Chapter 13: The Border and Human Rights—A Testimony by Roberto L. Martinez
13. What challenges are there for Chicanos, Mexicanos and Latinos in the future?
In developing Chicano leadership today it is important to recognize that we are not only labeling ourselves as Chicano, Hispanic, Latino, Mexican-American, in rare cases — even white, but we also find ourselves running the full range of the political spectrum: from Republican to Democrat, to Libertarian, to Green Party. In some parts of the southwest, Chicanos belong to such parties as the Raza Unida Party, Socialist Worker Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). The RCP uses La Resistencia as a front for recruiting Chicanos and other ethnic groups around the Southwest, including San Diego.
As a fifth generation U.S. citizen, and a Chicano, I have learned to appreciate the importance of Chicano history in defining who we are, and to trace the root of many of the problems we are having today, such as some of the border and human rights problems, directly to the creation of the U.S.-Mexico border, westward expansion and Manifest Destiny.
I believe that Chicano history also teaches our children to have pride in who they are. I believe that if more young Chicanos/Mexicanos had pride in their culture, there would be a lot less involvement in gangs and drugs, because gangs and drugs are not part of Chicano culture and history. This is an American phenomenon. It is also a problem that is being exported to other parts of Latin America, including Mexico and Central America. Grinding poverty and chronic unemployment breed crime — whether in the U.S. or Latin America.
Every day we witness history being made on the U.S.-Mexico border, either at the international level, the national level or the policy level. Every day that a migrant dies crossing the border, a new chapter in Chicano history is being written, because the United States is ignoring its moral and Christian responsibility to "
welcome the stranger". The U.S. is also in violation of international human rights laws that state that all human beings have the right to leave their homelands in search of a better life. Every time a migrant dies crossing the border we are all diminished as human beings. Regardless of religious beliefs, they are our brothers and sisters in distress. They are the migrant face of God in search of the "promised land."
The border endures as a wound that never heals as hundreds of migrants die each year at the border. On October 1, 2005 a deadly milestone was reached as we marked the eleventh anniversary of "Operation Gatekeeper." The death toll has reached almost 4,000 deaths on the U.S.-Mexico border since "Operation Gatekeeper" was launched on October 1, 1994. Immigrant rights activists across the length of the border used the anniversary to again demand that the government abolish these deadly strategies.
San Diego’s struggle is not local, but national and even international. National church groups are beginning to voice strong opposition to inhumane immigration policies, the border deaths, and the deadly Border Patrol strategies that cause them. Ecumenical groups, such as the Washington, D.C.-based Border Working Group coordinated by the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, has issued reports and sponsored fact-finding border tours. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has held hearings and conferences in order to gather live testimonies to the incredible suffering migrants must endure on their way north to the U.S., as well as the mistreatment they suffer at the hands of Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the Fall of 2003, interfaith groups from across the country held a pilgrimage the length of the U.S.-Mexico border to call attention to the deaths on the border and hopefully spark a national debate on the subject. The pilgrimage terminated in El Paso with workshops, speeches, music and an interfaith religious service at the border fence on Sunday, the "Day of Dead." During this event we also called for a greater voice for immigrants in the U.S., as well as for changes in national immigration policies in order to protect immigrants from persecution by INS, such as the recent raids on airports by the INS in the name of "national security." A border delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby for an end to the border deaths and an end to the deadly border strategies, such as " Operation Gatekeeper" and the other operations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
I can only summarize the meaning of my struggle for human rights by saying:
Chicano power translates into Chicano pride. Chicano pride translates into Chicano history, which we continue to write every day. Every time a young Chicano/a graduates from college and becomes a teacher, lawyer, or elected official, Chicano power, pride and history is being made. "Si Se Puede!"1
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done." It is the motto of the United Farm Workers.