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Viva a New America! And hopefully, a civil rights movement: Today's Immigrant March in San Antonio

Watch the video:
5:00 pm A new Civil Rights Movement is born again in San Antonio


Henry Cisneros made a stirring speech, from what I saw on television later. I didn't hear it, but I know that his grandfather came here escaping the Mexican Revolution. Other speakers included Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, Sarwat Hussein, a Muslim leader, Tommy Calvert, a rising Black leader, former councilwoman Maria Antonietta Berriozabal, UTSA student leaders, Araceli Hernandez, a mexicana immigrant and organizer who cleans houses for a living, and many others.

Milam Park, in downtown San Antonio, is across from the famed "Market Square" where the rally was held, and it used to be called La Plaza del Zacate when Henry's grandfather arrived. It was the grassy plaza where the Mexicans congregated, selling produce and goods, and where the legendary Lydia Mendoza began her singing career.

Here, surrounded by thousands of people wearing white shirts and tees like frosting on the ice-cream of a blue sky, I remember how my architect-friend, Jose Jimenez, bragged about how he took back the Mexican heritage of this park by elaborating a gazebo, installing mosaic tiles, fountains and pedestrian walkways. It was his way of reclaiming the Plaza del Zacate, its original name, rather than its official name for Ben Milam, a defender of the Alamo.

While I was half-listening to the speeches, and looking at the crowd, I ran into a teacher, (name withheld to protect her), who told me that 40 students had protested at Longfellow Middle School last week by refusing to eat their federally-subsidized lunch. These sixth-graders were then prevented from sitting down at the cafeteria and eating, forcing them to eat in the bathroom or not eat at all.

I also heard that Brackenridge High School had chained their doors to prevent their students from walking out last week. The teacher, speaking anonymously, asked me why the media didn't report these incidents.

Then the sea of white shirts seemed to part the blue sky as we began the march to the Federal Courthouse on Durango Street, over half a mile away. But there were also students in their red polo shirt-uniforms, and westsiders and southsiders with Mexican bandanas, an elderly senora with a cane, babies in strollers, and mixed-race couples with the newest generation of
la raza cosmica. I took a photo of three priests together - something I hadn't seen since my days of protesting American military aid to Central America's rightwing military, in the times with the Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, an advocate of the poor, was assassinated. Now that was a time with the Church got involved, and in time, the U.S. did pull out of Central America.

I think we're witnessing the birth of this century's civil rights movement. I've been in enough marches to know that once you walk for a cause, you are never the same again. You realize you're not alone, and that you have power. The working-class immigrants, with their Viva Mexico! meshed seamlessly with my Vivan los Pochos!, and their Vivan los Mojados!, made everyone laugh, cheering on my Viva La America Nueva! While the television crews were filming. The police, relaxed, just watched.


They made me remember, and I gave them hope.

But I have plenty of friends, both black and white, who are afraid of illegal immigration. They have watched so much one-sided commentary about it they sound like tin-can echoes of Fox TV: Words spill from their mouth like burned frijoles - crime, welfare, poverty, traitors to American democracy, and even - terrorists.

I know better. And I try to explain.

The thing is, "illegal" immigrants are a people who know injustice, but justice for them has to include justice for all. It has to include free speech, the right to vote, the right to your religion even if it is Muslim and not Catholic, the right of women to an abortion, the right of lesbians and gays to marry, the right to a fair wage, the rights of prisoners, of the homeless, the right to a decent public school. Otherwise, these immigrants, on their way to citizenship, will make economic gains without effecting true social change.

And then this country will be browner, but still be as white as ever. This is the irony that the rightwing doesn't get in their fear of others. And the left leadership doesn't address, maybe because we have so little media power after the years of deregulation and corporate media consolidation.

But now we have a chance, and what are we going to do with it?

Henry Cisneros didn't tell the crowd that he endorsed Alberto Gonzalez, our U.S. Attorney General, despite Gonzalez' disdain for the Geneva Convention, unleashing a wave of torture from Abu Grahib to Guantanamo by American troops. Cisneros, the grandson of immigrants, whose own family suffered the threat of persecution and certainly violence during the Mexican Revolution, is more than willing to suspend civil rights when it comes to other people who look like him, but who speak another language and worship another God.

I'm not afraid that this country will be led by Brown and Blacks people very soon. I know it's gonna happen. I'm afraid that we won't be different than the Whites who are running this country today. The Catholic Church is fostering the marches, that's true, but they have a selfish interest - we are the ones who go to Church these days in large numbers. This kind of Catholic Church, especially like the one in San Anto led by an Opus Dei Archbishop (that's the Spanish inquisition side of the Church) is not one that historically embraces civil rights.

I learned my progressive ways from my mother, who told me stories about injustice all her life as a
mexicana. But I learned in school - the kind of school that was really public, diverse, with plenty of middle-class students - that it took many different civil rights to create social change. That my civil rights as a woman, a minority, a lapsed catolica, were linked to many other civil rights movements of the past.

And I've seen in my life how power corrupts. A latino boss once told me that he wanted his right to be "as corrupt as the gringos." He almost got there.

So becoming "legal" can be liberating - or - if our gente doesn't learn the lessons of democracy - we can be the Pilgrims, only with moustaches next time. I'm being extreme, but you understand,
verdad?

See, we messed up with Henry Cisneros, but we can't afford to mess up with the other eleven million out there. The 50,000 marching today. We have to be different. We have to remember. We have to learn the lessons of democracy for all, so that the one is protected.

I'm depending on the students to lead this movement, to do a better job than my generation did.

And that's why I marched today, why I'm writing this post and it's past 1:00 in the morning. And it's why I'll march again. And again. And write. And keep writing.

Viva la nueva America!!!!

Comments

Verdi said…
It was cool seeing you and Pat there. Check out the video I made with ya'll in it.

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