Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spending Dia De Los Muertos con “Occupy Lincoln, Nebraska”

(and a short note on Halloween dulces)

By Amelia M.L. Montes

Reporting from Lincoln, Nebraska, “borderlands en medio de Norteamerica,” where yes—Latinos live here—y tambien si, we are involved with “occupying” as are many states in the U.S. y fuera del pais tambien. “Occupy Lincoln” has its own website (replete with video footage) and a Facebook page. Unlike other cities where officials and police are beginning to forcibly move people and tents out, Lincoln’s occupation at the capitol mall continues without harassment.

Occupy Lincoln

The “Occupy Wall Street” discussions on La Bloga (thank you Rudy Ch. Garcia, etc.) and on various other sites, newspapers, media outlets in the U.S., Mexico, España, etc. are invigorating. In last week’s Guardian (October 26), the Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist, Slavoj Zizek wrote: “The true test of their [the protesters’] worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work—they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken; we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.”

For Zizek to say “the taboo is broken,” he ignores the fact that working gente from the moment of Spanish colonization (and other) occupations throughout latinoamerica and the U.S., have continually proclaimed that the world placed on them by powerful agents of government creates less than liveable worlds. Chicana/Chicanos and Latinas/Latinos have changed “daily life,” have loudly protested, marched, and offered alternatives in a world which resists encouraging imaginative possibilities for inclusiveness, for equity, for a sane and ethical world. “Occupy Wall Street” is another manifestation and hopefully, as Zizek states, this renewed proclamation regarding a less than best possible world will indeed bring about imaginative alternatives.

Resistance by Barry Lopez

I keep thinking of Barry Lopez’s collection of short stories entitled Resistance. These stories are fictional testimonios of women and men who have fought (in various ways) against mainstream society. In “Flight from Berlin,” one character recalls: “For me, the terrifying part was the ease with which you could lose your imagination—just abandon it, like a gadget. Everything was supplied, even if you had to pay for it all. We were told things would run more smoothly—less crime, less disease, less unhappiness, less trouble—if everyone stuck to the same plan, pursued identical goals. What made me want to run was the ease with which people gave in.

In every quarter of life, it seemed then, we were retreating into fundamentalism. The yes/no of belief, the in/out of fashion, the down/up of pharmaceuticals, the on/off of music, the hot/cold of commitment, the dead/live of electricity, the forward/backward of machinery, the give/take of a deal. Anyone not polarized became an inconvenience for management and its legions of loyal employees. People endorsed the identification of enemies and their eradication, just to be rid of some of the inevitable blurring.

We didn’t hear enough then about making the enemy irrelevant. No one said, loud enough to be heard over the din of pacification, Let’s make something beautiful, so the enemy will have one less place to stand” (149).

This passage left me shaken regarding what each of us are charged with—our ethical responsibility to speak and protect each other or we can so easily lose our imagination. Last night at Indigo Bridge Books in Lincoln, Nebraska, Wendy Call (writer, translator, and a member of Chicana author Sandra Cisneros’ writing community, Macondo) gave a reading from her book No Word For Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy. In 1997, Call had gone to visit the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a small area of land that connects the Yucatan peninsula with Mexico. At first, she was simply the visitor. Then she became more involved when she discovered small communities in a battle with large corporations threatening to industrialize the way they had been farming, fishing, working in the forests for generations. Call saw oil spills, farmlands being paved over, the burning of forests. She also witnessed the innovative ways these communities came together to fight these corporations. “It’s a story happening everywhere,” Sandra Cisneros writes, “including our own backyard.” Call’s book tells me that communities that have a strong historical and/or cultural bond make it easier to remain unified during fights against industrialization. Individuals who cross the border y se van al norte, end up in communities where it is more difficult to easily unify due to language barriers, housing configurations, diverse cultures, leading toward isolation and fear.

One such “backyard” (as Cisneros described) is Nebraska. In the book, from Columbus to ConAgra: The Globalization of Agriculture and Food, Dr. Lourdes Gouveia (University of Nebraska-Omaha) uses her research of Nebraska meat-packing plants to describe the struggles that happen when communities are threatened by corporations. “Community fragmentation can indirectly contribute to corporate strategies for demobilizing labor and ultimately reducing production costs. Today, a growing number of meatpacking community members [in Nebraska] do not share a common language, history, or cultural connections for survival. They also misdirect their anger and blame each other for their misfortunes, rather than demand a higher degree of social responsibility from the corporate sector.” These are all overwhelming obstacles that frustrate equity in a working environment and keep the wealthy corporations strong. “States like Nebraska, or for that matter countries like Mexico, transfer funds to globalizing firms in the hope of resolving their own fiscal crises. But in today’s global economy, local and central polities are poorly equipped to secure a return on their investments” (143).

At the end of Call’s book, she summarizes the victories of the istmeños’ (in the Isthmus de Tehuantepec) organizing. Their demands were not all fulfilled, but they succeeded in the following ways: Instead of a six-lane superhighway, they were able to reduce it to four lanes. The steel mill was successfully denied and was not built. They also succeeded in preventing plans for a eucalyptus plantation that would seriously impact the environment. However, along with the four-way highway, there is a Wal-Mart. “Village resistance maintains situations that must be considered better, simply because they are no worse. And yet those unseen victories are crucial: evidence of the success of grassroots organizing, of the village economy’s ability to persist in spite of globalization” (293).

As I write this just a few blocks from where “Occupy Lincoln” residents are preparing their next strategy and inviting me and you to their next protest (check out the website here), I think about what we can learn from the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, and from community organizing groups outside the U.S. such as those in Tehuantepec, Mexico.

So much to think about as well as to act on. We cannot just think and talk. Being active contributors (in imaginative ways) is crucial!

And speaking of imaginative ways—I have one more subject to discuss with you, Querida Reader---

Calaveras para Dia de los Muertos

Halloween y Dia de los Muertos--- y los dulces!!

For me, I have been having a difficult time thinking about what I am going to do when my doorbell rings and lovely ghosts, angels, zombies, and ballerinas come to my door asking for candy. How can I, an individual with type 2 Diabetes, hand out candy to a young population facing a health crisis of epidemic proportions: child-onset diabetes.

Halloween Candy

In 2008, U.S. News and World Report published, “10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.” The first five “things” on the list are:

(1) Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to kids

(2) The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products

(3) Junk food makers donate large sums of money to professional nutrition associations

(4) More processing means more profits, but typically make the food less healthy

(5) Less processed foods are generally more satiating than their highly processed counterparts

How can you counter the onslaught of the food industry cajoling you to give them money so you can place their product in your child’s hands, which in turn will make your child very sick? I asked a number of friends and colleagues for imaginative alternatives and the best answers I received were suggestions to go to the dollar store or craft store where I could either buy or put together a little gift bag of erasers, pens/pencils, small pads of paper, etc.

Gift Bag Ideas

Now here is where we could all come up with amazing and imaginative alternatives than feeding these children sugar which will keep them sleepless, grumpy, colic, even depressed. This does not mean giving up cultural traditions such as having sugar skulls on Dia de Los Muertos Altares—just don’t eat the skulls. Take pictures with them instead!

If you’re not camping out at “Occupy (name your city)” or have a difficult time getting out to protest—thinking of alternative “safe” and easy items to give trick or treaters is a good activist alternative. You are refusing to fund the corporate food giant in this country.

Sending you all safe and healthy energies para esta semana!


Anonymous said...

This is quite a post, covering many areas of interest to La Bloga readers, quite well.
Thank you for your meaningful contribution.
Suerte y lucha,

Norma Cantu said...

wow! what a great post! i am going to start my own blog for the Camino de Santiago...a year later! i'll let you know ... n