This is your Communications Coordinator
I am on the verge of speechlessness.
I have made too many travels and received too many impressions in
the last few weeks. However, I feel its important to try to say
something about the recent delegation to Reynosa.
This was a delegation that we didn't
quite have time to plan and didn't chose a great date for. We were
caught by circumstances including the semester at UT and the FTAA
protest in Quebec. So be it. It was also a delegation that had its
own personality long before it left Austin. It insisted on being
small. Twenty people wanted to go. Five went. But what a five!
First the incomparable viejas (elders),
Josefina and myself, ATCF people whom you know; then the incomparable
Carole M. whose last name I don't know how to spell, a deeply multicultural,
multi-lingual person from Haiti, New York, Philadelphia, Austin,
well travelled in Mexico, full of insight and feeling for the complicated
cross-border relationships and so actively weaving connections.
Her personality is extroverted and engaging. She enacted humorous
"dramas" that everyone could participate in. For example
she conducted an "affair" with an openly gay man, Mario
from Piedras Negras, full of declarations of love and abandonment.
Their "liaison" lead us all into an interesting conversation
about gender and sexual orientation. A lot of it was in Spanish
so it is without too much confidence that I add in this context
that Julia Quinones is going to conduct a three-day meeting in Piedras
for CFO people from the length of the border. It will include training
in the labor law, their primary organizing tool, and also focus
on gender and sexual orientation issues.
The other incomparable element of our
delegation was Judith Norman and her partner Alistair Welchman.
Their enthusiasm or determination or drive convinced us to go ahead
with this delegation though it was small. Both have Ph.D's in philosophy.
Judith teaches at Trinity in San Antonio; Alistair is something
of a computer maven it seems. Both are excellent researchers and
writers; both have a wacky sense of humor (is it fair to mention
in this context that she's Jewish and he's a Brit?) I have never
before travelled with people so tuned into the concrete human realities
at the border as well as possessed of insights that cut through
the bullshit so efficiently and come out with powerful explanations
- the kind of thing that is so obvious that no one sees. I have
coined a new term for activists like them - marxists with manners
and will explain this in a minute. Our time in the SUV was enlivened
by each other, by eating prunes and trailmix, and by Josefina's
CD collection. Alistair is burning copies for us of Mercedes Sosa,
Jarre, and the Venezuelan group that sang "Cases de Carton."
About the incomparable Josefina, I
must add that we all felt a gratitude to her not only for her CD
collection, but also for how she translates cultures and languages
and her fluency and experience in many worlds and her genius for
articulating. She is a particular kind of Ph.D. all her own (in
addition to the one she has from the U. in Tucson)
Judith has only been in Texas five
(5) years. At one point I said to her, "I see you've been reading
Marx for years, but how did you get so interested in the border?"
She said, "by riding the Greyhound bus between Austin and San
Antonio and witnessing the INS abuse of immigrants." Judith
is good at making connections between events and between ideas.
So about the incomparables in Reynosa.
There was a contingent of CFO people from Ciudad Acuna and Piedras
Negras as well as the local folks. Our delegation had become a pretext
for the CFO people to gather from different cities and for us all
to be briefed on Reynosa issues and events. Since we were a relatively
small group we suggested that the CFO didn't have to give an educational
performance but we could be more informal, ask questions, discuss.
These were the highlights for me:
The presence of the gay men and the
opening of that conversation.
Mario, my Spanish language and Mexican
culture maestro, taught me the word "machora" which
means a butch woman. He rehearsed me frequently on it which made
everyone laugh a lot - with embarassment but also the pleasure
of our openess.
Meeting Lulu and Victoria and hearing
Lulu's account of their experiences in Warren Ohio at the Delphi
annual shareholders meeting and with the director of human resources
and the harassment and threats she's receiving back on the job
I can't give details now - maybe Judith
Norman can - but Lulu is extraordinary - outspoken, canny, daring,
determined, and good spirited, and more than a match in wits for
these managerial jerks that they deal with on the Reynosa and Ohio
level. She is however vulnerable and we are concerned about her
safety. Lulu is fearless. Her determination and reflexes are exemplary.
We should all learn from her. We should also appreciate the risks
these workers take. For that reason I have felt that in certain
ways we have to study and follow the workers' lead. They are cheek
to jowl with the monster. Their reflexes will tell them what to
do. As outsiders we cannot know. Lulu's life has been threatened,
directly and verbally.
Just like when you go to the therapist,
we started talking about the hard issues toward the end of the visit.
After a long breakfast on Sunday, and before checkout time at 2:00pm,
we piled into one of our hotel rooms for "reflecciones"
but started talking candidly and honesty about what is going on
internally in our groups and also - directly related - problems
in our interface. This is important stuff but I'll be brief in summarizing.
When we visited them in January we met three Reynosa/Rio Bravo promotoras
- Veronica, Maria Elena, and Atanacio. Since that time Veronica
has resigned and left hard feelings. She made personal attacks in
writing and copied her views to various people outside of their
immediate circle. Her action seemed intended to hurt and in that
way it was successful - It's not a fatal blow but neverthless, on
a level, traumatic. They don't really understand what drove her.
They must feel psychologically like soldiers in battle who are renounced
by one of their strong cohorts.
At the same time they sense instability
and inconsistency from us in Austin - from Austin tan Cerca and
from Austinites in general. Different groups who want to visit use
our name. The CFO assume that they are part of Austin Tan Cerca
- but they are confused when these visitors are not guided by prinicples
of solidarity or even by respect. These are some examples - the
bike delegation that turned up at 3 in the morning at Piedras or
Acuna and wanted help in getting the bicycles across the border.
Another large group that went to Reynosa and asked the CFO to cook
the meals and make hotel reservations for them but made their own
agenda and didn't collaborate in any way with them in working out
the content of the visit - in other words, used them for housekeeping
services. Then again, various researchers turn up, pump them for
information, for testimonies, for connections, for images and then
disappear. They do not make a relationship. They do not give back.
One of our group said, You are being used. I saw on their faces
that they knew. Julia expressed the quandary. They want and need
the connections and contacts; they want and need the bicycles. They
do not want to be used. Carole articulated what a difficult dynamic
it is to be in such a position. They want to say yes and they want
to say no. I thought of situations I have been in, work situations
and personal situations, in which I have felt dependent on someone
else's authority or resources and therefore unable to say no; and
handicapped by not knowing how to negotiate between yes and no and
how to make my own demands. And this is where Judith Norman made
her show stopping analysis - actually she did it later in the SUV
going home. She said something like: Its the same old story. The
third world is supplying the natural resources, the raw material
(the life experiences and the testimonies) and the first world,
the PHDs and the researchers are appropriating it to increase their
own capital - e.g.get an article published; the activists are co-opting
it for their own prestige or activist capital. This is where I coined
the phrase marxists with manners as a contrast to marxists without
manners who have all the good intentions and the credentials without
the human sensitivities or without really understanding the political
situation and the power dynamic.
Here I am, as many of us are, laboring
in academia yet believing that the academy is a self serving industry,
exploitative, contributing very little, if anything, to the struggle
at the border. The PHDs troop through inching toward tenure, adding
feathers to their caps and feeling good about their services. We
must not forget that nobody speaks for the workers as well as they
speak for themselves. Their impact is stunning.
We talked with them about how we could
act as a clearing house for folks who want to visit the CFO.
This was a transformative trip.
I apologize for using this corny word
incomparable to describe everyone. But everyone moved me deeply.
I will never get over it. I don't know what word to use.
Now I'm going on vacation to NY and
Massachusetts and I'll see y'all 6/21.
If Judith Norman stays around I will
have to be Hoodeet for sure.
Judith Rosenberg ("Hoodeet"),
a founding member of Women on the Border, organizes delegations
to the Mexican Border through the friends and organizational connections
in Austin, Texas "Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera" (ATCF)
(Austin-So Close to the Border). Members of ATCF seek to establish
friendly solidarity relationships with workers in struggle for lives
of dignity in the maquiladora industries.