I wanted to share the words I wrote for the César Chávez mass on Saturday, April 8th at Regis University in Denver, CO. Good morning brothers and sisters, here we are again for the 16th year in a row, celebrating the life and times of César Chávez. But more importantly we assemble to sustain a legacy of social justice through non-violence for working class Americans with special emphasis for farm workers whose physical beings and subsequent labor are treated as commodities and exploited in América’s capitalistic industries. It is a beautiful and glorious day filled with excitement and happiness; but also overshadowed by collective melancholia and sadness as our immigrant brothers, sisters and families from the south suffer from terror and undue emotional and psychological stress in American society.
Our children are bearing the brunt of this policy, an excruciating anxiety where they are caught in the middle of political warfare.
In the spirit of César Estrada Chávez, we assemble in the House of God to pray for peace and strength to combat the many evils that we face in our world today. In one of the encyclicals Mater et Magistra: Christianity and Social Progress, it reads, “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world, fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.” It is without debate that César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver members believe in the dignity and the sanctity of the individual. This should be our guiding light and should remain in the forefront of the collective consciousness of all movements. We also believe that the many shackles that keep Americans imprisoned emotionally should be destroyed.
Our theme for this year’s march is “Let’s Build Bridges, Not Walls.” This metaphor is meant to apply to the many working class families whose lively hoods are being threatened by an administration that seems to be leaning towards making the rich richer at the expense of the poor and working class laborers in American society. It also applies to immigrants, whose lives are being threatened by regressive immigration policies, and who currently live in fear and apprehension of deportation. Children are afraid to go to school with a real fear that when they return, parents will be gone. Schools are being asked to create safe space and sanctuaries to protect innocent children from familial disruption.
What is the real message behind building a wall? A wall can be interpreted as an unwelcome gesture especially in the political environment that we live in today with an imbalanced President that vows to build a wall between the two nations. Walls can be both real physical structures but can also be metaphorical in nature, conjuring up images of human separation and devastation. Walls prohibit effective communication and dialogue between groups and nations. Walls send a strong message that the door is locked with an unwillingness to open it. Trump’s message seems to be building a wall without doors, a protection against his own wall of prejudice that blinds him. The wall he proposes is supposed to keep Americans safe from terrorism. What he fails to see is that the internal wall within his own self blinds him to what is happening in American society.
México and the United States have had a contentious love-hate relationship since before the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The proposed wall, a wall that is full of scribblings of hate messages and sarcastic innuendos about Mexicans that the President wants to build will continue to separate both nations. Our children are bearing the brunt of this policy, an excruciating anxiety where they are caught in the middle of political warfare. Equal participation in our democracy is being hampered by the callous insinuations made by President Donald Trump. You cannot practice participatory democracy by building a wall that prohibits participation. It is another contradiction built into the autocratic structure of governance that the President is creating.
His recent decision to attack Syria on behalf of children who suffered from the chemical warfare that has taken Syria hostage reeks of a contradiction as he fails to develop the same sensitivity for children who live in constant fear of in American communities. The kind of policy that the President used in defense of Syrian children should be turned
inward and practiced in this society to protect immigrant children from being torn apart from their families.
I stand here as a grandson of immigrants, grandparents from both sides of my family came into American society as refugees sauntered into American society during the Mexican Revolution between 1910-20; a time when 1 million Mexicans came into American society seeking asylum and protection from the manacles of social revolution taking place in México. A refugee is defined as “an individual seeking refuge or asylum, especially, an individual who has left his or her native country and is unwilling or unable to return to it because of persecution or fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Historically, Mexicans/os came as refugees but became an exploited working class group that feel prey to the “push and pull” factors of the economic system facing both countries at that time. Mexicanas/os were seen as possessing positive qualities that made them “better” labor immigrants than the other groups. They were stereotyped as docile, introverted, physically strong and able to put up with unhealthy and demanding working conditions. They also were subjected to delousing; a racist strategy wherein women and men were forced to undress, soaked in kerosene and vinegar then, given a certificate of cleanliness, under the guise that typhoid fever was rampant. Many came as sojourners but were transformed into settlers in American society. Mexican labor built the infrastructure of the Southwest, the railroads, canneries, tending the fields and laborious packing house work. I never thought I would see history repeat itself as many of our brothers and sisters from the south are deported. We are experiencing another Operation Wetback, a policy enacted in 1954 by President Eisenhower.
Mexicanas/os have participated in all of América’s wars, amassing purple hearts, silver stars and Congressional Medals of Honor. They fought for American democracy but after returning home were never given full participation in the American way of life. The only weapons we have to fight back with are a philosophy of nonviolence and the power of our words that have become our weapons. Let’s use them wisely as we engage in yet another
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 4-8-2017 Ramón Del Castillo.