1977 Austin, Texas 2017 El Paso, Texas
In 1977, I participated in a historic farm workers march. I was 21 years old and an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, part of a group that supported the work of the Texas Farm Workers Union (TFWU). I was working with numerous other social justice groups around Chicano rights, the rights of poor Mexican American neighborhoods, and lesbian rights.
In February of that year the TFWU marched from San Juan to the capital in Austin. Later that year, they marched from Austin to Washington, D.C. I participated, carrying a TFWU flag that I had silkscreened. (Although honestly, I was no good at it... they called me La Tortuga because I was so slow at picking up the process.) This photo is the only one I have from my early days of working in community and organizing.
Forty years later, I marched with the Border Farm Workers Center on May Day 2017, joining representatives from various groups including La Mujer Obrera, Paso del Sur, and of course, Sin Fronteras Organizing Project. We crossed the Santa Fe International Bridge and met organizers from Ciudad Juarez mid-way, near the bronze plaque marking the actual point where the U.S. and Mexican border is drawn in the middle of the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo.
People from both sides of the border shared words and songs.
It was a day of reflection for me as I thought about the four decades between the two photos. What had I learned?
I would love to hear what lessons you have learned. Please share them!
I've tried to think about the five most important things I've learned and here they are.
1. The ways in which the powerful maintain power are more insidious than I could have imagined at 21. The municipal, county, state, and federal governmental entities support the wealthy in ways that are manipulative, corrupt, usually hidden, and involve a mind-boggling network including chambers of commerce, country clubs, the media and others. While I knew that intellectually and in general terms as a young woman, I know it now intimately having allied myself with working-class barrios for so many years.
2. The powerful know no borders. At the May Day gathering, a speaker from Juarez said, 'No hay fronteras para el capital." Capital does not know borders. International trade agreements, legislation, and the international networks of wealthy business people ensure that they and their money can move globally in an effort to continually seek more wealth. Stopping or controlling the flow of international workers is part of this. At this week's march, I heard "Los capitalistas no tienen pais. El pais de los trabajadores es la lucha." While we live in a time of making "America great again," it really has nothing to do with the United States. It is about making the wealthy wealthier, the powerful more powerful, and all at the expense of the poor, globally.
3. There are people who still believe in justice, who hold ideals of justice, of equality and who love humanity despite the backlash happening in the United States and Europe, despite the despair of working with few resources.
4. Despite people's intense suffering and even fear, they will not and cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. The poor and the marginalized communities will always find a way to express their rage and their dreams.
5. And the one I think is most important: In the face of great, overwhelming power, we may feel helpless and hopeless. I have certainly had days when I felt I couldn't do anything to make the world better. We may feel angry, bitter, judgmental and sarcastic. The question that brings me back to myself is "Why am I doing this?" If it is for any of these reasons listed above, I know I will not not be able to sustain fighting for justice. Only love can sustain radical action. Not mushy love. Not romantic love. Not nostalgic love. Rather, love that understands we are all connected, love that requires commitment, and love that acknowledges that even if we risk pain, we still have faith. I know that we have to maintain faith. We have to maintain hope. Without them, how can we believe in change?
What lessons would you share? Please let us know.
Mr. Silvestre Galvan has carried this banner of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in farm worker marches since 1965.