Remembering the Alamo

The ongoing debate on immigration within the United States has become a central issue with the Latino population this election year. But, like past debates, it ignores the sordid history of America’s economic imperative that has driven public policy since the days of the original thirteen colonies. A history of wars of conquest and domination of land and people, genocidal policies toward the indigenous people, and of course the rationalization in American history textbooks of the policy of “Manifest Destiny.” It is embarrassing that American moviemakers perpetuate this part of America’s character. While I don’t believe for a minute that Santa Anna was a saint, the Alamo defenders were high stakes players for Anglo supremacy and slavery.

2004.04.25

The ongoing debate on immigration within the United States has become a central issue with the Latino population this election year. But, like past debates, it ignores the sordid history of America’s economic imperative that has driven public policy since the days of the original thirteen colonies. A history of wars of conquest and domination of land and people, genocidal policies toward the indigenous people, and of course the rationalization in American history textbooks of the policy of “Manifest Destiny.”

It is embarrassing that American moviemakers perpetuate this part of America’s character by depicting the Anglo as hero and the people of color a villains, fools, or servants. The latest movie to go to the heart of the immigration issue between the U.S. and Mexico is the new version of the “Alamo.”

This movie samples the revisionist history that has always portrayed Bowie, Travis, Crockett and company as “freedom fighters”, fighting for freedom and liberty against the dictatorship of General Santa Anna. While I don’t believe for a minute that Santa Anna was a saint, the Alamo defenders were high stakes players for Anglo supremacy and slavery.

The father of the “Republic of Texas”, Stephen Austin already had 5000 slaves on his colony by 1836. Naturally, the constitution of the proclaimed Republic of Texas, which the Alamo was defending, institutionalized the practice. It is not complicated that these men, who knew the meaning of free or cheap land with free or cheap labor, would realize a quick accumulation of wealth. Had the outcome of the subsequent Mexican-American war been different or had it never happened at all, we would not be arguing today about Mexicans’ ability to return to San Antonio or any other city founded by Mexicans.

Today, those English-speaking hordes from the East with the different culture don’t have to invade Taumalipas, Sonora, Chihuahua or any other Mexican State and proclaim another Republic, since with today’s high financial schemes, the rich don’t have to own the land or slaves to have domination and control.

An alternative history

My own grandparents, landless peasants, migrated to the Rio GrandeValley during the tumultuous Mexican Revolution of 1910. Even then, the U.S. was playing the contending Mexican factions for economic advantage. Remember that President Woodrow Wilson sent the marines to take the port of Veracruz and deliver it to Carranza’s forces, giving him the arms flow advantage over the revolutionary partners Villa and Zapata.

I grew up migrating the agricultural harvest routes with my parents, like their parents before them. Many times we were indentured to the farmers and labor contractors, much like the H2A and undocumented workers of today are to their recruiters and coyotes. But the policies that kept us in servitude have never really changed regardless of the cosmetic protective legislation that is periodically passed in the American Congress.

I say cosmetic because of the lack of enforcement and the cumbersome complaint-driven procedures. With no timely resolution and no protection from retaliation, migrant workers never have a chance to defend themselves. There are particular industries that lust for a global pool of cheap, exploitable labor, and have continually driven our social and governmental policies. From the Republic of Texas to NAFTA, the result is the same: wealth for select individuals, poverty and oppression for a vast number of people.

Like my parents and grandparents, these newly displaced peasants’ only option to survive is to migrate to the cities of Mexico or cross to the United States for the menial jobs that U.S. workers don’t want and will not do.

A report issued by the Carnegie Endowment last year showed that the net result of the NAFTA agreement has led to the destruction of 1.3 million Mexican farms. NAFTA has opened the border to highly mechanized and subsidized corn which Mexican farmers can never hope to compete with. The American corn is also a threat to the diversity of the species with its handful of genetically engineered like hybrids. The shrinking of the genetic pool of seed also limits the variety of disease-resistance opportunities. The stakes to the environment are also enormous. This is reckless profit mongering that has enormous consequences for the continent’s food system.

I could continue to chronicle a list of sins of the nation, from the many broken treaties with our American Indians, to the national trauma-causing slavery, to the current black market in human smuggling. In the state of North Carolina alone there are almost 400,000 Mexicans and Guatemalans working in four basic industries. Agriculture, Landscaping, Construction and Poultry. A huge percentage of them paid between $1200 to $3000 to be smuggled there. Can one grasp how this becomes a multi-billion dollar industry? In one state!

An alternative future

It is not my intention to foment anti-American sentiment, but to admit truth from which we can find direction and become the great nation we claim to be. I encourage everyone to capitalize on some of America’s positive attributes.

First, I believe that the general American population possesses a sense of fair play and generally believes in justice. Mexico must forcefully declare its historic grievances as an independent and proud people. To many observers, including myself, previous Mexican Administrations have appeared timid and soft in advocating for its people. Not unlike a co-dependent struggling in a bad relationship.

Why do we (Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) tolerate the deaths on the border and in the workplaces recently documented by a national Associated Press story by Justin Pritchard? According to the AP, there is now one Mexican dying per day in the United States (http://www.actionla.org/border/News/March%2013%2004–News.htm). If these were U.S. citizens dying in Mexico, many heads would be rolling and perhaps we would even see another intervention of U.S. troops into Mexico. I do not believe that the people of the United States like this happening in their country, but it takes a lot of work to educate and mobilize the public.

I do believe that most people in the U.S. truly believe in freedom and justice. It becomes our challenge to explain to them how to extend it to all Mexicans and immigrants while answering their fears. I do not believe that they would want to amend their pledge of allegiance to the flag by saying freedom and justice “for some.”

Secondly, there is much to be gained by invoking the Christian Gospel in these matters since the majority of U.S. residents claim Christianity. Righteousness and Justice are intertwined in the Scriptures and if these dictate the life-style of the Christian then it favors our struggle for justice. From the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (Chapter 15:15 says that the people of God must govern the alien with the same laws that they govern themselves) to the New Testament, where we are commanded to treat the alien like our native born and to be as the alien because we are citizens of His Kingdom and not of this world. Many times I have told audiences that if they oppose our legalization efforts of the undocumented not to argue with me but to take it up with God.

It is not arrogance to proclaim that Mexico has paid its dues to the United States through land forfeiture, not to speak of the minerals and precious metals that went with the land, and the supply of labor which Mexico bore the cost of raising to working age. Perhaps we need to conduct a bi-national march of solidarity and perform civil-disobedience by re-taking the Alamo and spending some time in jail declaring a cancellation of the Mexican debt, or at least demanding compensation for the millions of Mexicans performing the menial jobs that accommodate the comfort of US citizens.

I tell you the truth that there are economic interests who want to perpetuate a global low-wage work force and maintain the pool of exploitable labor of Mexicans in the United States and Mexico. This will not change by diplomatic initiatives. Those that derive their wealth with predatory and selfish calculatedness with the misery, poverty and helplessness of the working poor are powerful but not invincible.

We learned from Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez that the powerful can be negotiated with when we succeed in impeding their ability to make money. This takes much patience, time and creativity, and few are those long-distance runners who have the endurance of heart to persist in a right and good cause.

Perhaps King and Chavez didn’t choose their lives, it was perhaps the upheaval of the people that chose them, but they had to be willing. Who today is willing to question the paradigms of debate and ask what seems so absurdly simple and impossible, in demanding the freedom of travel to a land that is so familiar in names and people?

King and Chavez had those sentiments, that is why people flocked to them and together made mountains move.


Baldemar Velasquez is a human rights activist and the founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) AFL-CIO.

Author: Baldemar Velasquez

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