8 months ago

Penn Magazine November 2017

The inaugural issue of Penn Magazine

“We have nothing to

“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are the millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all of our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!” -Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, 1993 U.S. crackdowns on the Mexican border have pushed Mexico to control its southern border with Guatemala, which has increased the number arrests from an average of 40 a month to over 150. The crackdown in Mexico carries with it increased bribery, extortion, rape and violence. The Federal Army in Chiapas has been denounced for human rights violations against civilian communities belonging to the EZLN or other organizations. The violations include harassment, threats, illegal seizure of land, executions, torture, forced displacement, and the introduction of prostitution, alcoholism, and drug addiction, which have fragmented and ruptured the social fabric and violated the rights of the communities to enjoy and develop their own culture in conditions of equality. “Torture was frequently used by law-enforcement agents, particularly the state and judicial police, throughout Mexico. Most of the victims were criminal suspects but some, including leaders of indigenous communities and human rights activists, were apparently targeted solely for their peaceful political activities. “ -Amnesty International, 1993 The Catholic Worker Community in Chiapas “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” -Dorothy Day “Building community, repairing the breach and restoring the streets to live in as Isaiah talks about (Isaiah 58:12), learning to love my neighbors…all the gospel stuff that is so easy to read and so hard to practice. Ours is a messy life. Our life in San Cristobal is a life working with the poor and most of the time being poor. Every aspect of our daily life is a little miracle.” -Richard Flamer Growing up in the U.S., even in our poorer neighborhoods, it is easy to be unaware of the many hardships that others in the world experience. Access to health care, food and potable water, indoor plumbing, public education and employment opportunities are but a few of the more obvious ways that the average life experience in the U.S. differs from the life of indigenous peoples in Chiapas, Mexico. The hardships and trials daily facing the people of this forgotten region of the world contain a pain so is not in a position to become a U.S. citizen though she does have a visitor’s visa now (after 5 years of applications) allowing her to come to the U.S. for short visits. According to the rules of immigration should she decide to become a U.S. citizen she has to reside in the U.S. continuously for two years which, for the both of us, is unacceptable. We work with our neighbors in matters Civic. Araceli was elected head of the School committee 4 years back and has accomplished much. Her first year she got the Secretary of education for the State of Chiapas to build 2 new classrooms for the 5th and 6th grades. Her second year she started the process of getting the land deeded as a school. She has been running all over the State since than trying to get signatures of the original donors to get the legal process ended with a deed (the land was informally given by several families when the community was started.) Her third year was spent organizing mothers and teachers to work together on hygiene and security. This year she applied for and got an $80,000. (eighty thousand dollar) grant to rebuild the kindergarden and run a fence around the new building along with a cistern, pump and bathrooms. She just got word that another grant has been approved for buying didactic materials including globes, maps, DVD players and televisions with computers for the teachers. 38/Penn Magazine/November 2017

deep and require an endurance so persevering that most citizens of the first world cannot begin to understand. To understand is to live with, to walk with, to suffer with. Only then can one empathize and offer the kind of love and assistance that will bring about real change, real justice. Richard and his wife Araceli Benitez Moya, a Zapotec originally from Southern Oaxaca, are committed to working with the poor in their everyday lives. They work with the poorest of the poor in that region, many of whom are among those expelled from their native lands, some 30,000 in San Cristobal alone. The work includes a daycare for children and single mothers (many of whom were raped by military during the conflict with the Zapatistas), a small carpentry shop, an adult literacy program, a sewing center, and the beginnings of a computer center teaching editing and producing DVD’s amongst the indigenous peoples. This work in film is connected to Fr. Lee Lubbers who set up SCOLA television to introduce languages to the world, with five channels and a presence in over 87 countries, in 120 languages. Fr. Lubbers asked Richard to help him get videos from the regions in Southern Mexico in native languages, as there are 14 native languages in Chiapas alone and a total of 62 in Mexico. Richard also heads up a Catholic Worker Farm, “La Casa de Camillo Torres,” named for the Colombian rebel priest. With about five acres they have cleared a sight for the workshop and have begun rabbit and red worm production, and have also planted over 300 strawberry plants and 60 fruit trees. They have put three local kids to work with the new block machine necessary to create the blocks for constructing the buildings. There are plans to add a small bakery to be run by four local widows, and they also hope to build a dormitory to house Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran immigrants passing through. Migrants currently sleep in a small cabin with Miguel, the guardian. “We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all.” -Dorothy Day Richard works alongside many local NGO’s, involved in church building, classroom building, and most of all, community building. He worked with Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits in wake of Hurricane Stan, which left over 5,000 people homeless in the more isolated regions of Chiapas. “What miracles, every day, if we are just willing to accept that we get what we need, not what we want... There is a reason that the Church has a preferential option for the poor. It is for what they can teach us.” -Richard Flamer While Araceli works with both the school and her group, Siempre Vida, I have been busy building furniture for the house, instructing a small group from within the community in basic carpentry and doing some electrical work for our neighbors and friends. Some months back I went to a small Guatemalan village, Yalambajoch, to meet with a group of repatriated refugees at the behest of my friend Pedro. The group had returned to their lands after the Civil War had ended and after some had spent 12 to 15 years in a refugee camp in Mexico (where, coincidently, I had worked as a photographer in the early 1990’s.) went to Yalambajoch to assess I a carpentry shop and lumber mill, the tools for which had been donated by an NGO from Switzerland. The larger problem, from my perspective, was a lack of human resources. That is, the men of the village who were carpenters, plumbers, tradesmen had been massacred at the site years earlier. I have made arrangements for an NGO from San Cristobal to start training some of the younger people and managed to raise funds sufficient to buy a transformer for the wood shop so that some of the tools can be used after two young men can come over to San Cristobal to get trained on the basic tools. Along with my friends from the local NGO we have visited and made arrangements with the head of the school in Yalambajoch to have two or three of her graduates come in the Summer for a full November 2017/Penn Magazine/39

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