Friday, May 12, 2017

Their Eyes Remain the Guiding Star of My Conscience

By Faith Chatham -  May 7, 2017

It amazes me how my thoughts parallel those of others without collaboration. I went on a twitter storm day before yesterday on immigration and other things. Then my sister in San Antonio sent me an exquisitely expressive poem she wrote about a mother crossing the border with her child strapped to her back. It is a very sad and vibrant word picture. It won't be shared *yet" online yet because it is an unpublished work and most publishers require that it be submitted before publication and they consider even posting on Facebook or small blogs publication. However, it expresses what I was feeling. She also included a poem about a relief worker in Honduras who did not save for her retirement. Both hit "close to home" for me.
Many people went to Honduras following Hurricane Mitch and we had our perceptions and hearts transformed. Those who cross the US border are usually fleeing from the crime and terror and abject poverty/ They are not faceless to those of us who were on the ground several decades ago. The crime was enormous then and it is many times greater now. We were not allowed out after dark for any reason whatsoever and every time we left the cathedral compound the Bishop sent us out with an armed guard. This was a shock to our north American sensibilities. Seeing an armed guard with a machine gun at the entrance of the cathedral was quite different to us. Yet the school, clinic and relief supplies within the compound made it a target.
During that time, donors sent several new automobiles to missionaries in Honduras. Every auto was hijacked at gun point within a few weeks of its arrival. The military government (responsible for those many "disappeared persons" during the Reagan administration} had just been overthrown when Hurricane Mitch (a series of hurricanes which stayed stationary over Honduras for over a week dumping massive rains at the same time as an earthquake) occurred, devastating the entire country. Because the government was so corrupt, and the country was in such need, NGOs and religious institutions became the conduits for relief and development during that post Hurricane Mitch recovery period instead of the government.
My memories of the mega shelters are acute. They were military tents with concrete floors. Each family had about an 8-square foot section of living space with a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The cooking was in the aisle outside the tent by kerosene camp stoves and the sinks were tubs with a water hose. There were no locking doors on those tents in this country so terrorized by the former military who now operated as criminal banditos. These families lived for extended times in tents in a country where the Bishop required everyone who served to stay in the hotel or cathedral or at home after dark and to travel with armed guards! The children in those mega shelters grew up in tents which did not have locking doors. Most families were in the mega shelters for 9 to 28 months. San Pedro Sula is high in the hills and it is cold there much of the year.

The Episcopal Church and other folks acquired land (a rare commodity in that international fruit company controlled country) and built houses. Because all a man had to do to divorce his wife was to kick her and the children out of the house, the Episcopal Bishop placed the titles to the homes they built into the name of the wife so that if the man chose to leave, the family could retain the home! However, being legally the owner does not solve the problem of being able to retain the home if the husband is abusive and there are no authorities to enforce the law. 

When we had an influx of children crossing the Rio Grande a few years ago from Honduras it struck me that the parents of these children were the children who were in the Mega Shelters following Hurricane Mitch. Those children woke up one day and every one of them lost people who were close to them -- either parents, friends, teachers, neighbors, school mates, grandparents, siblings. Over 11,000 people died that week in Honduras. Small children were uprooted from their homes and families and displaced. The Government was unable to process paperwork or police the communities or jail criminals to a sufficient degree to establish order. Crime and gangs were already high and escalated following Hurricane Mitch. Women and children were the most vulnerable people in that society They had no rights. Rape was /is common. 

Murder is normal. Running for your life becomes the sane choice. Once North, they are viewed as economic illegal aliens instead of assault victims fleeing for their lives. If American foreign policy had not played such a key role in destabilizing Central America in our Cold War Communist/ Capitalist era struggle, the plight of these generations of Central Americans would not be as acute. We do not like having the fruits of our sins arrive on our shores. We want to ignore our roles in creating and sustaining the terror that these women and children and young men are subjected to. We choose to label them criminals for coming here or sending their children here so that they have a better chance of surviving. This is what it is about when folks say they come for a better life. Usually it means that they are coming to try to survive period fleeing a place where the realities of being beaten by terrorists with machetes is normal. 

I supported Hillary Clinton because I trusted her to work for solutions to help those who remained in such countries and for those who fled to our shores. I don't think that when our ancestors arrive here is nearly as important as the fact that people are human beings and we are all deserving of the opportunity to expect to survive each day and find a way to eat and work and care for our children and learn and be human. If we weighed the cost of terror as highly as we value economic selfishness our world would heal. I still see the eyes of the children I met in Honduras. They are part of the north star of conscience which guides me.

NOTE: Hurricane Mitch hit Oct. 22, 1998. Any US immigrant from Honduras born between 1978 and 1998 were children when it hit. Those born after 1998 in Honduras have never known a stable community where the streets and homes are reasonably safe. It was the most-deadly hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in over 200 years Over 11,000 persons died in a small Central American country and there was over $5 Billion in economic loss in a country where most of the wealth was held by absentee landowners and a very few resident elites. 

© 2017 J Chatham, Arlington, TX 

Slavery 2017

By Faith Chatham - May 12, 2017
The number of human beings held in slavery in the world today exceeds the total during the mid 1800s. They have an active public slave market in Libya. Most of us are aware of immigrants who are captured and sold by coyotes and of Eastern European women and African women and Asian women caught up in sex trafficking. Yet most of us do not think this will touch our families. I don't think we can afford to be very confident about that. A dear friend of mine who was a high profile political candidate had her grandson held as a slave on a Mexican ranch for nearly a year a couple of years ago. This young man had crossed the border into Baja to assist friend who sent him an SOS saying he'd had his money pick=pocketed. However, you don't have to cross the border to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I understand how horrific our nation's past is in regard to slavery. However, I think we should focus on stopping the slave trafficking that is currently entrapping people right now. There is no way to absolve ourselves from the failures of our forefathers. We can, however, do something about how we live now and what we do to ensure that others are treated fairly.

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