Now What?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

Our experience on the border is coming to an end. We have one more night in San Antonio before we head back north and leave our experiences to the mercies of our memories. For a brief time, the invisible of our society become visible to us. And now what?

There is a scene in The Sopranos when Carmela’s father tells her a piece of information. He then tells her that she now has a choice, she can never say she was never told that information ever again. It is her responsibility to decide how to use it.

We have had the opportunity over these last 10 days to not only see the living conditions of people in the colonias, but hear their personal testimonies. We have had the opportunity to learn about the history of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley and see the contrast in how it’s portrayed by dominant society. We have had the opportunity to experience border patrol inquisitiveness and witness the border wall as opposed to just hearing political candidates talk about the importance of it. The truth has been presented to us, we can never say we don’t know what’s going on again.

If we forget the women we met in Reynosa, if we forget the ministers and activists we met in the Valley, if we forget the stories we’ve been told or do nothing about injustices and crimes going on here, we will have just exploited these people in order for us to have a “powerful” experience. It’s a responsibility each of us will carry from now on.

Jesus was Crucified…A Borderlands Translation

Posted in Uncategorized on January 12, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

This morning the Borderlands group walked the stations of the cross on the lawn of the Basilica Cathedral de San Juan del Valle. Each of us chose a different station to reflect upon and incorporate how that station relates to our experiences so far on this trip. We were then assigned to give a short meditation to the group relating this. The station I chose was titled, “Jesus was Crucified.”

In preparation for this reflection, I was shown a scriptural stations of the cross. This was a resource which coordinated particular Bible verses with each station. After meditating on the verse assigned, I decided to re-translate the verse in a way that fits my experience so far. So, below is Luke 23:33-34, a Borderlands translation.

 

When the soldiers of evil came to the place called “maquilladora park” they nailed the women to the cross. Transnational corporations were the nails in their feet, keeping them from running toward what God created them to be. Western consumption put nails in their hands to keep them from working for any other purpose then their own happiness. Gang, drug, and gender violence put the final spear in their side to more rapidly bring about their death.

The evil ones also nailed two criminals to crosses, one on each side of the women.

But in the midst of all this, these brave and strong women say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

While the world watches these women suffer the pain of crucifixion, the evil ones take one last moment of advantage and use what’s left of these women to find a last mode of profit off of them by taking their last possessions and gambling them away.

Amen.

The Wall

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

We met more people doing interesting and impressive work today but I am going to take a break from profiles on people and discuss what we came here to investigate…the borderland. Even more specifically, I am going to discuss the now famous border wall.

Thinking about a wall on the US border is a strange thing. When I was a kid, I assumed walls were for “enemy” countries. East Germany, the dreaded communists, had wall. China, the other dreaded communists, also had a wall. Now that I am older, the Berlin wall has fallen and democracy won the cold war. With that history, it is hard for me to believe that the US has felt the need to build a wall.

We learned some interesting facts about this wall. It cost the US $2 million per mile to construct. The company that was outsourced to build the wall is the same company that build the wall in Palestine. Most ironically, many of the people who this company used to build the wall were undocumented workers–the exact people it is supposedly supposed to keep out.

Many of the residents who live along the border fought the construction of the Border Wall

Finally, 90% of the people who live along the wall, were opposed to it being built.

The border wall is strange to see. It is very tall but, as we found out, it is not that difficult to climb over. Also, it is not even on the US/Mexico border. The location was one of the controversies of it’s construction. At first it was supposed to sit 50 feet from levee which protects the area which sits in a flood plain. However, this location would cut right through peoples property and even destroy peoples houses. In some places it still does divide property. The government employed eminent domain in many cases and several properties did get divided. So, there are gates that never were completed and lie wide open so that people have access to the remainder of their land. In other areas, it was negotiated that the wall would not impede on their property so it winds snakelike across the southernmost Texas frontier.

It is evident that this wall does not keep anyone out. It is obvious that this wall is, in the words of a colleague, “a psychological placebo for the xenophobic fear of this country.” That sounds harsh but if you think about it, why isn’t there a wall on the northern border?

But this border is only one of two borders. Seventy miles north of the Rio Grande sits a second checkpoint that is just as armed and thorough of a checkpoint as the one on the actual border. These seventy miles are consist of the borderland frontier, a virtual third space–or third unrecognized country.

A liminal space...On my left is the wall, on my right is the Rio Grande. Where does this leave me?

This third space creates another similarity to Palestine. For the undocumented, they can neither get in or out of this 70 mile region. They are relegated to living in colonias that are created by land develepors who take advantage of their undocumented status, lawyers exploiting their ignorance on immigration law, and a lack of available health care (only one state hospital in Galveston is available for people in this area) in case of emergencies.

"Love can't be stopped!"

There are a lot of psychological games that take place on this border. There are a lot of lives lost in these games as well. Do I feel safer having seen and experienced this wall? No. Does the militarization of this area–the increased presence of border patrol, unmanned drones and closed circuit t.v.–make me feel more at ease? No. All it does is make me feel sadness and sorry for a nation that feels like it needs to construct a wall to feel good about itself.

 

Angels Staring into Satan’s Face

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

I saw the face of Satan today.

I’m not one who goes around talking, or even necessarily believing in a Satanic being. In fact, I am often uncomfortable

The Emerson "maquiladora," one of an estimated 142 maquiladoras along the border

when I hear people talking this way. However, today I stood witness to a being that throws away human life, forces people to live in a way that makes gnashing of teeth sound pleasant and uses up the souls of people for their own advancement. This being is the body of transnational corporations situated on the Mexican side of the US/Mexico border known as maquiladores. The satanic face of globalization.

Our group was granted an opportunity to sit with people who live in colonias–housing areas for maquiladora workers that often don’t have electricity or sometimes even  running water–and work in these factories. These people sat with us and told us stories.

They told us about the mother of two who worked at the LG plant and recently got both of her hands cut off in equipment she wasn’t trained to use. Though the company didn’t want to help her, they were forced to provide her with the required two years severance pay–50,000 pesos or $3,731 US.

A far-away view of one colonia that sits on the banks of an irrigation canal

They told us about several maquiladores using the chemical exsamo, a chemical that causes skin cancer, and not telling the workers what they were handling (they were usually told it was alcohol). They told us how women are required to take pregnancy tests before getting hired, errors routinely being made on paychecks, chairs taken away from workers on nine hour shifts, workers right’s lawyers who are bought out by the companies so they don’t have proper representation, the list goes on and on.

But there’s another side to this story.

Combating this Satan are very brave and generous people. These angels are women who serve as promotoras, women who work in the maquiladoras and inform and educate workers on Mexican labor law and their rights and help them fight for what they deserve. These women face the risk of being blacklisted at best and physically injured by the companies at worst–but they persist.

Another angel is 82 year-old Ed Krueger. A white man from the United States who saw an injustice and decided he was going to do something about it. Thirty-two years ago he walked through a colonia by himself and just started talking to people. Ever since then he has been meeting with maquiladora workers and educating them on their labor rights as granted them by the Mexican Constitution of 1917 (birthed out of the Mexican Revolution) and discussing issues that the workers are facing. By himself, with no help from outside forces, funding streams or institutional backing, Mr. Krueger started his organization Comite de Apoyo which he and his wife run. His goal is to educate individuals on their rights so that they can educate others and help workers fight for the rights they have which these companies exploit.

Mr. Krueger is a gentle soul. He is an older man who’s energy is only held back by the cane he is forced to walk with. He is

Ed Krueger debriefs our trip to Reynosa and Rio Bravo, Mexico. Mr. Krueger has worked for maquiladora workers rights for the past 32 years.

a man who wants to know what you are passionate about and listens with a smile. He is a man who had a picture of his face posted in the maquiladora management offices under the title of “wanted.”

As we left the house of the first group of women, we prayed and laid hands on them. We prayed that God would protect them, give them and their families protection and strength, and I prayed for thankfulness that I got a chance to meet them. It was an emotional prayer. It was the only chance we got to see of the weight of the situation on these women’s faces.

All this for a positive profit margin and to feed the extraordinary consumption habit of the Unites States.

I am forever changed by today, by these angels. Satan has no chance if he faces more people like this.

Rev. Feliberto Pereira

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

When I was actively pursuing acting, I spent many hours in acting class. One of my teachers once told us that acting was more than just emotion. He would say, “If you let your emotions take over then, one, it’s boring to watch and, two, you’re just another emotional kid.” His point was that we had to learn how to use the emotion and channel it into behavior, action.

Yesterday we met a man named Rev. Feliberto Pereira, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Ebenezer, a Disciples of Christ Church in Los Fresnos, TX. He is also the founder of the Good Samaritan Center, a place of shelter for immigrant refugees. Rev. Pereira is a very charismatic and inspirational man with an amazing story.

Iglesia Cristiana Ebenezer

Originally from Cuba, Pereira had no intention of coming to the United States. He graduated from seminary just as the revolution began and was a supporter of Castro and the revolution, according to Rev. Pereira his brother fought in Che Guevara’s army. But things changed quickly. Castro’s communist regime was an anti-Christian, atheist regime. He closed all of the seminaries and was distrustful of Christian pastors. Rev. Pereira says that a captain of police showed up at his church and told him Christians are puppets of the United States and informed him that he wasn’t allowed to leave the walls of his church.

Rev. Feliberto Pereira talks to us at the Good Samaritan Center

After delibrately breaking that edict, Periera was sent to a concentration camp and sentenced to hard labor. After being released from this first camp after being told he had one minute to run before being shot, he was arrested again weels later. He spent 14 more months in a concentration camp, this time saying the work and conditions were much worse. Eventually, Rev. Pereira was released and fled to the United States. He became a refugee. Knowing God had granted him his life, Rev. Pereira says he “devoted the rest of his life to serving other refugees.”

Pereira could have been consumed by the anger he feels toward what happened to him. Instead, he has channeled that anger and created ministry that saves the lives of thousands of other refugees. His ministry is truly an act of God.

The Good Samaritan office building.

The Good Samaritan Center is not a non-profit, they take no money from the government. The Good Samaritan Center has no building budget and no fund-raising campaign. Everything the Good Samaritan Center builds and offers is based on volunteer gifts and labor. Originally a dream of Rev. Pereira to build a center like this, the Good Samaritan Center now consists of several apartment, two dorms, a giant hall (which has bunk beds for more people), multiple showers, two kitchens (one in a woman’s center that teaches them how to cook, sew, handle money, etc), and dentist’s office.

Rev. Pereira is an inspiration to talk to. He doesn’t speak great English–though it’s better than he thinks–but he says much more though his kindness, passion, humor and self-confidence.

There is so much more to say about Rev. Pereira that could fill ten pages. The most important thing, I feel, is that he was able to take his own pain and channel it into a loving ministry, based on faith, that saves the lives of countless individuals and families. In Rev. Pereira’s words, “thanks be to God.”

Borderlands…Day 3 (and into 4)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 8, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

This morning we are preparing to go worship at Iglesia Christiano Ebenezer, it is a Latino Pentecostal church in Los Fresnos, Texas. Yesterday we finally departed from San Antonio and headed south, through the Chihuaha desert and into the Rio Grande Valley.

The trip south contained some highlights. The number one highlight being Sam’s BBQ. We stopped in Robstown, TX at this little trailer sized restaurant and had some of the best barbeque you can imagine. My stomach was for hours from the combination of ribs, brisket and sausage that I ate.

Part of our group poses for a picture at Sam's BBQ in Robstown, TX

We also had a lot of laughs. Despite the heavy subject we are investigating, one thing this group is good at is laughing. Everyone here has a good sense of humor, including our supervisor, Dr. Machado, and loves to laugh. That has really helped us get along despite tight quarters.

Also on our trip south we got our first glimpse at the border patrol. They were climbing a fence into private property along the highway. I must admit to a pang of nausea at seeing these guys.

We finally arrived in San Juan, TX in the early afternoon. We are staying at the Basilica of San Juan Del Valle. This is a huge historic Catholic Church that has become a place of pilgrimage for Mexican-Americans. In the 1980’s, a white man wanted to kill some Mexicans so he got into his plane and flew it into the Basilica killing many people. I’ll write more on this topic later but it is an interesting and sad piece of history.

It is interesting to sit here on Sunday mornings and see all of the families of come in to San Juan to attend Mass here. One cool thing is that the Basilica has a huge campus. There is the hotel, the restaurant, bookstore and other establishments on the campus that surround the Basilica. Fourteen lifesize stations of the cross also surround the Basilica totaling a one mile walk to get around all of the stations. We will be doing them on Wednesday morning, attaching their traditional meaning to what we have been seeing.

So, it’s off to church. Oh, I forgot to mention, among the things we are doing today, we are also spending the afternoon on Padre Island at the beach. It’s in the 80’s here so we might not be able to get in the water but we can definitely bum around on the beach for bit. Should be a fun day.

The Symbols We Use, the Stories We Tell

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 by Stephen Tickner

The Virgin of Candelaria at San Fernando Cathedral

Symbols are powerful. Stories are powerful. When they are put together, they are formidable.

Coming back to San Antonio has been special for me. Having spent much of my childhood here, this city embraces very special memories for me. Revisiting this city I love, however, has opened my eyes to the symbols and stories I was fed as a kid.

During my childhood I was fed the dominant version of history, Texans love their history and there is a “Texan pride” that they exude. I was not excluded from this. I was one of those kids who wore a coon-skin cap and sang the Davey Crockett theme song. What I never even thought of was the other side of this history I was fed, the history of the people who lived here before the Anglo settlers.

Over the last year I have had an opportunity to learn this version of history and it has opened my eyes to the symbols and stories dominant society feeds the majority of people. It has opened my eyes to the way it affects our society. What does it mean when the symbol of what a “Texan” is always bears a white face? What does it mean when the Institute of Texan Culture tells the story that reason military troops were sent to Texas was to protect the settlers from “hostile Indians” who unfortunately would needlessly attack them?

It’s not just Texas that does this, think of American history and the stories we tell. Think of the religious symbols and stories we use to talk about our faith. Symbols and stories are powerful, who are we leaving out or bringing down in the one’s we use?