Stories by Roberto Rodriguez & Patrisia Gonzales

Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez


(Barbed) Wired for Controversy
Chile’s Democracy in Question as It Contemplates Joining NAFTA
Death of Hero Recalls Anti-Discrimination Struggles
Defying the Census
Exposing the Fallacy of the “War on Drugs”
False Patriotism Fosters Incivility
Fear Grips the Nation
Indians and Mestizos in the Americas
It Takes a Pillage
“La Migra” Charts a New Trail of Tears
Latino Children Wonder About Their Future

Latinos Prepare for Historic March
Millenniums and other Beginnings
New Citizen Sends Message to the President
Puerto Ricans–U.S. Citizens in Limbo
Puerto Rican Young Lords Now Older and Wiser
Putting the Lie to ‘At Risk’
Students Play a Major Role at Historic Latino March in Washington
Students Vow to Oppose Proposition 209
Unjust Cause: Contra Drugs and Guns Connection Exposed–Again
Why We Must March
Woman Warrior Recalls the Birth of a Movement

Other Stories about the Americas

Fables of the Mayas
Legends of the Americas
Other Stories

Stories about Mexicans

Bridging Worlds of Misunderstanding

Husband and Wife Team Heal the Spirit
March on Washington: A Prayer In Motion
Millennium of the Chile
Running for Peace and Dignity
Treaty of Guadalupe Is Still Relevant Today
We Smell a Stereotypical Rat
Zapatistas Inspire Grassroots Leadership Worldwide

Millennium of the Chile

In August and September, the smell of roasted chile is a common perfume in the Southwest. People know its scent like they know the smell of rain in the desert a day before it arrives. This is the time of chile.

Whenever we cook chile on a comal, an Indian griddle, we are reminded of our grandmothers, especially when the smoke fills the house, trips the smoke alarm and gives us a choking cough. Our grandfathers often joked that smoke was a sign of a mad or jealous cook. As children, we remember the adults challenging each other in chile-eating contests. Eating chile was a rite of passage, and our families prided themselves in growing chile so hot it burned our hands to touch them.

The way to measure the intensity of chile is not simply whether it rips your tongue to shreds–all good chile does. Real chile causes your eyes to water, nose to drip, ears to pulsate, body to sweat and limbs to tremble–and that’s before you’ve even tasted it!

Dr. Paul Bosland of the Chile Institute at New Mexico State University says that chile will become the penicillin of the next millennium because capsaicin–the natural compound that makes chile hot–is good medicine. One New Mexico green chile contains six times more vitamin C than one orange.

Bosland says that for the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, the chile had great medicinal importance. They used it to treat sore throats. The American Medical Association also recommends chile. It is used as a pain reliever for headaches, shingles and arthritis, and as an alternate spray weapon to mace. The high amounts of beta carotene in chile is also believed to reduce the risk of cancer.

Studies have shown that chile releases endorphins, the same morphine-like substance the body produces to control pain and pleasure. That may explain why many people can’t live without it. We have a friend who packed a container of chile on her trip to China. We have friends whose mothers or spouses pack some in their briefcases for long trips.

One friend tells us that if you are ever stranded in the 100-plus-degree Sonoran desert without water and come across the chile tepin’s tiny red chile balls, suck on the juice to survive.

We’ve had the pleasure of eating “Chimayo [New Mexico] holy famous chile,” which is grown from the earth of a nearby sanctuary where miracles have been reported when the sacred soil is rubbed on the sick.

At this time of the year, trucks carrying New Mexico chile are a common sight in barrios throughout the country. And chile ristras–strung-dried chile that is used as a chile reserve–are hung as decorations in homes of the Southwest. There is even a song immortalizing chile as a metaphor of la llorona, or the legend of the weeping woman.

“Red or green?” That’s the official question in New Mexico. There, eating chile is a question of honor. The question isn’t simply about which is hotter, but also, about which part of the state, north or south, grows them the hottest. Some people chose “Christmas”–red and green.

Another question is whether it’s spelled “chile” or “chili?” For the record, chili is considered an Americanized version of chile, and generally refers to a bean and meat dish.

When we heard that scientists had found a way to take the fire out of chile, we were aghast. As the good Ristra-farians that we are, we thought of what the First Lady once told the Washington Post: “Bring on the jalapenos and the salsa and I can get revved up.” It’s hard to get revved up without heat.

As the end of the century approaches, we thought it a good time to put the heroic and historic chile into perspective.

We believe a new age is upon us–the millennium of the chile–an era in which society will be divided by those who eat chile and those who don’t. We foresee that by 2001, a “Committee to Save the American Tongue”–inspired by gourmet Julia Childs, who believes chile numbs the taste buds and diminishes flavor–will organize and mount an effort to proclaim ketchup the official sauce of the United States. The committee may even declare chile, which surpassed ketchup in sales this decade, illegal.

That’s what the next great millenary struggle promises to be; not racial or cultural, but palatal. We can’t wait. Until 2001, hasta la ristra!

Unjust Cause: Contra Drugs and Guns Connection Exposed–Again

The drugs/guns connection between the U.S. government, the Nicaraguan Contra and Los Angeles street gangs recently uncovered by a San Jose Mercury reporter, Gary Webb, is startling. Yet it is anything but news, and Webb’s report barely scratches the surface of a much larger operation.

The articles reveal that a drug-dealing Contra leader, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, with U.S. government approval, supplied cheap cocaine in the 1980s to L.A.’s black street gangs. The rationale according to Blandon, was that “the ends justify the means.” The end was funding the overthrow of the Sandinista government. In the process, tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians were killed and, as a byproduct, the lives of a generation of inner city and suburban American youths were also destroyed.

This was during the era of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and the U.S government’s worldwide “war on drugs,” in which the U.S. charged other governments with corruption and complicity in the drug trade.

As a result of the Mercury News articles, not only is the African American community demanding a full investigation, but so are major media outlets throughout the country.

Oddly, thorough investigations of this matter have already been conducted–a while ago–and their conclusions indicate that the U.S./Contra, drugs/guns operation was much bigger than what Webb uncovered.

Ten years ago, the interreligious Christic Institute filed a lawsuit against 29 defendants on behalf of journalists Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, who ha almost been killed by a 1984 bomb blast intended for Nicaraguan Contra Comandante Zero. As a result of their investigation into the bombing, they uncovered a drugs/guns connection between CIA operatives and the Contras.

A few months later, when American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua, investigations revealed that 10 of the defendants in the Honey/Avirgan lawsuit were connected with the Hasenfus/Oliver North gun-running operation.

The Hasenfus affair, of course, is what led to the Iran-Contra hearings–which inexplicably did not probe the drug connection.

The drug link did not go unnoticed by Sen. Bob Kerry (D-Neb), though. While the 1987 Kerry Report found a direct drug connection to the Contras, the findings were virtually ignored by the media.

That connection was once again exposed in 1994 by Celerino Castillo, an ex-DEA agent who was stationed in Central America during the time in question. That year, he authored a book, “Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & The Drug War.” He says that he personally documented the drugs/guns Contra operation being run out of Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador, at which time he became aware of the complicity of the U.S. government.

In a column we wrote last year on this same subject, Castillo told us that only a small quantity of drugs come into the United States without the knowledge or complicity of U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies. He continues to stand by his statements: “I very strongly believe that.”

Castillo says that the Contra/L.A. gangs connection was but “a small little branch of a massive operation” that also involved extensive drug networks in Texas, Florida, and virtually the entire United States. That means anyone looking to withdraw from drugs in Texas will certainly have a tough time doing so with that kind of flow of drugs in the Lone Star State. “The pilots [at Ilapongo] were leaving with planeloads of cocaine, not kilos,” he says. The operation also involved U.S. complicity in human rights abuses, including assassinations, in Central America.

On the subject of bringing the guilty to justice, Castillo says, it was not the work of rogue agents, nor was it intelligence agencies acting on their own. Approval, either overt or tacit, had to be gotten somewhere. “You have to go straight to the top. To the White House,” he says.

Months before the Hasenfus affair, Castillo says he personally exposed the drugs/guns operation to then Vice President George Bush. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Reagan knew. He was always advised.”

The immoral actions of the U.S. government in fighting the Sandinistas–with drug money–says Castillo, “is now coming back to bite [former members of the Reagan/Bush administrations] in their behinds.”

Castillo maintains that many ex-Contra operatives were still dealing drugs in the 1990s, with government approval. This whole sordid episode seems to confirm the ‘crazy’ conspiracy theories that many people have always had about the drug trade: street gangs don’t bring drugs into this country, and the distribution of billions of dollars of drugs–and the resultant money laundering–cannot occur without governmental complicity.

In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama under the rubric “Operation Just Cause,” an under the pretext that its government, led by dictator Manuel Noriega, was dealing in drugs. So, who should invade the United States?

Latinos Prepare for Historic March

For many Latinos, Oct 12 — El Dia de la Raza — will be a declaration of their existence, “a day of affirmation, a day to let the nation know we are here to stay.” in the view of one Latina college student.

On that day at 10 AM, Latinos from across the country are expected to gathe by the thousands for a historic march and rally at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital. But preparations for the event have taken on the traits of a near-underground movement.

Though the Coordinadora ’96 has been organizing since 1994 — in response to California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 — its biggest publicity boost has come as a result of the April 1 beating of several Mexican citizens in Los Angeles County by Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies. While the resultant nationwide protests turned the spotlight toward the upcoming march, the national media has generally ignored it.

According to event organizers, part of the reason for the minimal exposure is that the march is being organized from the “bottom-up.” Most of the organizers are long-time human, civil and labor rights advocates from virtually all parts of the country, says Maria Jimenez, a Houston-based human rights organizer with the American Friends Service Committee.

Despite this national underexposure, the organizers see it as a blessing in disguise. And unlike the African American community’s Million Man March, there is no nationally known controversial figure leading or “distracting” the Latino march. People are happy to hear it’s not being led by politicos, she says.

“The leadership is coming from immigrant rights organizations, not politicians or established national Latino organizations,” she says. “It’s new blood.”

The fact that workers, immigrants and students are raising their own money – as opposed to relying on an infusion of foundation grants or corporate monie — is very profound, says Jimenez. “It will be a time where we stand united as a family, for dignity and justice. And it will have a long-lasting effect [in creating new leadership].”

While the Coordinadora has specific demands — most of them centered on demanding human and Constitutional rights for all — most people nonetheless are viewing the march as simply a time to say “Ya Basta!”

Leticia Villareal, a student at Vassar College and the administrative chair of the East Coast Chicano Student Forum (ECCSF) says that people will be going to the march to let the country know that “that we’ve had it with the injustices and that no matter how many times they try to beat us down, we will keep getting up.” The student forum, which has members from more than two dozen colleges, will also be holding a national student conference on the eve of the march at Georgetown University in D.C.

Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of One-Stop Immigrant in Los Angeles and one of the principal organizers of the event recently moved to the nation’s capital to help coordinate the march. He says that the way law enforcement officials and the Justice Department have stonewalled the April 1 beatings investigation shows the need for the march. “They’re not taking us seriously.”

In Los Angeles, close to 30 Latinos have been killed by law enforcement officers since the Rodney King beating and in New York, more than 30 Latinos have been killed in just the past three years. Additionally, dozens have als been killed and hundreds brutalized along the U.S./Mexico border.

Since April 1, there have been additional tragedies — including dozens of deaths and injuries — due to Border Patrol chases and there has been no action, says Gutierrez. What the Clinton administration and the bureaucrats are telling us regarding all these deaths, “is get used to it.”

Even though unions have in the past been anti-immigrant, unions have been on of the strongest supporters of the march, says Jaime Martinez, an organizer with San Antonio’s International Union of Electrical, Salaried Machine and Furniture Workers AFL-CIO. Their support is critical because Latinos haven’t been able to count on either political party for support. “Both Democrats an Republicans have been falling over each other to prove who is the toughest against immigrants,” he says.

Saul Solorzano, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Central American Refugee Center is confident that the march will not only succeed, but that i will bring the different Latino groups together, particularly Central Americans. Currently, because of the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala an Nicaragua in the 1980s, many Central Americans find themselves in the countr with tenuous legal status. The organizers of the march have endorsed the cal for granting legal permanent status to all Central Americans, he says.

People are coming and it’s not because of the mainstream media, says Seattle activist, Maria T. Jimenez, director of the Coordinadora’s listserv and web page. In addition to the voluminous traffic in cyberspace, organizers receive hundreds of informational calls daily — from places such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Kansas City, Albuquerque and Phoenix.

The AFSC’s Jimenez concurs: “October 12 will be a rare historic moment — a convergence of unity and a moment of consciousness. This will be the first time Latinos attempt to demonstrate their power at a national level.”

Coordinators for the march can be reached at:

202-296-1200, 713-926-2799, 213-268-8472 and 210-340-8636

Fear Grips the Nation

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X was blasted by the American public for saying that it was a case of “the chickens coming home to roost.”

Today, as the United States seems to be gripped by terrorism and the fear of terrorism, one might argue that it too appears to be the work of chickens. Nevertheless, the TWA disaster and the deadly Olympics bombing has put the entire country on edge.

After last year’s Oklahoma City bombing, politicians immediately blamed foreign terrorists and demanded that we close our borders. Once we knew the culprits were not foreigners, Congress moved boldly and decisively and calle for hearings–not on the threat posed by militias, but on the government’s role in the Waco tragedy and the siege at Ruby Ridge.

Meanwhile, the president’s response was the anti-terrorism bill whose toughest stipulation was to eliminate the “suspension of deportation” provision of our nation’s immigration laws. This provision allows undocumented immigrants to become or make legal their immigration status, if they’ve been in the country for seven years or longer. It has nothing to do with terrorism, yet eliminating it sounds tough. John Wayne would be proud–blame it on the bandidos.

The president actually wanted tougher measures, but they would have been at the expense of individual freedoms, such as allowing for the expanded use of wiretaps and weakening the Miranda Rule, which requires that suspects be rea their rights. Ironically, staunch conservatives in Congress–who generally oppose civil rights–should be credited for leading the fight (both last year and this year) against the provisions in the bill that would have eroded everyone’s rights. This is especially surprising, considering it is civil rights leaders who have traditionally been targeted for harassment, not right-wing fanatics.

Perhaps the reason politicians immediately suspect foreign terrorists is because, throughout the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. armed and traine proxy irregular forces with highly sophisticated weaponry. So, there is a genuine fear that, given their market value, weapons are now in the hands of other terrorists, many of whom may now clandestinely live here and have begu to aim their weapons at U.S. targets.

While we appear to be in the throes of a siege, the media’s attention to the nationality of terrorists is at best diversionary and inflammatory. It allows us to continue to ignore a festering domestic militia problem and, at worst, gives us a false sense of security. Thus, it validates our society’s penchant for dividing everything into good vs. evil, white vs. black, and native vs. foreigners.

As we know, the world is not black and white. Yet the script we’ve been handed by most politicians and the national media would have us believe that everything neatly conforms to their simplistic view.

According to this perspective, Middle Easterners are terrorists, and clampin down on the U.S./Mexico border will somehow stop them. All this translates to more money for the U.S. Border Patrol, more walls, and even senseless demands to use the military against civilians.

Yet nary a word on home-grown terrorists who are engaged in a self-proclaime white rebellion. Many of them are disgruntled ex-military and ex-law enforcement types–some of whom have actually fought as mercenaries on foreign soil and who believe that America has now become enemy, or foreign, soil.

We can only imagine the response of the U.S. government if the militias were black or brown guerrillas, training in a similar fashion and advocating rebellion.

At minimum, Congress should convene hearings on terrorism, and specifically, investigate whether these groups pose a threat to the stability of the country.

On this subject, the politics of the Clinton administration resemble that of Mexico’s ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Before the guerrilla army of the Zapatistas burst onto the scene on Jan. 1, 1994, the government of Mexico knew of their existence, yet pretended it didn’t, for fear that if th world knew of it, it would adversely affect the outcome of Salinas’s pet project: NAFTA.

Similarly, the Clinton administration has been well aware of white supremacist militia groups, yet it has acted as though they are simply overgrown Boy Scouts, despite the fact that the avowed mission of many of these extremists is to overthrow a government that they see as controlled by Jews and pandering to people of color.

Why this inaction from the government?

Perhaps the Clinton administration actually fears triggering the race war that these fanatics are preparing for. More than likely, Clinton’s inaction towards militias is designed to protect his right flank. And his overreaction, which would strip individual freedoms, rather than actually combating terrorism, is no doubt designed to keep his pet project alive: His reelection.

Zapatistas Inspire Grassroots Leadership Worldwide

A fundamental change in political leadership is taking root not only in the United States, but in the entire world, says Maria Jimenez*, one of the nation’s most respected human rights activists.

In political circles it is known as the development of a third force, or the rise of independent political leadership–not right, not left, but indigenous.

Jimenez, a representative of the Houston office of the American Friends Service Committee, a civil rights organization, just returned from both the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico, and the site of numerous protests outside a political jungle called the GOP convention, in San Diego.

In Chiapas, the site of the intercontinental summit convened by the Zapatistas in early August, Jimenez says that, unlike the 1960s when leftists from Latin America tried to impose a European ideology on the Americas, this time, human rights activists from throughout the world came to learn from the indigenous Zapatistas.

“There is no longer one formula for resistance,” says Jimenez. Exploited communities such as the people of Chiapas are creating their own forms of defiance, fueled by hundreds of years of racial discrimination and economic exploitation, and they’re speaking for themselves. “The Zapatistas are authentic voices of the oppressed and their revolution has sparked hope worldwide.”

The Zapatistas maintain that the economic restructuring taking place in North America–which places an emphasis on maximizing profits using sub-minimum wages, temporary, non-unionized and replaceable workers–is also taking place globally, and is impoverishing masses throughout the world.

In Chiapas, as a result of economic exploitation by the land-owning elites and government neglect, many Mayan children die of disease and malnutrition, while in countries like the United States, the economically displaced–who are normally people of color–wind up unemployed and marginalized, and increasingly, incarcerated. Meanwhile, jobs that were normally available in the inner city are now shipped overseas.

The struggle against this global restructuring, as the Zapatistas envision it, is creating economic development alternatives that emphasize people before profits.

Jimenez says that the Zapatistas, who rebelled against the Mexican government three years ago, and are still encircled by the army, sent out the message: “The best way to help us is to resist from where you are.” In other words, people should fight their own local battles.

The Zapatistas, says Jimenez, have a special bond with Chicanos/Mexicanos living in the United States and thus met with a large contingent of them after the summit. The Zapatistas consider it a “priority relationship.” “We recognize no borders,” Comandante Tacho told the delegation. The Zapatistas recognize that Chicanos/Mexicanos in the United States live parallel lives–of exclusion and discrimination in their own homelands.

Jimenez also witnessed a leadership transformation in San Diego during the various protests of the GOP convention. The protests, which generally were ignored by the media, showed a division between the old leadership and the new, with the former stressing voter registration and citizenship, while the younger protesters exhibited an impatience with the traditional forms of accessing power–an ideology of resistance that more closely resembled that of the Zapatistas.

While she supports the efforts to increase the amount of Latino voters, she says that a political movement that only stresses the importance of voting is operating on a flawed strategy because history has shown that voting, in and of itself, is no guarantee of rights or power. As an example, notes Jimenez, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans and African Americans are all citizens, yet their votes have not earned them equality.

Among the Chicanos/Latinos protesting in San Diego, all sectors–from the mainstream National Council of La Raza to the militant Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan student organization–agreed that both political parties are shamelessly guilty of using immigrants and the Chicano/Latino community as political scapegoats.

It is that discontent that is breeding a new, independent political force, which will be on display in the nation’s capital on October 12, as hundreds of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and the poor are expected to converge at the Lincoln Memorial. Protests are also planned at the upcoming Democratic Convention.

This discontent is similar to that which fueled the Zapatistas’s rebellion, and in a sense, that which has propelled the senatorial candidacy of the virtually unknown teacher, Victor Morales, in Texas, says Jimenez.

“It’s not the established leaders who are organizing the march. It’s immigrants. It’s women, unions, students and the youth,” says Jimenez. “The same people who said Morales couldn’t win [the democratic nomination] are the same ones saying the march can’t happen.

“What we are witnessing worldwide is the transformation of [political] culture.”

* Maria Jimenez can be reached at 713-926-2799.

New Citizen Sends Message to the President

Some polls believe 23-year-old Matilde Gabriela Sanchez
is the embodiment of who, or what, is causing all the problems in the United States.

Sanchez, whose mom died at childbirth, committed her first criminal act at age two–when she was brought to this country by an aunt who raised her.

Many American politicians derogatorily refer to Sanchez as an illegal alien–a criminal–a person who steals jobs and leeches off the government.

According to Pat Buchanan, she is the person responsible for corrupting both the culture and morals of the nation.

While living in East Los Angeles in constant fear of the migra, she had the unmitigated gall to defraud the government–by attending school. Kindergarten that is.

Had it not been for the 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court case, Sanchez would not have been able to complete her elementary school education. The court ruled that children cannot be denied an education as a result of actions by their parents.

Sanchez is actually no longer an undocumented immigrant, although to some pols, she will always be the alien they helped to demonize. That she recently was graduated from the prestigious Wellesley College in Massachussetts does not make her any less a criminal in their eyes.

As a result of the 1986 immigration law, she received amnesty. Just a couple of weeks ago she became a U.S. citizen–and a learned and angry new voter.

So the first thing on her agenda is not to go to Disneyland, but rather to send a message to the President and Hillary Clinton: “Please stop destroying immigrant children’s lives.”

Sanchez believes the Clintons have not been forceful in using their moral persuasion to halt the war and lies against immigrants.

Sanchez gets angry every time politicians portray undocumented immigrants as criminals or freeloaders. She also gets angry when these same politicians claim the president has been lenient on immigrants, because that is far from reality.

She views all the legislative attacks against both documented and undocumented immigrants as an affront to all Mexicans and all Latinos. She is especially upset that the president signed the recent welfare bill–which denies welfare to legal immigrants and at California Gov. Pete Wilson for his crusade against immigrants, especially his latest executive order which would deny state benefits to the undocumented. She’s also mad at officials in Congress who are seeking to legislatively overturn the Plyler decision, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees birthright citizenship. (Incidentally, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole opposes Plyler, whereas Jack Kemp in the past has strongly supported the decision.

However, upon accepting the Republican VP nod, Kemp has now reversed himself.)

“All those who migrate know there’s a risk in coming to the United States,” says Sanchez. “But no one comes for welfare. Everyone comes to work.”

Sanchez has never known any undocumented immigrant who has received any form of government assistance, including emergency services. As a child, Sanchez broke her clavicle. But such was the ethic of her family–of not relying on the taxpayer or the government–that, rather than going to a clinic in the U.S., she was treated in Tijuana, Mexico, 120 miles away.

“We didn’t have insurance. We didn’t have a regular doctor or dentist. We always lived in fear. We never took welfare . . . and we had the need,” she says.

Sanchez says that her family was no different from other families who lived in the shadows. “The vast majority of immigrants are working [two or three jobs] to make ends meet. They know they have no rights, but they pass their dreams on to their children.”

Sanchez is passionate about her beliefs. Engrained in her mind is the idea of finding a job that will allow her to give back to her community, particularly to immigrants. She says that politicians have no idea what damage they do, particularly to children, when they scapegoat Mexicans and Latinos. She says she grew up ashamed of being Mexican until she took a Chicano literature class in high school that “finally opened up my eyes.

That’s why I want to speak with Hillary, because she wrote a book about children.”

Incidentally, upon becoming a citizen, at the behest of immigration officers, Sanchez dropped her last name and is now legally Matilde Gabriela.

She was told by an immigration official that now that she had become a citizen, she was entitled to change her name–without having to pay the customary $300 price tag. She was disturbed by the pressure–it seemed almost a rite of passage–to change her name. “I felt like my umbilical chord was being cut.” In a sense, Gabriela is now a woman without a last name.

What happened to her is a not-so-subtle form of “Americanization”–when, as a result of xenophobic pressures to leave the past behind, Miguel becomes “Mike” and Lorena becomes “Lorraine.” But Gabriela doesn’t feel any more “American.” She always has been so and her indigenous connection to the Americas goes back thousands of years.

Despite politicians falling over each other in their attempts to blame the undocumented immigrant for every one of our problems, Gabriela is living proof that amnesty was a good idea and that perhaps amnesty should once again be extended to another generation. We can guarantee that she will never be on welfare.

It Takes a Pillage

Students at the University of Illinois at Chicago asked us last week who we were going to vote for in the presidential election.

We don’t endorse candidates. We believe that people should start thinking in terms of what’s good for their communities rather than what’s good for a political party.

We are mindful that the American people have traditionally been asked to think about what they can do for their country; but for the rich and powerful, the question has always been, what can their country do for them?

In a nation and culture that celebrates individualism, thinking in terms of communities perhaps sounds heretical. But it isn’t. In the past few years, both political parties have been touting the importance of community.

Starting with Ronald Reagan, and now presidential candidate Bob Dole, the Republican alternative to big government is “volunteerism”–which is the antithesis of individualism. Volunteerism is looking out for our neighbors. In this respect, there’s not much difference between the rhetoric of the Clintons and Reagan/Bush/Gingrich/Dole in the “it takes a village” (snore) debate.

Unfortunately, it has taken a bipartisan pillage of the poor for many people to begin rethinking how we can participate in democracy and the political process.

So excuse us if we turn the question around and ask not which party should we vote for, but rather, what segment of society is looking out for us and our communities?

Given the country’s political climate, some communities are not only neglected by government, but are being intentionally targeted for hostile action. These include the unemployed, the working poor, children, the elderly, communities of color, immigrants and women.

And politicians continue to divide people not solely based on color, language and appearance, but also by ideas. Simply because we disagree, we’re supposed to become enemies.

In the past, we have spoken of “the third option” in politics, which doesn’t necessarily mean a third party, but rather, breaking from the traditional view that politics is a choice between Democrats and Republicans.

One important element of that option is we as citizens not turn to electoral politics or government for our moral compass and not rely on government (a good Republican credo) to solve all of our nation’s problems.

In an era of smaller, or even a hostile, government, it’s important that communities learn to fend for themselves through collective action. This amounts to communities taking care of their own. Former President Jimmy Carter sets a great example with his volunteer home-building project, Habitat for Humanity. Many Asian communities also set examples, such as extending the school week to include Saturdays. Interestingly, Saturday schooling is also part of the ethic of Mexican/Latino culture, except in those communities, it’s called catechism or religious instruction.

At a time when immigrants and bilingual education are under incessant attacks, perhaps the Mexican/Latino communities should also turn to Saturday bilingual schooling–something that in the end will give bilingual students decided advantage in our global marketplace.

For these communities, the choice between voting Republican or voting Democratic has become the choice between a party that is kicking them with the right foot and one that’s kicking them with the left.

These communities are adopting or creating leaders who offer a political ethic that recognizes that their dignity is not for sale, so politicians who simply don a giant sombrero or mention Dr. Martin Luther King at a political rally don’t cut it.

Of course, teaching people not to rely on government is a lesson currently sanctioned by our body politic. What we need to further teach people is not to rely on or look to political parties for moral or political leadership. We can get that instead from our churches, our schools and our elders.

What if instead of volunteering 20 hours a week to elect a candidate, someon volunteered to work with youth, the elderly, the disabled or simply to help his or her neighbors? Actually, that already happens across the country. I just doesn’t make the news like a colorful drive-by shooting.

In Mexican and Central American communities in the United States, many people who come from devastated countries in which they had to be resourceful to survive, employ the indigenous tradition of the “tekia.” It is a system in which members of the community donate one day of labor to help out another member or a communal project. Some also pool their money and send it home to build hospitals, schools, roads and irrigation canals. And they do this without government approval.

That’s a village, and while government should always be held accountable for meeting the needs of its citizens, that’s where our vote goes.

Exposing the Fallacy of the “War on Drugs”

This April, ex-Drug Enforcement Agency agent Celerino Castillo made a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., where he left his boots next to the name of a friend killed in the war. The Pharr, Texas native also left his Bronze Star, which he earned for his covert actions in Southeast Asia in 1972, and a letter to the President:

“Dear President Clinton,

“…In the 1980s, I spent six years in Central America as a Special Agent with the DEA. On January 14, 1986, 1 forewarned, then Vice President George Bush, of the U.S. government involvement in narcotic-trafficking (Oliver North) … but to no avail…

“In display of my disappointment of my government, I am returning my Bronze Star along with my last pair of jungle boots that I used in the jungles of Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and finally Guatemala.”

While stationed in Central America, Castillo exposed the U.S. government’s drug connection. He personally kept records on the planes used in the U. S.-Contra resupply operation at Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador arriving with guns, and departing to tlie United States with coca-irle from Colombia.

“Every single pilot involved in the operation was a documented drug trafficker, who appeared in DEA files,” he says.

Castillo not only turned over his files to his superiors, but also confronted Bush with the information in Guatemala City–several months before American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua, an incident which first exposed the Iran-Contra affair.

Had Castillo testified at the Iran-Contra Hearings, he says North would have gone to jail and both Bush and President Reagan would have been impeached. “But nobody ever subpoenaed me,” he says and he notes that the DEA claimed no files ever existed.

“It was Bush’s operation. In fact, it was impossible for President Reagan not to have known about it,” says Castillo.

In the 1980s, the same allegations of government sanctioned drug-trafficking were continually leveled by wild-eyed “radicals” and Central American peace activists. However, because of his position as special acent, Castillo’s charges cannot easily be dismissed.

Amazingly, the drug operation at Ilopango was not a secret among U.S. and Salvadoran officials, he says. The Salvadoran military was perplexed as to why the drug connection was illegal. They thought it was simply part of the effort to topple the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

When Castillo started with the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1978, he was ready to fight against a scourge that had claimed many of his friends in Southeast Asia, only to find that U.S. intelligence agencies themselves were involved in drug-trafficking and the training of death squads.

Recent expos6s by Congressman Robert Torricelli of the CIA involvement in the deaths of an American and a revolutionary in Guatemala barely scratch the surface. The real tragedy is that for decades, thousands of Guatemalans have disappeared yearly, says Castillo. Torricelli is expected to call for hearings this fall to investigate human rights abuses against U.S. citizens in Guatemala.

“I’m ready to testify, and so are three other agents,” says Castillo, hoping that the role of the intelligence services in the drug trade, death squads and “disappearances” will finally be exposed.

Because Castillo’s findings went unheeded, he recently left the DEA and wrote a book, “Powderburns” (Mosaic Press), which documents his charges.

Castillo says that on the basis of his work, he is convinced that drug money is what finances U.S. covert operations worldwide. He believes that despite the “War on Drugs,” there are more drugs coming into the United States today than 15 years ago and estimates that at least 75 percent of all narcotics enter the country with the acquiescence or direct participation by U.S. and foreign intelligence services. It is they who must be held accountable for the flood of drugs on our streets today, he says.

Similarly, the policy of turning a blind eye to drugs has created narcodemocracies (governments tainted and funded by drug money) in Central and South America. That was the price of the U.S. war against communism, says Castillo.

Today, Castillo spends his time painting. One haunting image is of a Mayan warrior with an American flag in one hand, an M-16 in the other and a DEA helicopter with a skull insignia hovering overhead. The Mayan’s face is that of his friend, a dead DEA agent felled in the drug war in Peru.

The image conjures up his plea to Clinton to not perpetuate this false “war” “Please do not do what Mr. Robert McNamara did regarding the Vietnam War.”

Myth of Voter Apathy Hides Contempt

Political observers are predicting high voter apathy in this year’s presidential elections.

That’s one way to interpret today’s political landscape. But perhaps people are a little smarter than pundits give them credit for. What is possibly taking place is a genuine rejection of the choices being offered up to the electorate.

Suzanne Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, a Washington D.C.-based organization that fights for Native American rights, says that both major parties have taken humans out of the political equation, in favor of big business: “That’s why everyone feels they are not being represented and feel they have no alternatives. It [government] has now become ‘we the corporations’ instead of ‘we the people.'”

This generalized disenchantment may end up benefiting communities that traditionally have been marginalized by the political process, says Lydia Camarillo, executive director of the Southwest Voters Registration and Education Project (SVREP). For instance, people tired of the incessant anti-immigrant hysteria and the anti-civil rights mood of the country may turn out in unprecedented numbers.

In this election there are 1.5 million new Latino voters, many of them new citizens and young adults voting for the first time. This increase is largely due to a 13-month organizing effort by SVREP, the Hispanic Education and Legal Fund (HELF), and the Midwest Voter Registration and Education Project. Camarillo refutes the conventional wisdom that says people have become naturalized citizens out of a fear of losing government benefits under the new welfare and immigration laws. Instead, they have become citizens because they want dignity, respect, and want to be counted.

For example, following California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 that passed in 1994, anti-affirmative action forces have now fomented a vicious anti-civil rights movement in the state, wrapped in an initiative known as Proposition 209. The measure–which has received millions of dollars from the Republican Party and has been enthusiastically endorsed by ex-KKK grand wizard, David Duke, and failed presidential hopefuls, Pat Buchanan and Gov. Pete Wilson–would eliminate affirmative action. By decree, proponents of 209 have determined that institutionalized racism and sexism is merely a vestige of history.

In this battle over Proposition 209, the relationship between people of color and white women is a dynamic worth watching. White women have historically been the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action, yet it is still uncertain how they will vote on this issue.

While those who support affirmative action in California have a negative incentive to come out to vote, in Texas, those who support the consummate little guy–in this case, Victor Morales, who’s running for U.S. Senate–are poised to come out in record numbers to send a message to Washington.

In the Northeast, many of the new Latino voters, who are mostly Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans, are motivated to vote, both to be counted, and because of concerns over police brutality, health and housing issues, says Jaime Estades, executive director of HELF.

As a result of the anti-Latino sentiment in the country, a number of civil rights organizations, including the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have initiated “Latino Election Watch ’96.” It is an effort to monitor polling places, to ensure that Latinos aren’t being discouraged from voting.

Since 1992, anti-immigrant activists have increasingly charged that “illegal aliens” have been registering and voting in U.S. elections. As a result of this hysteria, in past California elections hostile uniformed guards have been stationed at polling places to ensure that no “illegal aliens” are voting.

However, what does even more to discourage people from voting than the intimidating acts of a few wannabe vigilantes at polling places is the hostile atmosphere engendered by national politicians from both parties against Latinos.

The latest salvo has come from Bob Dole who charges that the speeding up of the naturalization process by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (under the Clinton administration) this year, is a Democratic plot to recruit new citizens to vote against Republicans. Citing some misleading statistics he also falsely claims that 10 percent of the new citizens are criminals.

To delay the naturalization process then, we maintain, must be a plot to kee people from voting Democratic.

For the Republican party, it appears as though it is still respectable to be a bigot–as long as you couch your hatred and scapegoating in political term and you’re not wearing your bed sheet over your head in public.

But the Republicans aren’t the only ones whom are giving politics a bad name

Democrats argue that a candidate’s character should not matter in an election. But as Harjo notes: “In human relations, nothing matters more than character.” And character is one thing most politicians lack. We believe that, given a choice between bigotry and heartlessness vs. a man and party without convictions, it is little wonder that many Americans appear to be rejecting both choices.

The only saving grace in this election is that the bigotry may end up backfiring. Those who apparently believe that both the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty have now become obsolete will hopefully find themselves sorely mistaken.

Millenniums and other Beginnings

Thanks to science fiction, we can all imagine how the next millennium will be–subspace communications, warp-speed travel across the universe, and even replicated sushi at the push of a button.

Film maker Jesus Trevino looked at that future, but did not see himself represented in it. Deciding not to accept someone else’s version of the future, he embarked on a near mission impossible to convince Hollywood that the red and brown-skinned people of the Americas do have a place in the next millennium.

As a result of his determination, Indian/mestizo characters can now be found in the new “Star Trek” TV programs, and Trevino himself has directed episode of “Seaquest,” “Babylon 5” and “Space: Above and Beyond.”

After reading “At Century’s End,” a compilation of essays and interviews wit some of the world’s greatest thinkers, we also felt like Trevino. While there is a lot of great thinking in those pages, we did not see ourselves in the future.

Based on the book, apparently there are few women and no mestizos/Indians from the United States doing the thinking.

The end of this century signals the beginning of a new millennium and with i will come a genre of millenarian books. As agents of change, most women an people of color have been written out of the pages of this nation’s history. The few times they appear are generally as victims, villains or as bystanders.

It is no irony that Trevino was also the producer of the recent PBS series “Chicano!” “If we hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t exist in history,” he says. We suspect, that given Trevino’s success, other people of color–thinkers, philosophers, theologians, writers and poets–will not allow themselves to b written out of humanity’s future.

We look at today’s society, as represented by the media, and see a bipolar world–a world in black and white that has never been black and white. We see a world of rich and poor, an age of great information and great ignoranc and a world formerly divided between East and West, now North and South and some say in the future, East and West again.

While poets and philosophers can perhaps imagine the world in the year 3,001 the rest of us can only guess what the advances in technology might be. But what of social relations between men and women and between the races? What of superpowers, borders, majorities and minorities?

An old friend of ours, a Lakota spiritual man, Ernie Longwalker Peters, used to tell us that if you mix the colors red, black, yellow and white–which signify all the peoples of the world–you come up with the color brown–the mestizo.

Theologian Virgil Elizondo, author of “The Future is Mestizo,” believes that in the future, all cultures, peoples, races and even religions will mix and come together as one.

In many ways, the future is already here, in us, in the painful existence of the mestizo–a bridge people who are the sum total of humanity, yet rejected by all. The whole world is already mestizo, but in a society that clings to concepts of racial purity, which historically has been used as the basis fo white supremacy, accepting that fusion will be the challenge of the next millennium.

When we look through less powerful binoculars into the next century, we can see what has become of the former Yugoslavia and the collapse of the former Soviet Union and wonder what it is that holds the United States and the Western world together. If the glue is democracy, equal opportunity and justice for all, how does that explain Los Angeles aflame in 1992?

We’re aware of the demographic trends that indicate a further browning of America and the fear and hate it inspires. We see walled communities, citie and nations and still we hear calls for bigger and higher walls. Meanwhile, our society finds less and less money to assist the poor, while continuing t find more and more money to fatten law enforcement agencies and our armed forces. This is done in the name of protecting the United States from the dark hordes who are blamed for our nation’s problems–the populations that are supposed to remain on the other side of the walls and history.

Perhaps Trevino, the artist, has shown us a way–that we don’t have to accep someone else’s vision of the future. We can foresee the day when mestizo culture becomes the mainstream culture, and the elitists, purists and supremacists become the outcasts.

(Barbed) Wired for Controversy

Symbolic Sculpture by Native American
Rejected by the University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico has rejected a sculpture it had commissioned from a Native American artist because his final product includes barbed wire. The work, “Cultural Crossroads,” by Native American artist Bob Haozous, “is not the work we commissioned,” says Peter Walsh, director of UNM’s Fine Arts Museum. “It is substantially different.” The model that Haozous turned in is different from the final product, says Walsh. And while a number of changes were made from the original model, it is one change in particular that has raised the ire of the university; the razor wire that sits atop the work. The sculpture depicts a migration scene from an old Aztec picture book. Three Indians are shown migrating toward Albuquerque in the United States. According to Haozous, the work depicts a border crossing. “Everything in the work is a symbol, says Haozous, explaining that the full title of the work is called “Cultural Crossroads of the Americas.” The barbed wire, which appears both in his work and along the U.S. Mexico border “is a dehumanizing part of our lives,” says Haozous. The work depicts a border crossing, he says. “It’s tremendous symbolism.” As to why it was not part of the original model, he says: “The work matured in the studio.”

Censorship or Contractual Obligations

At the moment, the university is withholding payment to Haozous and is attempting to get the artist to remove the wire from the work. One of the other alternatives is to remove the sculpture altogether from the university grounds, says Walsh, who insists that the issue is not about censorship. “It depends on your point of view and I admit there are other points of view,” concedes Walsh. If the barbed wire remains, it would be both subverting the process and unfair to the other artists who submitted their works, he says, because they participated in a competitive process. “The piece he delivered may be better than the one he proposed, but we really want that piece [the one approved]. The one he delivered is significantly different,” complains Walsh. The issue, says Walsh is about respecting the integrity of the process. More than 200 people from the public approved the model. “Next time, when we ask people to help us choose, they will wonder: “why should I bother to vote?’ I encourages cynicism.” “We know art is controversial,” says Walsh. “I love his work because it is controversial. The wire gives it a different bite and meaning.” Haozous believes the controversy is not about the process, but rather about the message. What people object to in the work is the fact that it’s not decorative art — not Southwest Indian art that whites have become accustomed to seeing, that they have come to expect from Native American artists, says Haozous. “They don’t want to see the holocaust against brown people, about what they’re doing to them on the border,” accuses Haozous.

Public Discussion Proposed

The commissioned work is actually a joint venture between the city and the university. Jane Sprague, assistant coordinator for the city’s public art program says the city found the work to be acceptable. The city’s art board she says, found the work to be a “social, cultural and political commentary, within the context of what he [Haozous] proposed. It was his type of artwork and the board found it acceptable.” Sprague says there is no precedent for handling such a dispute. The city approves and the university disapproves. She notes that the sculpture is on university property and that UNM has committed more money to the project. The city’s portion is $15,000 and UNM’s is $65,000. Sprague says that the city’s art board believes it is important to have a discussion so that the campus and surrounding community can address the issue. The Native American Kiva club at UNM, the Albuquerque Arts Alliance and the Washington DC-based Morning Star Foundation, a Native American civil rights organization, have suggested having a forum to deal with the issue. Walsh agrees that a forum is appropriate and says that its purpose should no be a referendum, but “as a way to allow different people a chance to talk and listen. To think it over. Maybe it will reveal if something is fundamentally flawed with how we are dealing with each other. It’s a terrible situation.” However, Haozous says he doesn’t know what the purpose of the forum would be To him, the issue is quite simple; creative expression vs. censorship. When dealing with issues such as censorship, there is no place for a compromise, he says.

Putting it to a Vote

Walsh says that as soon as the work was delivered,, members of a joint ad-hoc University of New Mexico Public Arts Committee were upset. A meeting was convened shortly thereafter and the committee voted unanimously to reject the work. Sprague says three other members were not present and have indicated that they would have voted in favor of it. Ted Jojola, professor, school of architecture and planning, a member of the joint committee and former director of Native American studies, says the vote was fraudulent. In a letter to Gordon Church, coordinator of the Albuquerque Public Arts Program, Jojola states: “…It is my conviction that the Committee vote is fraudulent as it was obtained without due process, As a voting member, I had only been notified verbally that a meeting was being convened to discuss the merits of the issue. Because of teaching conflicts I was unable to attend and was consequently requested to communicate my opinion to your office (which I did by telephone on the morning of September 25th). I was not, however, notified that a formal vote would be conducted by the members in attendance nor was I offered a proxy vote in the event of a legitimate conflict. Based on this violation, I am requesting that the Albuquerque Public Arts Program dismiss the Committee’s vote, without prejudice, from its deliberation. Failure to do so may result in litigation, particularly if Mr. Bob Haozous is required to compromise or remove his sculpture…” Jojola says he became aware after writing the letter that the committee he was serving on was merely an advisory committee. Walsh confirms that the committee is advisory and admits that the worst-case scenario is if this dispute ends up in the courts. Jojola says that despite his advisory capacity, he believes the determination of the committee “represents the skewed view of a ‘privileged voice” and isolated minority on campus. “

Jojola further states that the notion of having to get further public input “reminds me of those neo-colonial fascists who made binding treaties with Indians and then reneged in the face of their non-ratification at the Congressional level.” Haozous says: “I gave them the best piece I’ve ever done. They want to hide things in the closet, but compare the borders with Canada and Mexico,” he says. The disparate treatment on the borders shouldn’t be allowed to happen, he says. But it happens because the people coming across the Canadian/U.S. border are white whereas those those coming across the U.S./Mexico border are brown. Walsh says that the other changes are understandable and permissible. One change involves replacing a star with an ‘end of the trail’ cowboy. Also, a horse was replaced by three rings, which Walsh says probably represents the old Mayan ball games. “Those are allowable. However, the wire on top is totally a new element. It goes contrary to the spirit and letter of the contract. It’s not just a legal document. It’s a social contract.” Haozous says he is convinced that the issue has to do with expectation of what is Native American art? “They want art that is quaint,” he says. “I want to make an honest statement.” In the meantime, Haozous says, “Everybody’s talking and I’m hungry.”

Putting the Lie to ‘At Risk’

We’ve all heard the adage that if you expect failure, it will find you. Sometimes as a society, we get hung up on words, and sometimes words or labels become self-fulfilling prophesies. We thought about this recently while discussing what it means to be “at risk.” The topic came up in the context of Philadelphia’s plan to label some police officers as “at risk” of being violence-prone. Somehow, it didn’t seem right. Any officer that is “at risk” of being violent doesn’t belong in uniform. Today, the term is normally applied to youth. We figure that if some people think “at risk” officers don’t belong on police forces, others may think that “at risk” students don’t belong in school or college. Yet nowadays, everyone seems to fit that category. In fact, according to some think tank types, our entire nation is “at risk.” But of course, the question is, at risk of what? The pat answer is gangs, getting pregnant while young and unmarried, getting killed, dropping out of school or going to prison. Failure in general. As a society, we never seem to view these same youngsters as “at risk” of becoming professionals or raising wholesome families. Or, as a friend remarked, “at risk” of being loved or of smiling. A generation ago, as a society, we looked at youths from troubled background and viewed them as having a high potential. There was an expectation that they would, or at least could, succeed. Now, unless there’s intervention, w expect failure. This labeling and expectation begins even before the child has started school.

What accounts for this change in expectation?

Despite the different terminology, the definition of being “at risk” or having “high potential” is the same: anyone who is poor, from a large or a single-parent family, someone who lives in a poor neighborhood, an immigrant a student whose first language is not English, who did not attend preschool, and whose parents did not go to college. That describes virtually every person of color we went to college with. Yet none of us viewed ourselves as potential failures. We all believed we could succeed. And virtually all of us did, partly because we believed that society expected us to fail. One program that exemplified this attitude was the High Potential Program (1969-1971) at UCLA. Roberto Sifuentes, professor at California State University at Northridge and one of the cofounders of the program, says that they recruited and admitted Chicano/Latino and African American students to UCLA from the ranks of ex-prisoners and gang members and those who had dropped out. “A high school diploma was not a requisite. We recruited people who were active in their community and who had the ability to lead.” Sifuentes says that they mentored these students for a year, but the key to their success was believing in them. “We expected them to succeed and they did.” Today, they’re engineers, professors, teachers, social workers and bankers, says Sifuentes, proving that the “regular” admissions criteria of the university served only as a barrier to education. “It takes a lot of intelligence to survive in the streets,” Sifuentes points out. While the UCLA program was unique, similar programs sprouted around the country in the belief that no one was hopeless and everyone could succeed. Sifuentes says he could replicate such a program today. When he hears the term “at risk” applied to students, he says he gets “the feeling that they’re about to fall into an abyss of ignorance. People who call them that don’t understand the reality of human beings. The potential of all human beings is incredible.” Today, we run into youths all over the country whom society has deemed “at risk,” yet we don’t view them as such. We’re thinking of students such as those from Bell Multi-Cultural High School in our nation’s capital. It was they who ran the national office of the recent Latino march on Washington. We see them as individuals with great leadership capabilities. A bureaucrat somewhere probably considers Andrea Serrano, a senior at Valley High School in Albuquerque, N.M., at risk. She doesn’t accept that designation and neither do we. She is a member of the El Puente Raza Youth Leadership Institute at the University of New Mexico, comprised of some of the brightest students in the state. Yet their brightness stems, not from their grades, but their commitment to better their community. Serrano, who plans to be a journalist, says that being labeled “at risk” is like categorizing people as being part of throw away society. Sometimes, youths who are labeled “at risk” start believing it, says Serrano Perhaps it’s time we dropped this view of the world–and the label–lest we come to believe in the hopelessness of society, rather than the infinite potential of all human beings.

Students Play a Major Role at Historic
Latino March in Washington

College and university students were not only a major force at the first ever national civil and human rights march & rally to concentrate on Latino issues. The two-day event, which included a march and a student conference, was held in Washington DC, earlier this month. Leticia Villareal, a student at Vassar and the administrative chair of East Coast Chicano Student Forum said: “Latinos were finally given a voice that was heard on the front pages of the Washington Post. I had a lot of pride in seeing a lot of brown people around me, marching for justice. It was incredible.” The October 12 rally brought Latinos from across the country to essentially protest the anti-immigrant legislation and sentiment sweeping the country. According to most observers, at least half of the tens of thousands of protestors were students. Although they mostly came from California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and New York, virtually every state of the union was represented. In fact, the travel aspect of the event was all the more significant because Washington is so far from where the majority of the nation’s Latino population live. Census data shows that most of the nation’s 30 million Latinos live in the southwestern states of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. As the three-mile march snaked through Washington’s Latino barrio, one could see the surge in pride in the eyes of its residents. One could also sense that no longer would Latinos, locally or nationally remain in silent about the anti-immigrant sentiment they face and no longer would they consider this nation’s capital as alien country. The event was sponsored by Coordinadora ’96, which presented a seven-point platform to address concerns of the nation’s Latino population. The platform included:

* Amnesty for undocumented immigrants who entered before 1992 and the speeding up of the naturalization process

* Enforcement of labor laws and a $7 minimum wage

* Establishment of Civilian Police Review Boards

* Health care for all

* Quality education for all

* Equal opportunity for all and support for affirmative action

* Human and Constitutional Rights For All

Against all odds and lacking a tradition of national marches in the nation’s capital, Coordinadora ’96 — made up of human, civil and immigration rights organizations — organized the march without the support of most major national Latino civil rights organizations. In fact, despite a unanimous, but late endorsement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, only four Congressional representatives spoke at the event. The four Congressional representatives who spoke were; Rep. and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Ed Pastor (D-Arizona), Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-NY), Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois).

Prayer and Pilmigrage

While the march was billed as a Latino and immigrant event, it was more than that. It was a day which celebrated the fruits and labor of those men and women who pick the crops, place food on our tables, clean the offices, ten to other people’s children and who literally help sustain our nation’s infrastructure and economy. Most people also saw it as a prayer and pilgrimage. Itzel Andrea Salazar, one of the coordinators of the ECCSF conference held at Georgetown in Washington DC, summed up the march this way: “It was march of solidarity and reaffirmation. It was spiritual and it touched peoples hearts. It has inspired me to go forward.” The day began with a prayer in front of the Benito Juarez statue. Benito Juarez is the only full-blooded Indian (Native American) president in the history of Mexico (or any other government. The prayer, which was held at daybreak and began with the beat of the sacred drum, served as a reminder that it is not Latinos — most of whom who can trace their Native American ancestry thousands of years to this continent — who are this nation’s real immigrants. During the prayer, Nathan Phillips of the Omaha nation, noted with irony that it is those of European extraction who are questioning the loudest the right of those who are anciently connected to this continent, toshare in the bounty of their own ancestral lands. While marchers and the students at the ECCSF conference took Phillip’s message to heart, the major media did not report that message. Instead, they focused simply on the immigration debate and its attendant legislation. The media concerned itself with numbers, polls and generally missed the “soul” of the march. The sea of mostly brown faces waved flags from all of the Americas. Very prominent were student banners from organizations such as the Mexican Students of Aztlan from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA) from universities across the country. The one which seemed to encapsulate thier spirit most was the which read: “W didn’t cross the borders. The borders crossed us.” “As I was walking to the park, there was this nervous excitement, seeing flags from all over the world, said Villareal.

Too Many Answer Conference Call

Almost one thousand students attended the conference sponsored by ECCSF, an Eaast Coast organization of close to 30 East Coast colleges and universitiest. However, because of limited facilities, the conference received, but had to turn away many students from across the country who also wanted to participate in its conference. As Frank Arrellanno, president of Georgetown MEChA noted: “For every one of us here, fifty of us couldn’t make it. Our objective now is to channel it [energy] to our communities and to the country.” The purpose of the conference, titled “Proactive Latino Leadership for the 21st Century,” was to go beyond the anger and analyze problems that afflict the Latino community and to focus on solutions. In an analysis of the march at the ECCSF conference, students attributed the lack of support from the national organizations and the politicians to a generation gap. Some found it bothersome that other Congressional representatives did not speak, particularly those from California. While some said that the politicians were campaigning for reelection, most found that inexcusable, saying that it simply appeared that they did not want to be associated with “illegal aliens” and that some didn’t want to damage the president’s chances at reelection by being closely associated with the issue.

Additionally, many of the students felt there were a number of shortcomings. While viewing the march as inspirational, Adriana Cadena, a senior at Georgetown said: “As happens in Latino culture, women’s issues were marginalized. Women’s issues are seen as private, not public. I would have also have liked to have seen more emphasis on student/youth issues.” Participants also engaged in discussions of recent anti-immigrant legislation which has gone beyond targeting undocumented immigrant and now affects permanent residents. The recent welfare bill prohibits permanent residents from receiving welfare. Recent proposals have also called for overturning the 14th Amendment — which guarantees birthright citizenship. Another discussion was held regarding the recent Hopwood decision involving the UT law school and “reverse discrimination.” JT Gonzales & Robert Garza of UT Austin stated that the notion of “reverse discrimination” is completely false and maintain that UT has always been segregated and continues to be segregated today. They noted that the court decision did not call for an end to alumni preference admissions. “People are frustrated because it’s a white defense team that’s defending the University,” said Garza, who does not believe they represent the interests of people of color. Gonzales & Garza says they are bothered by the fact that Hopwood is discusse in black and white terms when it also affects Asians and Native Americans, especially in a state in which Mexican Americans are the predominant “minority.” They say Hopwood has caused genuine fear and has united student of color like no other issue before. Terms such as pride, rebirth, renaissance, passion, love and unity were used to describe the way they felt about the two-day event. Veronica Narvaez, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison summed it up: “By this, some people’s dreams were fulfilled — and other people’s nightmares.”

Defying the Census

For the year 2000 Census, here’s a potentially radical idea: U.S. residents of Mexican or Central American-origin, as well as most other Latinos should declare themselves “Native American” on the Census questionnaire.

The way it is now, most Latinos are virtually obliged to put themselves in the “white” racial category, even though they are the descendants of indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years.

In Mexico and Central America, the people there do not consider themselves white, but rather indigenous-based “mestizos,” or simply indigenous. In fact, most Latinos are a mixture of Indian, African and European lineage. Only a minute percentage–primarily the ruling elites–are considered white (or Spanish).

Stanford anthropologist Renato Rosaldo says that mestizos, because of their red-brown skin, are treated as “Indian” by our racialized society once they cross into the United States. The discrimination they are confronted with stirs within mestizos or Hispanicized Indians a newfound awareness of their Indian heritage that many had long ago discarded in their homelands.

Incidentally, virtually all Americans are of mixed ancestry, yet the bureau has traditionally opted for “one-drop” rules which result in “pure” categories.

The Census Bureau has long known that for racial purposes, its forms produce completely flawed results when tallying Latinos in the United States, but it has failed to act. So we have decided to do its work for it. After all, the Census Bureau should not be in the business of determining people’s identities. As it well knows, its categories are not biological or scientific, but political.

When Census bureaucrats imposed the term “Hispanic” as an ethnic (not racial category in the 1970s, they stated that “Hispanics may be of any race.” Yet when compiling statistics, the Census has tended to count the vast majority of Latinos into the “white” category, and only a few into the “black” category.

This practice belies reality and reveals either ineptitude, or shame, on the part of the Latino bureaucrats who have historically advised the Census. Nearly half of Latinos traditionally select the “other” race category. However, because the bureau believes they are confused (98 percent of all those who chose “other” in the 1990 Census were Latinos), it has traditionally counted most Latino “others” as white by default. Lacking viable options, in the 1990 Census, about half of the Latino population selected the “white” category.

Many Latinos check the “white” category because the bureau does not offer a mestizo (or mulatto) option, or because they have been told that they can not designate themselves as Native Americans.

If, for example, Rigoberta Menchu, the 1992 Nobel Prize winner from Guatemala, were to move to the United States, according to the bureau, she should not check off the “Native American” box on the questionnaire. Only members of U.S. federally registered tribes are supposed to exercise this option, even though the majority of Native Americans originate south of the U.S./Mexico border.

Additionally, the historical anti-Mexican/Indian attitudes of this society have convinced many people–particularly Mexicans themselves–that there’s something wrong with being Mexican, thus many identify as white.

Today, Mexicans/Latinos are generally no longer ashamed of their ancestry. Yet we are still waiting for institutional recognition from the Census Bureau that it is OK for Latinos to acknowledge their indigenous roots.

Perhaps its bureaucrats incorrectly believe that “Native Americans” are a race of people particular to the United States. Consequently, the Census confuses nationality with race.

The option we suggest doesn’t require government approval, nor does it require a 10-year study by government Hispanics. All it requires is for Mexicans/Latinos to check the “Native American” box and do it proudly. Many have long personally identified themselves in this manner already.

If the bureau respects self-identity as it says it does, this simple act should not confound it.

As for those who might oppose this idea because it might cause a decrease in the number of people who choose the ethnic category of “Hispanic,” the fears are groundless. One is a racial category and the other is an ethnic one. This fear is predicated on the idea that less “Hispanics” means less federa dollars and that there is a connection between an accurate census count and the proper enforcement of civil rights laws. This fear reveals an entitlement mentality and also a naivete in believing that civil rights laws are enforced as a result of census counts rather than political pressure.

For those who might be concerned that this group may then qualify for benefits not entitled to them–not to worry. It wouldn’t entitle them to anything that is due members of U.S. federally recognized tribes–other than dignity.

Chile’s Democracy in Question as
It Contemplates Joining NAFTA

President Clinton has recently indicated that Chile’s entry into NAFTA is a top priority for his administration and he is seeking speedy congressional approval for its inclusion into the trade pact. Chile, which is still subject to the whims of its ex-dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, would become the fourth member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, joining Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Not waiting for the formalities of NAFTA, Canada and Chile already signed a free trade agreement last month.

Chile may be but the first country to join what may become a hemispheric trading bloc involving all the countries of the Americas. Proponents of this plan even envision Cuba joining this bloc, post-Castro and post-communism.

The prerequisites for joining the exclusive NAFTA club is a democratic form of government and a healthy economy. As far as the United States is concerned, a country is deemed to be democratic if it has held free elections.

Chile unquestionably has a healthy economy, but many of its citizens, despite its “free and fair” elections, question the democracy of its form of government.

The democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was deposed in 197 by the CIA-backed forces of Pinochet. The ruthless dictator oversaw a military junta responsible for the death and disappearances of thousands of civilians.

Pinochet formally relinquished power in 1990 as a result of a plebiscite in which the citizens of Chile cast a vote of no-confidence. Despite the vote, Pinochet remains “commander of the army for life.” A 1978 amnesty law, which pardoned anyone (read, members of the military) involved in the excesses of the time, has made today’s fragile democracy possible.

Despite a democratically elected president, Eduardo Frei, many consider Pinochet–generalissimo for life–the true power in Chile.

In the past few months, the ongoing press censorship and the detention of those who have criticized Pinochet have caused a nationwide uproar. Most recently, Gladys Marin, the widow of one of the “disappeared,” was jailed for three days. Her crime was speaking at a rally commemorating Chile’s “disappeared citizens.” At the rally, she denounced Pinochet as a blackmailer and a psychopath. The former dictator had Marin arrested for violating the nation’s censorship laws, alleging that she had libeled him.

There is good reason why Pinochet engineered his new lifetime position. If he were to be removed from his post–assuming the armed forces would support President Frei–Pinochet probably would face charges as a war criminal. Eve if he did not face charges, chances are likely that he could meet the same fate as his comrade, the late General Anastasio Somoza. The Nicaraguan dictator was gunned down in Paraguay in the 1980s, where he fled after he had been deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979.

Pinochet still has lots of enemies, particularly family members of those who were “disappeared,” including many guerrillas. Yet the truth is, most of the victims were not guerrillas, but simply oppositional voices.

Today, oppositional voices are not disappearing, but are subject to censorship. As novelist Isabel Allende, niece of the former president, recently stated, freedom of expression does not exist in Chile.

That lack of freedom is well known to the Clinton administration, but it will not deter the United States from allowing Chile into the NAFTA club. Human rights abuses in China have never deterred our country from awarding it “most favored nation” trade status.

That’s the nature of free trade–the objective is to increase markets and profit, without concern for human rights. Mexico’s mass violation of human rights of its indigenous populations did not prevent Mexico from joining NAFTA either.

It’s been almost three years since NAFTA went into effect and the Zapatistas rose up in defiance. Today, at best, NAFTA gets questionable marks for its economic results. As we all know, Mexico’s economy has been in shambles eve since it devaluated the peso three years ago. On the human rights front, the military campaign by the Mexican Army in Chiapas has led to charges of widespread abuses–by both the armed forces and right-wing land owners and their hired thugs.

Interestingly, law enforcement agencies within the United States, too, have been accused by international human rights organizations of participating in a continual mass violation of human rights–police brutality against its black and brown populations.

But it’s not likely that Chile will hold that against the United States–especially if the less than exemplar Pinochet is still somewhere lurking in the shadows.

Students Vow to Oppose Proposition 209

The weekend after the presidential elections, approximately 1600 Chicano/Chicana students met at California State University at Northridge fo the regularly scheduled fall statewide MEChA conference. But what began as conference turned into a huge protest and rally against the recently passed Proposition 209, otherwise known as the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI).

Students at the MEChA or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) conference resolved to counter CCRI — which outlaws the use of race, ethnicity or gender in state hiring, contracting college admissions via an online school — through a campaign of resistance and organized civil disobedience.

While the conference dealt with many issues relevant to the Mexican/Chicano community, the freshness of the election served to focus the attention of th students on Proposition 209.

On the other hand, the California State University system, on the other hand has decided on a course of generally continuing to operate in the same manne until told to do otherwise by the courts. The University of California announced earlier in the week that it has decided to comply with Proposition 209.

As expected, a number of groups have already challenged the legality of the proposition in court. Both proponents and opponents of Proposition 209 expec that similar to Proposition 187 — which restricts services to immigrants — CCRI will be tied up in the courts for several years.

Prior to the MEChA conference, students at UC Berkeley had already staged a rally and protest, including 28 students taking over the tower on campus, i response to actions by the University of California. In a Nov. 6 memo sent out by the UC system, UC President Richard Atkinson stated: “We are well along in this process as a result of the Regents action last year eliminatin race, gender, and ethnicity as factors in admission, hiring, and contracting.”

In an accompanying letter from the University of California system, C. Judso King, UC provost and senior vice president of academic affairs sent out guidelines which generally state that “No further action need be taken.”

In reference to hiring and contracting programs, he states: “Since Regent’s resolution SP-2 went into effect on Jan. 1, 1998, and contains the same prohibitions regarding preferences as does Proposition 209, there is no need to take further action in these areas at this time.” In reference to graduat and professional admissions, King states that that UC is already in compliance with 209. However, for undergraduate admissions, the same prohibitions were to go into effect in 1998, but as a result of 209, said King: “effective immediately, campuses may no longer use race, ethnicity or national origin as one of the supplemental criteria used to select admitted students from the pool of eligible students.”

Additionally, unless directed by the courts to do otherwise, state financial aid on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender will be eliminated for 1998. Other programs will be reviewed by the UC Outreach Task Force, which is scheduled to make recommendations in February.

Jennie Luna, co-chair of UC Berkeley MEChA and one of the students arrested said that students from throughout the UC are especially upset that the Regents are complying even prior to a court order.

Prior to the passage of 209, “students were actually unaware of the severity of the issue, of the repercussions,” said Luna. Aside from recruitment, financial aid and retention programs, one of the other big fears is that the university may move to eliminate ethnic studies. “Anything that is ethnic-based will be against the law. For the next few weeks, you will see lots of civil disobedience,” she predicted.

Jesus Mena, public information officer for UC Berkeley said that fears regarding the elimination of ethnic studies or women studies centers are unwarranted. “There should be no impact,” he said. The university is still studying its options regarding Proposition 209, but in reference to ethnic studies centers, they are protected under academic freedom and the First Amendment he said. As long as they are open to all students, which they are, he said, they will not be affected.

Regarding the MEChA conference, Feliberto Gonzalez, chairman of CSUN MEChA says that “students came looking for answers — as to what do we do now?” He too predicts a series of statewide protests in the coming weeks.

“The David Dukes of the world have now taken off their “mascaras” (masks),” he said, adding that rather than chaos, the protests will be well organized.

Whereas some might expect people of color to be down as a result of the passage of Proposition 187 and now Proposition 209, Gonzalez said that it ha actually served to unite and reinvigorate students. The conference attracted more than 50 college chapters and several high school MEChA chapters. MEChA, he said is also preparing itself for non-recognition. In fact, he said he welcomes it. MEChA should not be in the position of seeking approval to exist or function, he said.

Gonzalez said that MEChA is prepared to wage a long struggle to counter Propositions 187 and 209. “We know this struggle will not be won in a couple of months.” He predicts that the next MEChA statewide conference this spring in Santa Barbara will be a crossroads.

Rudy Acuna, one of the co-founders of Chicano Studies at CSUN said that he saw the conference as very positive in terms of how students are responding. “Students feel the pressure. They’re under attack.”

In addition to the generalized polarization and racism that is part of California politics, Acuna said that certain hate groups have focused their attacks against MEChA. One such group, he noted, is the San Fernando-based Voices for Concerned Citizens. “They’s out to destroy MEChA, he says, noting that they have placed full page ads in local newspapers against the organization and are stalking its leaders.

Acuna’s assessment of Proposition 209 is that “it is disastrous.” It is an attempt to push people of color out of the educational system, he said.

He said that Spanish-language press had not been as vocal as they had been i the campaign against Proposition 187. Additionally, he said white women overwhelmingly voted in the interests of their husbands. “Many are racists and they overrode their own interests. However, he said, “If [many] white women hadn’t voted against proposition 209, it would passed 80 percent to 20 percent instead of 59 percent,” he said.

Rocky Ortiz, director of the National Xicano Human Rights Council and one of the keynote speakers reiterated that the passage of 209 is a blessing in disguise. “It’s a kick in the rear.” She noted that the current form of affirmative action is not what’s needed. People of color have always had their own affirmative action, she said. “It’s called decolonization.”

Meanwhile, in response to the passage of Proposition 209, Tirso de Junco, chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of California reassured the university community that: “With the passage of Proposition 209, the citizens of California have affirmed the Board of Regent’s July 1995 decision.”

“When the Regents made their decision over a year ago, they underscored thei strong and enduring commitment t diversity.”

Del Junco further stated that “My colleagues and I on the Board of Regents are convinced that we can create a future for California in which all of our students are given the educational opportunity and preparation they must hav to succeed. We will work with President Atkinson, the Chancellors, and everyone who cares about education in our state to see that this future arrives as soon as possible.”

A Woman Warrior Recalls the Birth of a Movement

One of Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez’s earliest memories is of boarding a bus with her father in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and being told by the driver to sit in the back of the bus.

For Martinez, who is of Oaxacan ancestry, that experience left an indelible memory. Although only 6 years old, she remembers, “I knew something was wrong.”

As a result of her early awareness of racial inequality she forged a close bond, later in life, with the African American civil rights movement. Later as a writer and teacher and the author of “500 Years of Chicano History,” she became an important voice in the Chicano movement and an important link between both struggles.

In the 1950s, while working as a researcher for the United Nations, she was inspired by the great social movements for justice around the world.

Then in 1963, when four little girls were killed by a Klan bomb in Birmingham, Alabama, Martinez felt another deep emotional surge. “I was enraged.” From 1960 until that moment, she had been collaborating with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the principal groups involved in sit-ins at lunch counters and voter education in efforts to desegregate the South. Now she joined the organization as a full-time staff member.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, shortly after the bodies of three murdered civil rights workers were found in a dam, Martinez recalls driving through the Mississippi Delta at twilight, thinking that the place was “stained with so much blood of so many black people who just tried to register people to vote.”

It was a time when fear begat fearlessness in people like Martinez, when civil rights workers witnessed the burial of many freedom fighters.

After that intense summer, Martinez became the director of the New York office of SNCC. She and fellow civil rights activist, Maria Varela, were the only Chicanas in a black movement with many white supporters. Martinez’s main role at this time was to raise funds and to alert the media whenever people were arrested or jailed, reasoning that press coverage “might keep someone alive.”

In 1965, Cesar and Helen Chavez and Dolores Huerta led an historic march of thousands of farmworkers from Delano to Sacramento, Calif. SNCC sent Martinez, who had been weaned on her father’s stories about having seen Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican Revolution, to deliver a speech in solidarity with the United Farm Workers of America. For someone raised on the East Coast, she remembers how invigorating it was to be entirely among people who shared her own roots.

In 1966, aware of the uneasy race relations within the civil rights movement she wrote an article titled “Neither Black or White.” Even back then, she identified a problem that Latinos today still observe: when it comes to the national discourse regarding racial issues in the United States, Latinos don’t matter.

In 1968, she moved to Albuquerque to connect with the Chicano movement, specifically to support the land struggle of the Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres (National Alliance of free Pueblos) in New Mexico. There, Martinez’s mission was to help found the newspaper, “El Grito del Norte (The Cry of the North).” “I went for two weeks,” she says, “and I stayed for eight years.” El Grito went on to become one of the principal voices of the Chicano movement.

Before Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination in 1968, the farmworker’s movement had also won the support of King. “The Chicano movement was indigenous to the Southwest [and Midwest], but it was definitely stimulated by the black civil rights movement,” says Martinez.

In 1973, Martinez, along with many Chicano supporters, went to the siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in support of the American Indian Movement. Dozens of AIM activists, along with local Oglala Sioux people, took over some buildings in the Pine Ridge reservation town, to draw attention to Indian grievances. During the siege, hundreds of federal agents, using military equipment, surrounded the protesters and the two sides exchanged gunfire.

Unlike the original siege of Wounded Knee in 1890, which resulted in the massacre of hundreds of Indians, the modern military siege ended peaceably. However, federal agents harassed AIM activists for many years to follow.

These movements were happening during a time when people’s movements around the world were forcing dictators from power. “It was inspiring,” says Martinez. But eventually, all the major protest movements were debilitated if not destroyed–some because of internal strife–but principally because of government infiltration.

In April, PBS will air a new documentary, “Chicano!” which focuses on the Chicano movement from 1965-1975. Martinez, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, says that, unlike many, she does not believe that the movement died. The recent struggle against California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and the current fight to defend affirmative action prove that.

Martinez, along with author Elena Featherston, is currently on a national “Black & Brown-Get Down” speaking tour. Their message, she says, is “building black/brown alliances in an age of divide and conquer.”

The message isn’t just for African Americans and Latinos, says Martinez, but for everyone. One of the main lessons she has learned in life since that early bus ride is that you can’t fight racism alone.

Eloy Rodriguez
Eloy Rodriguez & Helena Maria Viramontes

Helena Maria Viramontes

Husband and Wife Team Heal the Spirit

Government got you down? Frustrated with immoral, hypocritical politicians who preach family values? Tired of the inanities of hate radio? You’re not alone.

Enter Eloy Rodriguez and Helena Maria Viramontes, professors at Cornell University. They are medicine people–healers of the body and the soul–and they consider themselves warriors for their “community called the universe.” They are a husband-wife team who are endowed with intelligence, moral conviction and most of all, vision.

Rodriguez is one of the nation’s premier scientists and Viramontes is a rising new star in the world of literature. Rodriguez comes from an extended family in which 64 of 67 cousins in Hidalgo County, South Texas, obtained college degrees; Viramontes, from East L.A., comes from a family of farmworkers.

They travel extensively and sometimes speak to audiences jointly about their work. Though they live in the virtually opposite worlds of science and literature, they feel that, through their work, they contribute greatly to the well-being of not only the Chicano/Latino community, but to the rest of the world.

Viramontes, the author of “The Moths and other Stories,” and “Under the Feet of Jesus,” recently won the prestigious Dos Pasos Award–a prize for authors who write political literature.

She views herself as a working-class writer who tells stories about farmworkers and urban life in America. She writes about “the voices that no one else hears” and speaks of an indigenous spirit among Chicanos/Latinos that has not been killed in the more than 500 years since the European conquest of the Americas.

Viramontes’ work–which stresses compassion–has roots in her own childhood. Growing up in a large family teaches you patience, how to share and to be compassionate, she says. Currently she is working on a novel, “Their Dogs Came With Them,” about the brutality of the Spanish conquest of the Americas

For Viramontes, her literature is an extension of her politics. Both she an Rodriguez are from the generation of Mexican Americans who were an integral part of the Chicano political movement–who rebelled against their “assigned subservient status in society. They think in terms of community rather than in terms of self. “I didn’t pull myself up by the bootstraps,” Rodriguez says. “I had a lot of help from my family.”

“True family values” as they define them–of people supporting each other–is what has sustained them since they moved from Southern California to Ithaca, N.Y., and they stay in touch with their extended families. Viramontes learned the meaning of family from her mother and four aunts who live on the same half block in East L.A. “It is they who taught me the critical importance of a family and children,” she says.

Rodriguez, who specializes in environmental biology, is one of the few living scientists in the world to have created an entire new scientific discipline: Zoopharmacognosy–the study of self-medication by animals. He developed it while doing work on his larger research interest: why “yerbas,” or medicinal herbs, work.

Rodriguez notes that there are plants in the American Southwestern desert that contain at least 1,000 potential drugs, which he calls “plants of the gods.” “Yerbas do work,” he says, adding that there are new discoveries on the horizon, he says. “It’s like being at the opening of the cosmos.”

Rodriguez’s work often takes him to the Amazon–where he coincidentally work with a tribe whose members call themselves “Chicanos.” There, he is working to save from extinction the medicinal knowledge of the people of the jungle. By extension, because many cannot afford synthetic drugs, he is also working to save the people from cultural and physical extinction. He is doing this by encouraging them to plant agro-medicinal plants in their gardens so they can treat themselves. He also wants to help them market their own natural medicines.

His work also takes him to Uganda–a nation with the highest rate of AIDS in the world–in search of plants that are used by the local medicine people in the treatment of the immune disorder.

And he continues to work with Kids Investigating and Discovering Science, which he helped found at the University of California at Irvine. In this program, elementary school students–many of whom come from impoverished homes–are fitted with white laboratory coats and sent out to conduct fieldwork.

“The students believe they’re scientists,” Rodriguez, says. And as they engage in inquiry, and critical thinking, they are participating in the scientific process. Given the right support from teachers, children will gain the confidence to believe that they can do anything they want, he says.

As a senior professor at Cornell, Rodriguez has set out to recruit Chicano/Latino graduate students–whom he takes with him abroad–and produce top-notch scientists.

Viramontes and Rodriguez recently participated in a sacred Native American ceremony for several children, including their own, Pilar and Eloy, in preparation for their first day of school. They say it is an experience they will not soon forget. While they seek to heal the world–each in their own way–they feel their children are their most important contribution to humanity:

“We consider our work an offering to our children,” says Viramontes.

Puerto Rican Young Lords Now Older and Wiser

Robert McNamara fessed up about his actual views on the Vietnam War after a generation of silence. Recently, we have heard charges that our government was complicit in the drug trade. In a similar vein, perhaps we can expect revelations in the near future about law enforcement’s efforts to destroy our nation’s civil rights movement.

We bring this up because next week, on Oct. 18, PBS will air a special presentation of “Palante Siempre Palante! (Forward, Always Forward) The Youn Lords,” a documentary about the rise and fall of the New York branch of the Puerto Rican civil rights organization, from 1970-76. “P’alante” is taken from the name of the group’s bilingual newspaper.

Unlike the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords were not decimated by governmental violence; instead, law enforcement agencies destabilized the organization by exploiting pre-existing rivalries and fomenting factionalism within it.

Filmmaker Iris Morales herself was the minister of information for the Young Lords. She says young Puerto Rican activists in New York first became aware of the Chicago-based group from reading one of the Black Panthers Party’s publications. After journeying to Chicago and meeting with members of the Young Lords, the New York activists returned home inspired and created a local branch.

In their heyday, the Young Lords were militant, but not violent nor extremist. (For that matter, and generally, neither were the Black Panthers For the most part, it was law enforcement agencies who unleashed violence against the Panthers.) The Young Lords concentrated on meeting the daily needs of residents of New York’s barrios. They fought for education rights, created breakfast programs and forced the city to deal with the drug and health problems of barrio residents, insisting, for example, on a ban agains lead-based paints in city apartments.

In fighting for their demands, the Young Lords often resorted to dramatic action, such as commandeering a city medical truck to perform neighborhood tuberculosis tests, or putting trash in the middle of the street when the sanitation department refused to collect it. For several weeks, they also took over a church to a create a day care center and took over Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx to dramatize the community’s health needs, creating a drug detox program there. That move highlighted the fact that there were only a handful of detox clinics in New York at that time.

Richie Perez, currently the national coordinator of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, was also a Young Lord. He says that one of the roles of the organization was to document complaints by barrio residents, which were primarily about police brutality.

Morales had trouble securing funding for the documentary because she was told by various people that it would not be objective. That, however, was never her goal. “We weren’t interested in making an objective documentary,” she says. “We wanted to tell a story from the point of view of the participants of that history.”

Today, Morales is an educator and lawyer and director of education at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Other former Young Lords who have gone on to other roles include Juan Gonzalez, a newspaper columnist for the New York Daily News, television reporter Pablo Guzman and union organizer Minerva Sola.

Morales notes that factionalism crippled the organization and finally led to its demise. In its last year, the party changed its name and shortly thereafter, the organization closed its offices in New York and opened up a new headquarters in Puerto Rico, where it was not widely accepted.

Perez says that by the time the organization moved to Puerto Rico, it had become dogmatic, isolated from the community, and irrelevant. As a result of heavy destabilization efforts by police agencies, the organization turned on itself. Perez went into hiding after being kidnapped by some of his trusted comrades. The Young Lords were targeted, says Perez, because they were identified as part of Puerto Rico’s independence movement.

Despite this, Perez, Morales and other former Young Lords remain active, minus the berets, in the struggles for human rights. They are currently fighting against the proposal to bring the U.S. Border Patrol in to New York’s barrios.

Today, Perez is recognized as one of the nation’s leading activists against police brutality, which in the 1970s, was a common means by which to politically subjugate people, he says. Now, because of the de-industrialization and loss of jobs in the Northeast, “the labor of people of color is less necessary to the economy than ever before.” As a result, people who are not an integral part of the economy form an unwanted class–a class of people who are treated as disposable and in effect, less than human says Perez.

As an example, he points to the recent acquittal of officer Francis Livoti in the death of Anthony Baez, who died at the hands of a number of officers after the football Baez was playing with struck a NYPD squad car. Reflecting over the lessons he learned as a Young Lord, Perez says, “we were disconnected from the generation before us.”

Instead of learning from the past, each new generation ends up reinventing their struggle, making basic mistakes repeatedly, says Perez. If the Young Lords had been connected to the Puerto Rican independence fighters of the 1950s and 1960s, he says, they wouldn’t have had to start organizing their campaigns from scratch–they probably would have survived and not been prone to internal warfare.

“Someone should have been giving us lessons from the past.”

March on Washington: A Prayer In Motion

WASHINGTON, D.C.–At sunrise on the 12th of October, the beat of the sacred drum in front of the statue of Benito Juarez sounded a new and historic day, a day in which the people of the Americas walked together historically in their first ever civil and human rights march and rally to the nation’s capital.

While it was billed as a Latino and immigrant event, it was more than that; it was a prayer and pilgrimage of relatives from all directions. It was a day which celebrated the fruits and labor of those men and women who pick the crops, place food on our tables, clean the offices, tend to other people’s children and who literally help sustain our nation’s infrastructure and economy.

Our society calls them immigrants. Yet, the sea of mostly brown, indigenous faces came bearing flags of all of the Americas–including the flag of the United States.

In the sacred pipe ceremony, Nathan Phillips, warrior of the Omaha nation, sent a message in four directions–to California Gov. Pete Wilson and fellow anti-immigrationist, Pat Buchanan, as well as to Bob Dole and to Bill Clinton–that despite what the current political rhetoric would have us believe, the people of the Americas are native, not immigrants. They are living in their ancestral lands, and they are not the ones who created our nation’s borders.

It is appropriate that a Native American spoke those words. He spoke of the irony that it is the people of European extraction who question the loudest the right of those who are clearly of this continent to remain in these lands.

Phillips’ message and the symbolism of the drum were not mentioned in the national media. Instead, the media simply reported the surface-level story of the immigration debate. Yet the beat of the drum was heard loudly and clearly, resonating among the marchers and throughout the Americas. Deep down, every U.S. citizen who truly understands history knows that Latinos are not foreigners. Most can trace their ancestry on this continent back for thousands of years.

That was the message of the thousands of feet that walked through the street of the nation’s capital–streets that Latinos have rarely ever claimed as their own. In this way, the march was like many indigenous marches in Mexico, Central and South America in which communities send their envoys and elders. With their feet they march for many.

But the media didn’t see that. It did not report on the thousands of people who lent their support; so it didn’t see the amazing efforts by mostly small organizations, unions or families and communities who chipped in to send representatives. It did not report the stories of high school and college students who organized buses and plane trips of thousands of miles. It also did not speak of the exiles from the war-torn countries of Central America who joined the march and who now call this land their home.

On this day, people voted with their feet. At its peak, the march was estimated to have snaked for three miles, over two hills. As the marchers walked through Washington’s Latino and Central American barrio, you could see the surge in pride in the eyes of its residents. No longer would Latinos, locally or nationally, remain silent, and no longer would they see the capital as foreign soil.

The speakers, as expected, delivered denunciations of anti-immigrant legislation and the war against Latinos. Yet the real message did not come from the stage or those with the microphone. The message came from the marchers.

As the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez used to say, a march is a prayer in motion, one in which families can participate. He believed that a people in march can appeal to the conscience of the nation.

Without question, people were defiant, yet, they were dignified. If anything, the mood was jubilant, the crowd teeming with youthful energy. In the eyes and faces of the younger marchers, you could see the sweat and blood of their parents–of the sacrifices they made to come to this country. But we also saw something else; this generation of youths is not content with doing the jobs nobody else wants and they will not allow anyone, particularly President Clinton or Bob Dole, to ride the road to the White House on the backs or hunger of immigrant children. For many of the younger people, this was their day of liberation.

Yet nothing captured the sentiment of the march more than the words of Father Ribero, who delivered the invocation at Georgetown’s East Coast Chicano Student Forum conference the following day. He lauded the students for “having the courage to speak the truth–in love.”

At the end of the day, as a Georgetown student, Itzel Salazar, remarked: “It was a march of solidarity and reaffirmation. It was spiritual and it touched people’s hearts.”

Documenting the Oct 12 March

It’s been said that you don’t ever want to see how chorizo or legislation are made. Perhaps we can add marches to that list.

We’ve been documenting the march since its inception and as most people probably know, some things went wrong, some things happened that shouldn’t have happened along the way… but in the end, a historic process unfolded.

The Coordinadora ’96 is taking suggestions and critique. Ourselves, as journalists/columnists, we continue to document the historic event. Anyone who has a thought on the march — whether you attended or not — please feel welcome to send us your thoughts (electronically or by regular mail). In fact, send us articles, columns or anything that will help us document the march. Photos are also welcome.

Hopefully, you have contacted your local media to write something about the march. Also, consider sending memorabilia to a Raza archivist.

Congratulations to all who participated and supported the efforts of people to reach the nation’s capital. Incidentally, what has not been reported was that a sizeable percentage, if not the majority of marchers, were students/youth. That bodes well for the future.


Roberto Rodriguez & Patrisia Gonzales
Chronicle Features
PO BOX 7905
Albuquerque, NM 87194-7905

by Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez
web site: Bios, Speaking, Aztlanahuac Project, Books & Columns

These Articles are Reproduced with Permission from the Authors.


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