My vote for Javier Sicilia
I found myself driving to the city of Compton on a Sunday afternoon a few months ago, at the request of Rubén, a professional colleague, with whom I was organizing an ALOUD program. He knew I didn’t normally work on Sundays, but this was a different kind of program. We were cohorts in bringing the Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia to Los Angeles for a multi-day series of conversations outlining his role in combating the drug war.
Amid a stack of fresh tortillas and steaming bowls of bírria (goat stew) we were talking politics, the upcoming elections, the drug war. That enough was enough. I was at a political roundtable with a radio producer, the head of the Latin America Studies department at a local university, and an esteemed academic and writer from another local university. We would all be hosting Javier Sicilia in our respective venues and were outlining the details of our visit when suddenly it all became very clear to me. I had become part of a movement. And then the follow-up question, “How did I get here?”
It all started with this picture, and Rubén’s question, “When was this taken?” 2001. We both paused and lamented about how the Mexican landscape had changed so drastically since then. This picture was a thing of the past.
Waiting for ‘un ride’ on an empty highway in San Luis Potosí, rumbo Real de Catorce.
Eleven years after this photo was taken, I shutter to see this second homeland of mine a killing field. Almost 60,000 people have been murdered in six years. Una matanza that rivals the American military deaths in Vietnam- a war that raged over a 20 year period.
It wasn’t until Rubén made the comment about the photo had I really internalized how this drug war had struck a personal chord.
Mexico is now a place ruled by different voices, unfriendly vices. The supply and demand-driven market in this binational drug dance is flourishing, and with deadly consequences. Strangers are not to be trusted. The media, for once, has probably not overstated the damage. It pains me to see innocent people dying for no reason. This war doesn’t fit the definition of other wars. And yet it is actually our problem. How do we take responsibility?
As the brave sister Consuelo Morales, a nun working in northern Mexico as a human rights crusader said to us this past year at a Human Rights Watch event, “we don’t have the option to not do something about this.”
The United States is fueling the fire. Even President Obama understands this, as stated in 2009, “This war is being waged with guns purchased not here but in the United States… more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that lay in our shared border. So we have responsibilities as well.”
We supply the guns, we buy the drugs, we consume the drugs. We propagate the deadly cycle.
Here lies the role of the brave man we invited to the library this spring. He is one of the few voices, like Sister Consuelo, who is willing to stand up to the políticos, the militares and even the U.S. government and voice a communal pain that will not cease until there is a change in policy on both sides of the border. He is a beacon of hope for the victims and one of the rare voices that has managed to gain the attention of those in power. His story about his private meeting with outgoing President Calderón highlights the humanizing power of his presence in the political realm. (Read about it here.)
So some five months after many rounds of planning, Javier joined us at the Los Angeles Public Library this past April, to be met by a crowd of adoring fans. They were the children, grandparents, sisters, uncles and friends of the victims, of the disappeared, of a collective consciousness that knows this must stop, that enough is enough. They greeted their revered saint Sicilia as if he were their savior. He gifted them with humility and compassion. We were in the presence of a very special individual, someone who will forever hold a place in my heart. My recap of his ensuing conversation can be read in this blog post, where you can also view a video of the evening that includes my introduction.
I hope people left the library that night either with a better understanding of our entangling relationship to the drug war, or perhaps even with a bit of impetus to do something about it. Organizing his visit was my contribution, a way of not remaining silent. In the end, his visit was really a gift to me. I am honored to take part of the movement, and look forward to his return visit in August when he will continue leading his caravan through the United States, en route to Washington D.C.
This Sunday, Mexico elects a new president and a few months later we will do the same. It is a critical moment in our binational relationship. I have hope, partly because it seems things can’t get much worse than they already are. Everyone can do their part. Sister Consuelo’s words resonate in my ears. “We don’t have the option to not do something about this.”