of Minnesota River. They created that war in 1862 so they could have that land. Look at how valuable it is today; rich topsoil and access to the river all the way to the Cities.”

Jim’s book, Rez Salute had yet to come out. We bought a copy of Anishinaabe Syndicated and had Jim sign in it. On page 42 he quipped  ‘Why do we call it a Rez instead of a reservation? Cause the white man owns most of it.”

***

Jim’s written works are acerbic, witty confrontations with the trauma of colonialism that never ends and the trauma of war that keeps on giving.

“I write in the morning and a couple days past deadline.” Jim mused.  “I write about what pisses me off. Now I’m pissed about the news coverage of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Reporters said it was the worst incident of gun violence in American history since Fort Hood. What about Sand Creek? 160 people shot down with cannons and guns; unarmed people. I guess it doesn’t count because they were Cheyenne.”

A Vietnam vet,  veterans’ issues were central in Jim’s writing. In my classes he quickly bonded with young Iraq war veterans. They wouldn’t let him go, following him to the cafeteria afterward for more. Both Jim and Pat were fierce advocates of veterans rights. I wanted them to help me figure out a question that had dogged me for 12,000 miles. The veterans memorials we encountered riding through 31 states, seemed to perpetuate war, glorifying the soldier experience and the ultimate sacrifice. I asked Jim how he would design a memorial that honored veterans and ended war.

“The Vietnam memorial has 55,000 names. I would depict 55,000 families crying.”

Pat added, “If people knew we couldn’t own things they wouldn’t fight over them. We don’t take anything with us when we go.”

 

Clinton Pass-over

FullSizeRender 34

Biking across West Texas along the Mexican border, I saw an Israeli flag. The owner of the flag was a cotton farmer whose land abutted the Mexican border. The owner of the farm and the flag was an evangelical Christian who believed that Israel would play a central role in the second coming, the rapture, and Armageddon.

The Israeli flag on the U.S. Mexican border was a startling sight, but in some other-than-theological ways it made sense. The blue and white banner, emblazoned with the Jewish Star flew along the infamous U.S./Mexico border wall. Thousands of miles away, another wall — this one between Israel and the West Bank — was resurrected for much the same purpose.

The two walls are, in many ways, distinct installations of one project. That they look alike, is not surprising. In 2014 the U.S. hired an Israeli company to install security technology along its wall.

Unlike the Berlin Wall which they are sometimes compared to, the Israeli and U.S. barriers do not separate populations completely. Instead they are physical representations of a host of policies that seek to criminalize and dehumanize those who cross. Like the gates that surround an elite housing development, these walls do not stop the flow of people. Like Sundown towns and migrant camps, these walls reserve, control, and demonize the targeted groups who pass in and out. Like reservations and colonies, they circumscribe those who are the victims of land theft.

The U.S. wall monitors the flow of workers into the United States, assuring U.S. access to cheap food and services. When children from Central America began crossing in large numbers recently, fleeing violence at home, their presence did not serve the needs of capital, and so, despite revealing the audacious cruelty of U.S. policy, they were detained in prison-like quarters and deported.

When the United States treats children on its border as a criminals, it announces to the world it is a nation without a moral compass. Such a nation might well see an Israeli administration that bombs schools and refugee camps as a worthy of aid. Immoral equivalents.

The process of dismantling these walls is complex but it certainly does not begin with Trump and his Mexican wall fixation. Nor does it begin with Hillary, as she made clear with her Passover  message.  Such ugly uses of religious stories to justify physical and metaphorical walls, are rife. Clinton is not the first one to find vindication for U.S. and Israeli policy in this old story. She is not the first to conflate Jews with the state of Israel. I have fled synagogues this time of year where such stories are told, and such allegiances required.

Bernie Sanders’ measured criticism of Israel, and his willingness to speak it in a space filled with Jewish voters, showed — not so much an ability to boldly lead — but a willingness to follow behind those more courageous and outspoken than he. It is those social movements he follows, on both borders, that give us hope.

This year when my group gathers for Passover we will exchange stories of overcoming adversity and oppression as we usually do in our untraditional way. This year we will also pause with more purpose as we pour that cup of wine and that plate of food for the empty chair, for the stranger who might knock — a reminder to tear down walls – not build them up – in the coming year.

Creating a world without walls may or may not be the way to rapture – but it is surely a requirement of a sustainable world in this globe-shrinking climate-crisis era. Let the walls come a tumbling down.

After Obama Returns from Cuba, Who Will Listen to our Dissidents?

IMG_0850 (3) This morning, I stared for a long time at the photo of President Barack Obama meeting with Cuban dissidents.  I wondered: who decided who would be invited to the meeting?  Do the gay activist and the Catholic lay leader often seek audience together?  To whom can I — dissident of the United States — appeal?

This evening, the poem, APPLYING FOR CITIZENSHIP — read by author Ruben Medina, who has lived in the United States for forty years and is still considering becoming a U.S. citizen — spoke to the spirit of my morning questions. He read his poem to a crowd of eight at the Loft Literary Center.  You need to buy the book to see the proper format and read it all – but here is a taste:

Here, my fellow citizens are my conditions. 

English-only speakers should pay higher taxes

The welfare system should be abolished for big corporations

America should be dropped from the name of this country

Absentee ballots should be allowed for undocumented workers only …

The White House should be moved to Puerto Rico, The Congress to Harlem, the United Nations to Wounded Knee….

Half  of the billboards in the country should be given to poets or anyone who wants to imagine the nation, the other half to children. 

People who say this is the greatest country in the world should do volunteer work for the homeless, sing the national anthem backwards or attend every death sentence carried out in the nation….

Commercials on TV should be limited to one minute every hour ….

The Cuban National baseball team should play in the  major leagues…. 

All military forces in foreign lands should return within 30 days. 

This morning I voiced my dissent by tossing the morning paper, yelling at my radio.  This evening I listened, and felt  vindicated.

You should have been there.

* Ruben Medina, Nomadic Nation / Nación Nómada – Cowfeather Press, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Pivot Toward Asia. Chris Rock, Military Bases, and Slave Labor.

 

IMG_0825

Posts about Cris Rock’s offensive Asian jokes and news of a  U.S. military base  in Okinawa ,showed up in my facebook feed at the same moment on this Super Tuesday afternoon.

The Obama/ Clinton policy, dubbed Pivot toward Asia, began in 2009. One could say it combined a focus on free trade and military expansion, or one could say trade and the militarism were one policy, the guns needed to protect the expansion of U.S. economic supremacy in the region.

When Chris Rock made the comment about kids making phones... there was nothing funny about it. His delivery – using three children– was despicable.  There is also nothing funny about the expansion of child labor and sweat shops through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, -( a free trade policy pushed by the Obama administration, endorsed by Republicans and Hillary Clinton, and opposed by Bernie Sanders) throughout Asia.

Children making phones is not a stereotype,  but a geopolitical reality bolstered by  free trade policies.

A few days ago Obama made U.S. purchase of goods made by slave labor illegal.

My first thought was “good”. My second thought was compare it to  Hubert Humphrey’s Democratic Party plank against lynching in 1948. Well duh, I sure hope so! My third thought was to thank movements for labor rights everywhere. This is what they mean by leading from behind — but we will take it.  My fourth thought was to wonder how slavery will be defined ( what about workers with no other options, paid less then promised, child workers, wage theft?). My fifth thought was to wonder how the ban will be enforced.

Not with another military base in Okinawa/Jeju Island.

Military bases on foreign soil.

Slave labor, child labor and sweatshops.

Any policy that denies labor’s right to organize.

Racists jokes, and the erasure of whole peoples by Hollywood.

I vote against them all.

 

 

 

Feeling Half a Bern in Iowa.

FullSizeRender 33FullSizeRender 31

Me and my partner took a weekend trip across the southern border, to escape city winter doldrums and indulge a morbid fascination with the political campaign, one week before the Iowa caucus.

We had a fun time. Saw wild turkeys and pheasants, pine trees encrusted in ice, black Amish buggies and white fields barely discernible from grey sky.

In Mason City, Iowa — a border town, off of Highway 35 ,in the flat central plains — there was little indication of the impending caucuses — one comment about the idiocy of Trump, one massive red lawn sign for Cruz. We joined hundreds congregated at the YMCA on Saturday morning. The contest on their minds was playing out by their youngsters on the basketball courts.

But in Decorah — another border town in the hilly east — the masses gathered at Luther College to see Bernie Sanders.  The crowd was clearly feeling the Bern; loving talk about single payer health care, free tuition, $15 minimum wage, expanding social security, a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure and renewable energy jobs and a promise to transfer priorities from mass incarceration to education.  They also cheered for choice, gay marriage, and equal pay for equal work.

The crowd spanned the age spectrum. The couple in their sixties sitting in front of me shouted out when he talked about people on social security trying to live on 13,000. “That is us!”

Bernie took on his detractors – those who  say he can’t win, and the naysayers who claim he is promising the moon but has no way to pay for it. For the latter he cited polls, for the former he promised to tax billionaires and the banks.

My partner was enthusiastic – picking up a lawn sign. I told him it might have to go on his proverbial side of the lawn — for now.

I felt half a Bern. I didn’t hear anything I did not agree with. I shared the relief expressed in people’s faces as they heard real problems and solutions from a politician who — as he said — thinks Americans like it when you don’t treat them like they are dumb. I was grateful not to be pandered to with patriotic pablum about American exceptionalism – rhetoric that Obama has made his own.
I was glad he mentioned race disparities in unemployment – but wished he had showed more courage with this white Iowa audience to push for police accountability. In a state that increasingly relies on immigrant labor for food processing industries, I wished he would taken  the opportunity to include undocumented people in his calls for equal rights.

Indeed, it was what he did not say that had me holding back.

Other than his vote against the Iraq war, there was no mention in his address about endless wars or military drones, or U.S. bombing hospitals. Indeed his social programs could all be paid for if we chopped the bloated pentagon budget. Why didn’t he say that? I know the weapons manufacturers and military bases in every state are even more capable than big pharma, oil and the NRA,in cowering politicians. But Sanders could role out a plan for turning weapons factories into water filtration and mass- transit manufacturing, without job loss, reversing FDR’s speedy transformation of domestic plants during World WAR II.

From my experience — talking to students and strangers on my 14 month bicycle trip around the U.S.— I found that across the rural/ urban, left/right spectrum people are sick of war. Heck, Obama knows that. “War weariness,” he calls it.
For the current President war-weariness is a problem, but for the next president, with a vision for a sustainable world, it could be a great asset, something to build on.

Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Bernie’s foreign policy acumen should be seen as an opportunity by his campaign, to shout back that with the former Secretary of State, we get more of what the world can not afford – more American super power bullying.

Look, it is not just that I want more. If so, I’d settle for the half glass. Reform is good for real people. But if Bernie’s domestic revolution stops at our borders, I fear it won’t work . We are one small vulnerable planet. The political borders we erect are not just artificial from a moral perspective. They don’t exist economically, climatificially, militarily. The United States has to adopt a global allegiance as we act locally, or we will all go down, destroyed by inequality, endless war,pollution and rising seas.

Let me repeat. Without a global plan, I fear Bernie’s domestic plan will go down as another beautiful list of empty promises. I fear only a fascist could fill the void that disappoint would elicit.
Unlike me, the crowd at Luther College in Decorah were as wildly enthusiastic about their candidate as midwesterners get. The post-rally conversation at the Water Street Cafe and Java coffee shop, were positively giddy. Given the Democratic and Republican alternatives, that is great news. Indeed the supporters of Bernie Sanders are the best part of his campaign.  That is why the corporate -owned media, here in Iowa and nationwide, have accelerated their anti- Sanders vitriol. They know they must put out the  Bernie fire.

As Sander’s said, “this is about more than me and my candidacy.”

Amen to that.

 

Hey, Bundy boys, I’m mad at the Feds about land rights too.

 

images-1

The Bundy boys and their ilk holding a federal outpost in Oregon hostage, are right about one thing.  When it comes to land and the U.S. government there is a long history of criminal injustice. The Bundy boys are using their guns to demand reparations to a couple ranchers and a free-up of federal land.

I’m using my blog to make some demands about land and reparations too.  My demands are in bold, pistol-punching italics. 

  1. For wars,  massacres, poisoned blankets,  forced marches on tear- filled trails,  broken treaties,  Homestead acting and Dawes allotting, I demnd  Land Reparations to Native Americans. Start by returning the Oregon Malheur Wildlife refuge, currently occupied by those gun-toting thugs, to the Paiute people.
  2.  For three hundred years of stealing African American labor I demand, Pay up on those  forty acres and a mule!    
  3. For those government land give aways to corporations, from railway tycoons to airport franchises, sport stadiums and malls; for bailing banks that foreclose on homeowners, I demand we Tax corporations and billionaires who have profited from these federal subsidies, to pay for demands 1 and 2. 
  4. I demand the military/ industrial complex turn over the millions of acres of land and hundreds of bases, transforming that land  for people, plants, and animals, not bombers!  As for the estimated 1,000 U.S. military bases outside the U.S. borders occupied by the U.S. military, I demand we give bread, not bombs to the world. When it comes to land use anywhere, we must put food first.  
  5. Remembering  80 years of Asian exclusion, internment camps, land restrictions.  and seeing history being repeated, as stolen Cuban land is used to intern people without trials or convictions, I demand we end the historic cycle of demonizing races and religions to deny land and rights, and Give back Guantanamo! 
  6. To reverse the long history of informal empire, gunboat diplomacy and unequal exchange in Latin America that robs our southern neighbors of their land, their  labor, and their right to stay home, I demand:  We end the current raid on Central American refugees in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.   Make deportation, not migration, the crime. Institute fair, not “free” trade.  Provide legalization for 10 million undocumented immigrants.

Yes, those guys with guns in Oregon are right. We need to drastically rethink and redo how the United States distributes and controls the use of land within and outside of its borders.

 

Related post: Child refugees of U.S. foreign policy.  http://turtleroad.org/2015/11/03/child-refugees-of-u-s-foreign-policy/

 

The Hanukah almost-Miracle. The call from Bernie Sanders.

IMG_0709 (1)

It happened after I finished lighting my menorah. The phone rang. I reached to turn it off so I could contemplate my candles undisturbed,glancing at the ID: Senator Sanders. I had to find out who was joking with me.

“Who is this?”

“Anne, this is Bernie.”

“Come on. Who’s is this really?!”

“Anne, we don’t have time for that. I need you to do me a favor. With Trump issuing hateful ultimatums against Muslims, and Jews pledging to stand in solidarity with their Islamic sisters and brothers, and me winning the popular poll for Times Man of the Year, I think its a good time to strengthen my Israel/Palestine policy.  Spin me a Hanukah revelation.  Nothing too radical, Anne.  Have it to me before your candles burn out.”

A policy request from Bernie Sanders?  I glanced at my menorah. Was I imagining it, or were my candles burning more slowly? It’s Hanukah, I thought. Who am I to question a miracle?

I decided to focus on two foreign principles already put forward by the Senator. 1. He is not about regime change and 2. He faults the United States for overthrowing democratically elected leaders like Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala installing and supporting dictators like the Shah of Iran and myriad Latin American tyrants just because they were friendly to U.S. business interests.

I typed fast, one eye on the candles:

“Under the Sander’s administration we will no longer provide unconditional support to any state. Instead we will reach out our hands to any nation engaged in loosening the power of the world’s billionaires. We will lend our assistance to any state who provides equal citizenship, voting and economic rights to all people regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religion. We will support efforts at reparation, truth and reconciliation anywhere, leading by example, addressing our debts to African Americans and indigenous people.  We will aid any effort to reverse climate change and do our part to demilitarize our world by ending the U.S. arms trade, shutting down U.S. bases, halting drone warfare and nuclear weapons manufacturing…

“In this context we will halt aide to the Israeli state until all inhabitants of  Israel/Palestine enjoy equal rights.  For decades the United States has posed as a peace broker in the Middle East, while arming everyone.  The military budget for Middle East Wars, is immense. Repurposing those funds  we could facilitate the Palestinian right of return and war reparations in a day.”

“Under the Sanders administration, the United States will no longer be a super power but a real -small d democracy.” *

I was just getting warmed up — wondering if Sanders  should say something about being Jewish, maybe end with a quote by Art Spiegelman  creator of Maus-  about how Israel is a battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others— but before I could make my decision, the last candle went out.

I turned on the light in the darkened room, reached for my cell, to send Bernie what I had. But there was no record on my iPhone  of a call  from Senator Sanders.

 

Oh well. Six more days for a miracle  to happen here.

 

*Apologies Pinocchio.

Refugee. Dad.

IMG_0537

My dad ( shown here as little boy with his older sisters, circa 1936) was a child refugee. He and his two sisters and mother fled Hitler in 1939, ended up in a Refugee camp in Havana Cuba and eventually the United States.

They were lucky. Many refugees were refused entry. My Aunt Maja, Dad’s older sister remembered standing on the Havana shore, watching the ship the MS St. Louis come into harbor so close she could touch the outstretched hands of excited children hanging on the railing. She watched in horror as the ship of German refugees was turned away by Cuban authorities. The United States and Canada also refused them harbor and the boat sailed back to Europe, sending passengers back to battlefields and concentration camps.

In the 1990s my dad used to go speak to elementary  school children, sharing assimilation stories with new child immigrants. He told the kids about being new to the country, not speaking English, trying to figure out how to make friends. One day he saw a popular kid throw his lunch bag away. He threw his away too, hoping to impress the other kids, but they just ignored him. Now he was lonely and hungry.

Dad has been dead 15 years. He left this earth before  three of his grandchildren were born. He missed seeing his granddaughter Emily (shown below in 1991) grow into a beautiful woman.  He missed lap tops, cell phones and Facebook. He missed 9/11 and the endless “wars on terror,” the Patriot Act and Guantanamo detainees,  Abu Ghraib and Drone warfare.

This week he is in my heart more the usual as I try to imagine his reaction to demagogues posing as governors all trying out populist fascism to see if it suits them. No Refugees in MY state. Only Christians in MY country… 

 

When I was 22, Dad and I visited the concentration camp where his five-year old best friend was incinerated. In the guest book everyone wrote “Never Again.” At the time I was involved in the Central America movement. I knew that my own government was funding and training an army in El Salvador led by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who considered Hitler his mentor. For the rest of the trip Dad and I discussed the meaning of “Never Again.” How do we make sure one terror does not lead to another retaliatory terror? Does the slogan mean anything if we only apply it to “our” people?

IMG_0540

Never Again.

 

IMG_0537

#RefugeesWelcome

Minneapolis and the World Need Less Policing, more Humanity

IMG_0500

On Sunday November 15, at 1AM  in Minneapolis police shot and killed a young Black man, Jamar Clark.. A protest began at 3pm on November 15 at the site of the shooting. Protesters demanded a release of the surveillance video, federal investigation, and arrest of the officers involved.   An occupation of the 4th precinct  continues as I write.  On the evening of November 16 protestors shut down of  I94  freeway for a couple hours, ending with the arrest of  40 activists including Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds.  Mayor Hodges requested a federal investigation this afternoon. The video has yet to be released. Witnesses say the man was handcuffed. Police say otherwise. Protesters fear tampering with the video. The occupation of the 4th precinct will continue until the demands are met. Tents have been set up outside the precinct, and a makeshift kitchen. Food and money donations are desired. 

#Occupy4thprecinct #Justice4Jamar

The last few days I have laid on my couch overcoming the flu. In my fevered state the stories of suicide bombers in Paris, Beirut and Iraq, and the death of the young man Jamar Clark, killed by a  Minneapolis police officer, overlapped. Among the clammer, a speech in my Facebook feed by Angela Davis celebrating  historian John Hope Franklin provided startling clarity among the din.

“We need more historically-minded people,” Davis said.

She did not mean people with their heads in the past, but those who see their present lives connected to past unfinished business  and a future bearing the fruits of their time on earth. They are not afraid to demand what can’t be achieved in their life time. Cognizant of historical roots of current problems, they  envision the future we need and a path to get there.

Davis illustrated what she meant, repeating the goals of her life work:  abolition of the prison system and law enforcement as we know it. “Take the guns from the police” she said. She does not believe her demands will happen in her life time, yet she paints for us a future in which security is based on the fulfillment of our needs for health, education, housing…

Events of the last days illustrate the wisdom of Davis’ vision. Law enforcement on November 15 did not provide security for a woman, a man or a neighborhood in North Minneapolis.

Police can’t address unmet human needs for decent jobs, affordable housing and well-funded schools  that would provide real security, but our tax dollars redirected can.

On a global level, Davis’ definition of security is as salient. As Mayors and Governors in the U.S. and World Leaders rush to build armies and police forces to “provide security” and  invoke America’s ugliest past by barring  Syrian refugees they deny the obvious.  Violence begets  violence.  We do not need to look very far back –– 9/11, Iraqi war! —  to understand that it will only make our future less secure.

#Occupy4thprecinct

IMG_0524 (3)

Getting “Creative” with the U.S. Federal Budget.

FullSizeRender 3 (1)

Speaking at Mayflower church in Minneapolis on October 30 2015,  HUD secretary Julian Castro suggested we be creative, as we don’t have the budget to fill our affordable housing needs.

So here is my creative idea. Let’s limit our war budget instead.  We could stop arming everyone in the Middle East, bring the troops home, say no to Obama’s “boots on the ground,” use tax dollars to build housing at home rather than tear it down overseas.

It’s kind of obvious, I know.  Too obvious to be creative. So I dressed it up with some magic markers.  Here, in case you need a translation, is what my drawing is saying:

Affordable housing, plus education, plus infrastructure, plus health care, plus  parks  and other common goods…. Looks like we  don’t have enough money for war! 

 

 

 

Netanyahu Displays his Racism

It has often been said by me, that there are two equally dangerous historical myths about the Holocaust.

Myth 1) That it didn’t happen or is exaggerated.  It is hard for us to exaggerate the horror of burning millions of people in ovens because they were Jews. Others were also targeted for extermination because they were Romani (Gypsies), Gay, Communist.

Myth 2) That it was so singularly horrible that it can not be compared to any other human atrocity.   Nothing happens in history exactly the same way twice. But the Holocaust does not represent a unique experience of mass trauma, genocide, extermination. It is part of the history of crimes against humanity, like slavery, Native genocide and too many other examples. If we refuse to compare what happened in Germany to other atrocities we will never understand how to stop them from happening.

Both myths make the quest to rid the world of genocide that much more remote. Now there is a third dangerous myth, put forward by Netanyahu on October 20th 2015.

To quote the New York Times: 

“Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the Zionist Congress on Tuesday night that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews.” The prime minister said that the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine.

“ ‘So what should I do with them?’ ” Mr. Netanyahu quoted Hitler as asking Mr. Husseini. “He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”

 

It is not just that Netanyahu’s assertion is untrue.  It is the dehumanizing RACIAL assumption, the Hitler-like tactic of brushing a whole people with the false accusation about one person, that makes it so dangerous.  For even if it was true it would tell us as little about Palestinian leadership today as the reality of Hitler’s culpability tells us about current German leadership or people.

In fact the speech tells only about Netanyahu and his demonization  of a people in order to justify his policies of second class citizenship,  state terrorism and the robbery of land and resources of Palestinians. In both deed and propaganda he is borrowing from Hitler’s playbook.

 

The Democratic (non) Debate on Foreign Policy

 

DSCN0726

As the United States and Russia expand their interventions in Syria and the presidential campaign heats up, the need for a transformation in the global polity in order to save the planet  — a point made by MLK (see above) almost 40 years ago and more urgent today —  is not being addressed.

While we fight for social justice at home, keeping the candidates feet to the fire with immigration, Black Lives Matter, 350.org and fight for $15 movements, we need to remember and remind those in power that without peace and global justice there will little progress at home.

Though the #Demsdebate was described in the mainstream media as a fight between Democratic Socialism and benign Capitalism, Bernie and Hillary’s agreements on foreign policy are a central problem for we, the people.

Naomi Klein is right to argue the times require a Change in Everything, including U.S. relations with the world. We need to demand a candidate with a global perspective, one who will tell the truth about the dangers of nationalism in the 21st century; one who understands that the issues we face internally have global consequences and global solutions.

I want a leader who will say out loud that the U.S. is the chief per-capita polluter, wealth extractor and weapons manufacturer. It is the power with the most military bases, billionaire investors, and corporate sweatshops. It is the greatest consumer of the world’s non-renewable resources.

The United States still has a prime role to play on the world stage but one that involves an about face: from world super power to global leader in redistribution of wealth and demilitarization, chief elevator of labor and human rights and prime mitigator of climate change.

I’d like to see a candidate who will prioritize education, not to compete with the Chinese but because education is a right of all children on the planet, a candidate who will oppose the TPP not just because it will hurt workers in the U.S., but because it will hurt workers everywhere, especially in the global south

A global capitalist economy that measures success by increasing consumption is destroying the ecology of mother earth. As chief global capitalist that buck stops with the United States. . I want a president who realizes that tackling climate change and global redistribution of wealth are one and the same.

If we elevate labor everywhere and dismantle the military industrial complex we will naturally slow migration streams, because we will be protecting the right of people to stay home. Then we can tear down our walls, open our borders; let Wall Street run a labor and environmental obstacle course to apply for a temporary visa.

There is much we need to do on the home front: tackle racism, homophobia, rape culture, gun violence, mass incarceration, crumbling infrastructure, health care, education. The candidates are talking about some of these things, but they are not telling us that we can’t do them without changing our global priorities. Remember how the War on Poverty got consumed by the war in Vietnam?

We need money for social justice at home, not Empire-building abroad.

The planet is small and connected. That’s not left or right. It’s our 21st century reality.

Don’t Wanna Study the Geography of War No More

p1

Photo: Code Pink Alert.

When I was a child — up until about eight, I thought the world consisted of two countries. In my mind Germany sat right below the U.S. where Mexico is, only bigger. I had a globe and I had heard my Dad’s stories of crossing the ocean to escape Hitler, still my image of the world ignored these facts to reflect my reality.

Until I turned nine.

My Dad was drafted when I was nine. During the period between draft and deferment we had family conversations about moving to a military base, and Dad going to somewhere called Vietnam . My cousin Ronnie was there and I received a letter from him on the thinnest paper. I tried to image where he was – somewhere on that S shaped country spooning Laos and Cambodia.

In 7th grade the social studies teacher drew a map of Vietnam, slashed a line in the middle, and told us how were fighting for “peace with honor” – (Nixon’s slogan). I jumped out of my chair shouting “That’s not true!” and my grade went from A to D.

After seeing the movie El Salvador another Vietnam? In 1981 I went home and found El Salvador on my world map. So tiny! Why would the United States think it so important to support and train death squads and covertly deploy U.S. troops there?

Over the next 10 years I became intimate with the Central America map, dragging it to speaking events to build opposition to U.S. intervention in the region.

The U.S. military industrial complex continued to lead my geography lessons. The invasion of Grenada forced me to get out a magnifying glass to find the tiny Caribbean island and U.S. support for Indonesia’s genocidal policies in East Timor required another squint at a small tip of an island in Southeast Asia.

On-going U.S. support for apartheid regimes in Israel and South Africa extended my knowledge of two more regions.  When I learned that these three formed a triangle that covertly supported dictators in Guatemala and Argentina, the world grew smaller and more sinister as my map filled in.

In 1990 the United States invaded another nation “because it invaded a nation, ” and I learned  how to find another tiny place on the map — a kingdom flush in oil.

When the U.S. under the first George Bush went to war with Iraq, “for Kuwait’s freedom,” I purchased a map of the Persian Gulf region.  I still refer to it a quarter century later. It centers Iraq, surrounded by Iran,  Kuwait,  Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordon, but on the eastern and northern quadrant, between Pakistan and Iran is also Afghanistan.

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. My country marked the week in the most horrific manner and I learned about a town not before in my consciousness.  I had to google it. Kunduz is near the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan borders. It looks from photographs  like it is rich in farmland — a verdant oasis in a land known for its sandy deserts and rocky mountains.

In Kunduz my tax dollars were used to bomb a Doctors with Borders hospital, killing 12 medical staff, 10 patients, and wounding 37 other people.

This latest atrocity illustrates the tragic necessity of continuing to study the in map of U.S. intervention, mobilizing and repainting our protest signs.

But  simultaneously we need to study and sing those spots on the globe where peace and justice  is blossoming, taking our geography lessons  into our own hands.

We can start with Kabul, Afghanistan, where activists have initiated a global campaign to say   #Enough  to war.

20150813140104959_1#Enough Campaign.