Family Farm Defenders (Kansas Chapter)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marching with my Dad

Marching with my Dad

I was anxious the day the caravan began; I did not know what or who to expect, or what we would do once we got to the mine. I had visited there the day before and seen and witnessed a lot. I sort of expected we would talk to people and take pictures, but I wasn’t sure. The organizers seemed secretive as well with regard to the plans.

We set off pretty much on time—not too long past 9:30 and in two large, very nice and comfortable busses, accompanied by a number of cars full of the local activists and a small truck with a large camera and cameraman. When I arrived at the busses, two large groups had formed, one of the 21 Mexicans from Las Palmas who had arrived the night before and one of all the foreigners. The organizers had us count off to integrate the groups, but people still seemed to cling to their friends or colleagues or language groups. On my bus, I noticed that the Mexicans had sat in the back of the bus and the foreigners in the front.

he mine was about 10 kilometers from San Luis Potosi. It maybe took us a half hour to get there. San Luis Potosi is in a semi dessert region of Mexico. You could see how arid the region was with dry scrubby brush everywhere.

Once we arrived at the mine, the busses proceeded on for a short distance to Cerro San Pedro down the stone road, but then stopped because ostensibly they were too large to continue. I heard we would have to walk the rest of the way to Cerro San Pedro.

That was an interesting development I thought. got out of the bus like everyone else, and we and all the occupants of the cars poured onto the street which was pretty narrow at this point. We walked probably a half of a mile or so; it was sunny and warm/cool—light jacket weather; felt like a high pressure day.

The city of Cerro San Pedro is beautiful, lots of tan stone, 500 years old, streets, houses, churches, and roads that wound around the hills where the mining was going on. I stopped and took some pictures of the trucks in the mine. We had not gotten this close the day before, and I think I know why; it wasn’t safe when we were just a few.

As we sauntered along or a little faster, I was talking with the other Family Farm Defender, Randy Jasper, a grain and soybean farmer from Wisconsin and the group of farmers from Las Palmas had gone on ahead. I sped up a bit to catch up and walk with them. I felt really strongly that I had come to Mexico to walk with the people of Mexico and be in solidarity with them.

They and in particular one of them, Juan, reminded me very much of my dad. My dad passed away at 84 a little more than three years ago. I didn’t attend his funeral, but he went fast and didn’t suffer much. We knew he was going to die for about a year due to a bad heart valve that the doctor said was due to his having had scarlet fever when he was young.

Like my fellow caravaners from Mexico, my dad was short and stocky, but more importantly, a humble man without much education. But unlike my dad, these men were standing up for themselves, their families, their children, their community, their way of life and their right to their land. I was deeply moved, and my feelings and their strength took me by surprise.

As I was saying, I sped up a bit to catch up with and walk with them. A little while before, they had unfurled a banner, and that is when I realized that we were there in the mine, to protest. My travelling companions knew the drill because they had come with their banner furled up and now unfurled it. It was blood red and announced that they were members of a group named after Poncho Villa. I learned later from Noël, a young teenager who came with the group that Poncho Villa was an indigenous hero, a fighter for the land as well.

Soon after catching up with the group, I spoke a few words to Juan and was about to say more when tears started rolling out of my eyes, across my cheeks and down and off my chin, and I found that I could not talk. Juan didn’t get embarrassed; it didn’t seem to faze him at all, he just stopped talking and we kept walking and after a short time I recovered and we started talking again.

That is when I knew there was more going on here for me than I was aware. I thought of my dad and how he had been kicked around all his life and never stood up, although he found a way a lot of times to slip out from under whatever was coming down, and I could hardly contain myself. It made me wonder if he and all the people in my family and my neighborhood like him that I grew up with, who never got a chance to get much education or get ahead in life, but who soldiered on nonetheless and made a decent life for themselves and made peace with their situation, were the reason I cared so deeply about justice.

So here I was at 52, because of all the injustice that I witnessed as a child, not quite knowing but feeling what was going on and that it was wrong, walking with a group of farmers whose ancestors had lived on the same land for centuries, maybe more, protesting and deeply feeling the wrong that the government would not recognize their right to their land; but more importantly, being able to walk with them and share their struggle. I guess that is how I and they all came to be there that day—our families, communities and we—shared this history of injustice and we had all decided to stand up--that day.

We marched to the center of the town, beautiful Cerro San Pedro, and next to the old Spanish Catholic Church, the organizers had set up a stage, and a demonstration event took place with speeches and singing. The crowd milled around. It was Sunday and this small town of about 1000 people was otherwise enjoying a beautiful tourist Sunday with small merchants selling the most delicious corn I had ever eaten.

After an hour and a half of mostly short speeches and singing, we walked to a different part of the town where there was a museum to the city that was beautiful as well as the office of the group that was resisting the mine, the FAO.

We walked now what seemed a very long way back to the busses, but instead of getting on them, there was now a demonstration held right at the entrance to the mine. Francisco of San Luis Pro Ecologico had a bullhorn and started denouncing the mine practices. We all gathered around. Then Carlos Marentes Jr. I think, grabbed the bullhorn and gave it to Richard of the Polaris Institute from Canada. There was a Canadian flag with a skull on it attached to the fence of the mine since the mine was owned by a Canadian company. Richard in Spanish very bravely spoke out against the company as a Canadian. There were a couple of mine workers in the compound with their backs to us, and occasionally they would turn around and look at us. I don’t think it was a good thing, and I don’t think Richard had any idea he was going to be asked to do this. But he did well; I was impressed and thought he acted bravely.

Once we arrived in Mexico City, I asked one of my travelling companions, a writer form San Luis Potosi and one of the Pro Ecologico Group what she thought. She said sort of forlornly in Spanish, “We protest and protest, but nothing ever seems to change.”

One of the things that really bothered me was how much hatred was built up during the demonstration. I didn’t like that we were demonizing and dehumanizing people, and I don’t know that that is a way to resolve a situation.However, perhaps at some point it gets to that because of continued mistreatment, and then you have war. No wonder war does not solve anything—it never started out of a desire to solve anything but was merely a venting of frustration.

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