Mass Graves, Mass Deportations and Blossoming of Big Hope in América 

Ever since machine-gun-wielding members of the Mexican military kidnapped, raped and then beheaded her daughter, forcing several members of her family to migrate, my friend Ana María (name changed to protect her) understands all too intimately the deep connection between mass immigration from Mexico and the mass graves that reside there.

Yet, more than most, Ana María is a source of old-fashioned hope. Threatened by her own government and hunted down by drug cartels aligned to that very same government, she was intrepid enough to disguise herself and sneak into a military installation to interrogate a military officer suspected of being involved in the disappearance. She fights on, for the love of her daughter. Ana María’s is the spirit that transforms policies and topples governments, the spirit of América the beautiful, América the borderless.

The murderers are in the palace. (CREDIT: PetrohsW)

The murderers are in the palace. (CREDIT: PetrohsW)

When I read, mostly in Spanish (US media is failing us on Mexico), about mass graves and Mexican migrants, I often think of her.

When, as a journalist, I notice how the unprecedented mass mobilizations like last Sunday’s protest in Mexico get none of the media coverage in U.S. media that similar or smaller protests in Hong Kong, Venezuela or other countries with U.S.-funded opposition groups get, I think of her.

And when I wonder, “What happens in the heart of a mother whose child was beheaded by our ‘enemies in Afghanistan,’ ISIL or by our ‘allies” (Saudi  Arabia),” I think about my friend, who lives not in the far-off Middle East, but in Mexico.

Like Ana María, the millions of us who refuse to be walled off from our families, friends and stories just south of us are on the verge of bursting the border of the Washington Consensus that has long defined both U.S. immigration policy and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Here’s why:

  1. Mass graves and mass deportations both impact Latin@ bodies and are both rooted in the same massive problem-posing-as-a-solution: militarism. Bodies in Mexicans mass graves are directly and unambiguously rooted in U.S. policy solutions, centered in U.S. military aid and political support for Mexican security forces. These multibillion dollar policies have failed so badly that even former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has joined former Colombian presidents and others to no longer support the “trillion dollar failure” they were once charged with implementing. Similarly, the millions of bodies deported, the hundreds of thousands of bodies jailed and the many bodies killed as a result of U.S. immigration policy under Barack Obama (and his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) are the direct result of a major militarization of migration policy. This “boots-on-the-ground,”  “border-security first” approach to policy makes the U.S. immigration bureaucracy a larger recipient of taxpayer dollars than the FBI, the DEA, ATF, the (very challenged) Secret Service and all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies—combined. As a result, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is breaking deportation, Latino imprisonment and other records of all previous administrations—combined. These colossal failures of policy, the bodies of our loved ones murdered, deported and disappeared, connect in the most intimate way.
  1. Failed U.S. immigration and failed drug war policies are both premised on the same cheapening of human life that Mexicans, U.S. Latinos and others cannot and will not allow to continue. Throughout the region, more are understanding what some of us understood in the 1980’s, when we saw U.S.-backed military dictatorships using media to perpetually dehumanize youth and other opposition: you can’t pass devastating policy against or kill those you see as human. But now this most social media so interconnected of generations will continue to aggressively to expose the role of too many media outlets: the dehumanizing attack dog that cheapens the lives of migrants, the disenfranchised and the student-led movements that defend the voiceless. The selective editing out and framing that defines who is human and who is hated will soon become apparent to others besides policy wonks. Especially problematic for Obama, Enrique Peña Nieto and the Miami-based “Washington Consensus” on Latin America is this troublesome fact: Mexico’s government kills more students in a few days than Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador & other U.S. “enemies” do in the entire year—combined. “Ayotzinapa” is IndigeSpanglish for “U.S. Latin American policy is an abomination that must end.”
  1. Student-driven, mass mobilizations will force the hand of Presidents Obama, Peña Nieto and the U.S military—industrial interests behind the failed immigration and drug war policies. Historians of the Obama era in the U.S. and in Mexico will highlight one major commonality shared by youth in both countries: a total lack of faith in existing political parties and political systems. Youth activism on immigration and around what —before the current “age of (small group) terrorism– we used to call “state terror” reflects the increasingly deep-seated belief in pursuing social change beyond ballot box and on the streets. As a result, students on both sides of the border will start connecting their issues, as seen in immigration activism of more left-leaning DREAMers or during the 2012 Caravan for Peace, in which students and others from Mexico and the U.S. traveled to 26 U.S. cities to make incisive and unprecedented connections between the “drug war” and immigration, incarceration, police violence and other issues.

“I never saw myself speaking out,” Ana María sometimes tells me , adding “but all that changed after what they [the Mexican government] did to my daughter.”

Increasingly, many average Mexicans and even cross-border pop icons like the musical group Maná or soccer star Chicharito are following Ana María’s example, speaking out about immigration and mass murder. Sadly, Ana Maria and others say, U.S. policy continues to produce more Ana Marías.

The silver lining in this coming cloud is that more of us will encounter more voices that will remind us of what’s possible if we do the necessary and urgent work of linking the tragic dots of Latin American life in the region. And more of us will be inspired by people moved to transform and topple governments, people moved to do the impossible because they experienced the unimaginable.

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Roberto Lovato is a writer and a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. You can follow Roberto on Twitter @robvato.

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