Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Story of Peace

September 19th, 2011 marked the end of the southern caravan.  The event concluded in the zócalo of Mexico City with speeches and stories, hoorahs and tears.  The caravan as a whole was a powerful experience for those on it.  It certainly impacted the lives of everyone that traveled with it.  

An important thing to know before I delve into this final event is this:  It was not just La Red that made up this Caravan for peace.  It also consisted of multiple organizations from the different states and cities of Mexico.  Many groups came together –which is important— to create what was the caravan to the south.  Groups which are all crying to be more than just “human resources”, more than a statistic.

A stage was built and students from one of the universities were already present when Ryan and I arrived to the central square in Mexico City.  The music they were making was loud enough to cover the entire area.  Intermittently, they would announce that the caravan would be arriving shortly –about an hour—and would say a few words to rally the crowd around them.

Soon, several groups of people – Frente Del Pueblo, Movimiento Urbano Popular, and others – began to march into the zócalo.  As they walked they chanted several different things.  One person would begin, “Alerta, alerta, alerta” and the crowd would reply “Que camina la lucha por la paz en America Latina”.  Alert, Alert, Alert; (we are) walking the struggle for peace in Latin America.

Finally, around 7pm, the Caravan arrived.  The crowd cheered as the fourteen buses drove into the zócalo.  As the people came down from the bus, they gathered into groups and began to walk around the square.  Their excitement was apparent.  Some marched in silence, others chanting.  But everyone was eager to begin the last piece of the caravan.  They had been through much already, but were ready for a little more.

Speaker:  “Vivos se los levaron!”      --Alive they were taken!--
Crowd:     “Vivos los queremos!”      --Alive we want them back!—
These words were exchanged many times between the stage and the gathered people.  They refer to all the people who have been disappeared, killed, or otherwise taken due to the cycle of violence in Mexico. 

Javier Sicilia, after a short speech beforehand, came to the stage.  The crowd by this time was large, numbering in the thousands, and people waited and listened to what he had to say.  He spoke sadly and slowly about the reality of Mexico.  He began: “We are collateral damage.  To the polls and statistics, we are collateral damage… a number without a name.” “…It is for this reality that both crime and the State has reduced us to, and also to take your pain, countenance, and anger that I ask for a minute of silence.”
Silence.  Reflection.  Sicilia invited the crowed into a moment of silence to remember those who were killed and disappeared.  It is something he does frequently when he speaks.  You don’t give pause to a statistic.  You give pause to the life of a human.  What he really invited them to do was to help restore their humanity.  To acknowledge them not as numbers without names, but as people who have families and loved ones. 
This was the essence of his speech.  To reestablish dignity.  He also asked some provoking questions to the powers that be.

To the criminals he asked:  “What kind of happiness are you pretending to build for yourselves if your foundations are built on death, suffering and torture?”  

To the government:  “How will we care for this house that we demolished if our foundations are built on indifference, contempt, and robbery of citizens?”

Javier finished by recognizing the movement was made up of people without power.  Ants, the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the nameless.  But it was in this unity --of all men and women, of all those from the east, west, north, and south—that peace, justice, and dignity could be created.
He finished to cheers and applause.  (To read his whole speech:  Spanish ; English ) *not a perfect translation

After Javier Sicilia, it was time for victims and family members to tell their stories.  (I will also note that it was at this time that the members of the press left.)

Though there were many stories, in recognition that this is an extremely long post, I will only tell you of one.  It was the last one of the night…

Maria is a mother of four sons.  With hesitation, she participated in the May 8th march to Ciudad Juarez.  I was told that at that time she was afraid, so afraid that she could hardly speak.  It was surprising to me when I heard this because on this night in Mexico City, she spoke with such force and emotion, even without knowing the language, you could still tell what she was saying.  Maria was afraid in Juarez because each of her sons was disappeared.  Taken.  Maybe killed.  She told that story on stage in the center of Mexico City.  Her voice was that of a mother distraught.  Every word was filled with both anger and grief.  “Where are my children?  I want them back.”

Her call was that of change.  Change for Mexico so no other family would have to go through what she has been through.  Change for peace and justice.  Change for compassion and not indifference.  The story of her despair, and many stories similar to Maria’s, were told on this night.  Each of them bringing an indisputable sense of reality and personal-ness.  

The caravan to the south was an effort to make this movement personal.  Its purpose was to accompany Mexicans of all different areas by telling and listening to stories.  Stories of the indigenous, vendedores (sellers), families, and migrants were all told to one another.  Together they marched for peace.  Together they strengthened the bonds of justice and dignity.  

So here it ended:  a group of people in Mexico City.  Weary from their travels, filled with grief for the victims, and hopeful that their actions would be heard.  And though the caravan ended on Monday, the work of it has just begun.  The people working with La Red por la Paz y Justicia are re-energized and will be continuing to tell the story of the oppressed and nameless people of Mexico.  We will see where the stories take them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Más Muertes

No more death.  No more blood.  Sounds like a simple enough request, doesn’t it?
Actually it seems kind of silly to even have to ask for that.  Shouldn’t that just be a given?  Aren’t we allowed the right to live without fear of being killed, or our family members being killed?  Yet it is exactly what “Red por la Paz y Justicia” is asking for.  “No Más Muertes.”

Imagine having to ask for that.  Seriously.  Imagine actually needing to plead for the end of organized murders in your town.  Imagine having to plead for a small amount of safety for you and your family.
Do it.  I’ll wait.


Can you imagine it?  It was hard wasn’t it?  It was hard for me.  But it isn’t hard for many people here.  It is an ever-present reality.  In a town not so far from Cuernavaca, people are killed almost daily.  It was told to our group during my site visit that one person said “I would rather have one day of peace and die, than live forever in this kind of fear.”  On the northern border, Ciudad Juarez has become one of the most violent cities in the world due to the fighting among drug cartels and military.  The violence isn’t constrained to just those two groups.  It also spills onto the street, killing innocent bystanders, people who saw too much, journalists, and sometimes even the families of any of those people in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Where is the justice in this?  Right now, for Mexico, there is none.

The call for “No más muertes” should resonate with you.  It should make your stomach jump and your eyes tear up.  This is not just a general hope of Mexico!  It is a cry filled with pain and sadness.  It is a cry filled with dead sons and daughters, dead mothers and fathers, dead sisters and brothers.  It is a cry filled with anger and despair.  It is a cry from the living that this must not happen anymore.  It is a cry from the mother, the father who lost their child that others need not go through the same pains.  “No más muertes, no más sangre” should hit you like a ton of bricks.  

Yet while these words carry emotions from the past, they are a hope for the future.  A hope that peace can be restored and justice be given to the families and people of Mexico.  Not only justice in the legal sense, but the restoration of human dignity, both for those alive and those killed.  The restoration of human dignity.  Justice.  Peace.  Both things that Jesus worked for in his lifetime.  

It is for these reasons that today, on September 9th, “Red por la Paz y Justicia” begins its first miles on a Caravan to the south.  On their 14 buses and 10 cars they carry not just people and luggage, but the message of peace and hope for a Mexico free from violence.  They carry with them the hope for “No more death; No more blood”.  They want peace and justice.  

I had the honor of observing their stop in Cuernavaca’s zócalo –the central square-- today.  It was powerful.  The crowd numbered in the several hundred.  Javier Sicilia’s words moved people.  (If you don’t remember, he is the poet whose son was killed back in March and set off this whole movement.)  The experience was absolutely wonderful to be able to watch.  People carried signs with loved ones on them, signs of having enough of war.  I am eager to hear about the rest of the caravan as it progresses southward toward the border.  I know that this message they carry is one Mexico needs.  To know that somebody cares about the horrors being committed around them.  

Let us hope today with Mexico.  Hope for a future of peace, justice, and love.  One where everyone can live without fear of violence.  A future that gives each person dignity and where the reminder of God’s love for the world is present in all of our actions.

Blessings and Peace,


P.S.  Please watch this video as it is a woman who tells her story from the last caravan.  If you have troubles watching it on my blog, click here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The night before

Hello friends.

I have successfully gotten settled into my new home for the next year.  My host mother, Ofelia, lives here with Andrea who works at a nearby restaurant.  (It is called Las Mananitas and is one of the most expensive restaurants in town... check out the website and you will see why!)

Leaving our Mexico orientation was a bit sad as I enjoyed my time with my friends, but I am also eager to see what awaits me this year.  I think it is safe to say that all of us are both excited and nervous.  Though we all stayed in the convent here in Cuernavaca for 10 days, it seemed we hadn't really left home.  It was our own little sanctuary to return to after a day of site visits and whatnot.  So when Ofelia arrived to take me away, I was a little frightened to leave everyone.  But this is how the program works... we mustn't hide ourselves away as a group of Americans.  I know after time everything --including my Spanish-- will feel comfortable.

Tomorrow I officially begin my job with "La Red".  I am taking a day trip to Mexico City (D.F.) with my supervisor to have a general meeting with people involved in the planning of the movement.  It is really serendipitous that this is happening on my first day, sort of my own personal orientation to what is happening.  It will also be extremely important because I can meet some of the key people in the group.  Especially in organizations such as this one, it is critical that people feel they can trust the other members.  I will be able to get to know the people as well as let them know who I am. 

This is a very exciting moment in time for me to be involved in La Red.  They are becoming better recognized, more popular, and carry more weight with the things they are saying.  Starting on September 9th, we were invited to visit 6 different states in the southern part of Mexico.  Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guerrero, Juchitan, and Puebla.  The caravan hopes to engage the people of these states with four questions: 

1)  How is the state affected by the war on drugs?
2)  What strategies are being used by the host state to confront the war?
3)  In what ways do the mission of "La Red" and those of the host coincide?
4)  What actions together can we take to help stop the war and build peace?

The caravan will conclude on September 19th in Mexico City with a speech in the central square (zocolo).  It is a big deal for "La Red" and for Mexico.  It is a piece of how this movement seeks justice and dignity for all the people killed by drug violence.

I will find out more about what will happen and how in the next few days.  So sit tight and I'll let you know as soon as I know more.  :) 

I will leave you with what my supervisor left me with after my site visit:  "No hay caminos para la paz, la Paz es el camino.  -Ghandi"  (There is no path for peace, peace is the path.)