Sunday, October 3, 2010

¡Viva La Libertad!

The world holds us temporarily in bondage; we are all slaves. The commonality: freedom is a mentality, not the absence of physical oppression; it is a contagious, revolutionary state of mind. (Based on 1 Corinthians 7:21-25)

This posting is an intentional, much awaited, well-processed expression of observations and mental milestones that I have come across in my first month of work at the Southside Day Labor Center. Please forgive confusions of tenses. My schedule as of late has not been conducive to one-sitting writing sessions.

For the past month, as Spanish speakers say, I have risen myself at 5 am, showered, dressed, made coffee, fried eggs, and checked before groggily clambering atop my bike and making the 3 mile commute to the Center. The general pattern of my day goes like this: I bike into the parking lot where the day laborers gather to hear various styles of entertaining "good mornings". "Bwiiiiiiinnos Diyas Jacccoooobo!! (The best rendition of good morning one could hear)" or "Ey, Ey, es David Bisbal!" (The men think I favor this fellow. For the sake of humor, please follow this link). I ride up to the locked public facility shed/bathroom where all the equipment is kept and fidget with my 18 keys like a new janitor. I take out the bucket for the raffle and hand out the chairs, cones, and vests to the men. We set up by 6:30 when one of the men yells to the others, "La riiiifa, la riiiiiifa!" The raffle begins and the men jockey for position around the table while their numbers are called and their order is decided on the work list. After the list is made, the first four that were called from the raffle, those first on the list, put on vests. These vests are worn with the intent to keep order, to signify that only they may approach the trucks of incoming employers to negotiate employment. However, jobs are few. Varying from two to ten, pickings are slim every day. Therefore, most are desperate. The incoming truck of a "patrón" is usually met by a teeming gaggle of workers. At first I thought this looked like mayhem, which it is in many ways. But it's also a built business culture that is widely accepted by both parties. Haggling wages, skill bragging, and shoulder shoves are part of the game. The only real problem is that many "jump" the list, disregarding the voted upon system. After three days of observing practices at the center, I just decided to hop right into the fray with my clipboard in hand. I was determined to establish order and fairness. I expected some contact, but the waters were more gentle than they appeared, and the workers are, more than less, far too kind. They are happy to have someone that they know gently enforce the list in an unassuming manner. I now speak with each patrón, take their name, which job they need, and jot down their license tag number as they drive away. The vests from those who leave go to the next on the list and the day continues.

About two weeks in, I came in to work to find a Mexican flag and a fake metal seal of México hung above the center's gate. The men explained to me that September 16th was México's Independence Day. We celebrated. The men borrowed a grill from a man down the road, stuffed it full of wood, and burnt it down to the coals so that we could cook ten pounds of carne asada, a few pounds of chicken, and toast some La La's tortillas. We feasted like the boys in the Lord of the Flies, cranked up a local latino station, and sipped guanabanana juice in the shade. With the lamentable absence of dance partners, we resigned to talks of the history of México.

México's Independence Day is different than ours in a couple ways. Of course, fireworks still blast in every town south of the border and people and parades clog up city intersections, but the main differences in my eyes are indicative of cultural differences. Two are evident. One, the men explained to me that they do not plan El Día de la Independencia festivities. I heard nothing of Mexican delicacies and independence day celebrations as I sat with the men on tuesday, the day prior. However, on Wednesday it took only the idea of one fun-loving, patriotic fellow to spark the celebration of the whole group. The men explained to me that a good party requires spontaneity. Every day spent with these guys teaches me more about what being present in the moment is about. Celebrations are planned to enjoy life and one another, but that same enjoyment is only truly experienced in the moment. The second difference has to do with the event celebrated. Those that reside within the established boundaries of the U.S. celebrate the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Second Continental Congress. The day by which a committee of influential men such as Thomas Jefferson had drafted, presented, and corrected the declarative document. The American Revolution was in full swing, and the thirteen colonies banded together underneath the Declaration. The Mexican Day of Independence celebrates a very different time, a precise moment. It was 1810 and the oppression created by the colonial Spaniards and their mother country that was pulling the strings was heavy. 290 years after the first conquest of Hernán Cortés, marriage among the races had created a number of different blood-mixes, and consequently, a natural type of caste system. The people were stratisfied from the upper to lower classes by their separation from the blood line of Spain, which created an restless tension among the classes. Therefore, it is no surprise that the primary spark of the rebellion was Hidalgo, a member of the "second-rate" Criollo class. In the early morning of September 16th, he made a speech that is now reenacted in front of Mexico's capital every year (Here's this year's bicentennial celebration of the event, watch it around 2:50). Like President Calderón in the video, Hidalgo stood in front of his church and made the famous Grito del Dolores (Shout of Grievances). Slightly modified for the bicentennial celebration, Calderón says:

Long Live the Heroes that gave us our Fatherland!
Long Live Hidalgo!
Long Live Morelos!
Long Live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long Live Allende!
Long Live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long Live National Independence!
Long Live the Independence Bicentennial!
Long Live the Centennial of the Revolution!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!
Long Live Mexico!

Their freedom was realized before the ten year war even began. It was reclaimed the moment that they declared themselves free and adopted the mentality of freedom. The fight that followed was of natural consequence, but freedom was already achieved.

I favor this sense and definition of the concept. Don't get me wrong. I love my sparklers, star-spangled banners, and grill-outs. But should we be celebrating the moment we documented our independence on July 4th, 1776 or should we celebrate April 19th, 1775, the morning Paul Revere took the message of freedom by horseback to colonists from Charlestown to Concord? Because it was then, as men dressed themselves, gave their wives farewell kisses, and mounted their horses to join the fight and spread the word, that independence was decided. During that night, the oppression that weighed upon the colonies was met with resistance, a unifying and intoxicating truth that flowed from soul to mind to body.

Human beings collectively, not just citizens of the States, call this freedom. The struggle that comes afterwards and the methods that are used are issues that require peaceful discourse, but freedom's true moment of birth is a commonality, right? Let's not change the date of Independence Day to April 19th, but let us understand freedom and celebrate it together (maybe even a little more spontaneously).

I am grateful that my new work place is an environment where this celebration can occur daily. My culture and skin superficially separate me, and I will always be the "blanco, guero, gringo," or white boy to them. But we are all human and the basis of our relationship is a mutual interest in the rights and wellbeing of one other.

No charter of freedom will be worth looking at which does not ensure the same measure of freedom for the minorities as for the majority. -Gandhi

May we know freedom,

Jacob Owens
Somewhere between Tucson and Phoenix, AZ