It would seem that the fevered Earth in her delirium has generated antibodies in the form of a crowned virus to cure herself of the cancer that humankind has become upon her body. Forest fires rage on the Amazon, in Australia, in Siberia, in California, everywhere. More frequent and ever more disastrous hurricanes and floods wreak death in all the continents. The poles warm and glaciers melt. The oceans rise. Each day more and more of our relations the other animals, the plants become extinct. Humankind’s hubris has created the tragedy of the Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene is the Age of Man (humanity) the current geological age “viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” It is a young age by any measure given that the Earth is about 5 billion years old. Shall it be measured from the time of the first appearance of Homo Sapiens in Africa 300,000 years ago? Or from the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution some 12,000 to 15,000 years ago? Or since 3100 BCE with the institution of the patriarchy in the ancient Near East? Or since patriarchal monotheism with the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the 6th century BCE? Some argue much more recent dates such as the industrial revolution about 1780, or even closer and more exactly, July 16, 1945, seventy-five years ago with the first test of the atomic bomb when I was ten years old. There is no consensus as to the beginning of the Anthropocene.
I would date the Anthropocene precisely: October 12, 1492, almost five hundred twenty eight years ago when the Europeans who looking for a short route to the wealth of India stumbled upon a portion of the Earth unknown to them.
Thinking they had reached India, they called the native people they encountered “Indians” and called the western hemisphere a “new” world, a virgin land, and immediately set out to possess it in every sense of the word, to steal, violate and rape it, to enslave and kill its people, the “Indians” they called savages. The Europeans came with two ideas quite strange to this “new” world, Abya Yala, Turtle Island, later called “America:” 1) that they held the one and single truth of divinity and 2) that the Earth belonged to humankind — and so they took the land with sword and cross forcing the native people they did not kill to convert to Christianity, most ironically in the name of the invaders’ one, abstract god’s avatar, a young revolutionary rabbi, Yeshua (from whose birth they reckoned time,) who had taught love and compassion, justice and peace.
The European invaders took the land, murdering “Indians” with the gun and the horse but mostly decimating them through the great pandemics the Europeans unwittingly brought with them killing between 10 million and 100 million people, up to 95% of the indigenous population of Abya Yala, the Americas.
Very soon following the invasion of Abya Yala and coinciding with colonization, the economics of Europe was mercantilism that held that wealth was in profitable trade regulated by the crown. With most of the native population decimated by disease and murder, the need for labor in mining, clearing forests, and large-scale farming was needed. Much of the wealth of the Americas was in labor-intensive crops: sugar cane, coffee, cocoa, hemp, tobacco, cotton and the need for cheap labor was met by the importation of slaves from Africa in the beginning of the 17th century. African people, traded for or captured by slave traders, were brought to the Americas and slave trade, its greatest cost being the intense suffering and great death toll of the enslaved Africans, arguably became the most profitable trade of the time.
Two fundamental premises of European belief were 1) that mankind was created in the image of their one patriarchal god and 2) that their god had given mankind mastery over the other creatures (including woman) and had charged him to subdue the Earth. For the European to justify the enslavement of other humans and treat them as cattle, as a commodity, they had to be made “other,” closer to the other animals decreed by their god to be mastered. So subsequently with the growth of capitalism, and especially the Atlantic slave trade, the concept of racism (the belief that some groups of humans are superior to others, that the fair-skinned are superior to the dark-skinned group) arose in the late 18th century.
Mercantilism morphed into capitalism, private ownership of production and trade independent from control by the crown. In practical terms, it means private ownership and unbridled rape of the Earth as merely a source of raw material to be extracted and made into consumable products by cheap labor, slavery in whatever form, for the profit of the capitalist (the owner.) It is the economics of empire. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776. Thirteen of Britain’s wealthiest colonies in North America declared independence from Britain and the crown that same year claiming Enlightenment ideals of liberty undermined by private greed and the possession of slaves as if of cattle. The reasons for breaking from Britain were more economic than moral.
Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence, son of the Enlightenment, exemplifies the conflicted consciousness of many a European-American. In Jefferson’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” there is an echo of John Locke’s, one of the chief thinkers behind what was to be called capitalism, “life, liberty, and property.” But Jefferson did felicitously write “happiness,” a state not necessarily dependent on property and wealth. And in his original draft, he accused the British king of waging “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisp[h]ere.” A colleague, Benjamin Franklin, so as not to alienate the slave-holding colonies, struck it from the declaration.
Jefferson owned slaves all his life, and slavery remained intact. The liberty lauded in the Declaration of Independence was limited to white males of certain wealth, not for women, nor “colored” men, nor the poor, and certainly not for the slave. From its beginning, the United States of America was patriarchal, imperialist, racist, capitalist, and governed by a plutocracy. The conflict between human and property rights plagues us to this day.
The Industrial Revolution, begun in England about 1760 with the mechanization of production and intensified with the invention of the cotton gin and the development of the steam engine and then the internal combustion engine for use in mining, the manufacture of cloth and other products, and transportation, and with slavery in the southern U.S. and labor at slave wages in England created great wealth for the owners of land and means of production who would pool their resources in corporations to maximize their wealth and their power — and went about ravaging of the Earth, clearing forests, damming rivers, leveling mountains for minerals, plundering prehistoric forests in the form of coal and oil harbored in Earth’s bowels to fuel wars and more plundering. The burning of the remains of the primeval forests blackened the cities like Manchester and London combining its famous fog with its infamous smoke into smog poisoning the air and warming the atmosphere. And lung diseases and others ran rampant. This they called “Progress.”
Eighty-eight years after the Declaration of Independence, the conflicted consciousness of the young country came to a head with a bloody civil war over the issue of slavery that threatened to sunder the union. The northern states won the war over the slave-owning southern states, the union was preserved, and the slaves were freed (though their citizenship and civil rights were mostly nominal.)
I have spoken of the U.S. and England only because they epitomize the modern empire. But other European nations powered by the industrial revolution also invaded, conquered, plundered, and colonized the Americas, Africa, Asia, Polynesia, Australia. It is a history of the murder and displacement of indigenous peoples and the taking of their lands, of war, and the degradation of the Earth.
Much has been made of the “American Dream” popularly understood as the dream that anyone in the U.S. could achieve, especially by working hard and becoming successful (attained wealth) thereby, it was assumed, attaining happiness. Ironically, the term (by which he meant something very different) was coined by an American historian in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression, product of the “Robber Baron” era of the late 1800s, the reckless speculation of capitalists, and the degradation of the mid-west prairies by mechanized agribusiness creating the “dust bowl” making great poverty and waves of migration of workers. The depression was dealt with aptly by one of the most sagacious presidents of the U.S., Franklin D. Roosevelt, with radical policies that remedied the excesses of capitalism and ended with a disastrous Second World War marked by a policy of genocide of the Jewish population by Nazi Germany and the criminal act of unnecessarily dropping two atomic bombs by the U.S. on Japan seventy-five years ago.
The world war that followed was called “The Cold War” because U.S. wars were not officially declared though wars continued. The need of industry to produce for war had created a powerful economic and political interest group, Military-Industrial Complex, which the Republican Pres. Eisenhower, a general and hero, warned was detrimental to democracy. Since the beginning of the nation, capitalism had been conflated with democracy and dissidents who questioned it were called treasonous, repressed and persecuted. One U.S. undeclared war was on a little south Asian country, Viet-Nam whose people were killed, forests were defoliated, rivers poisoned by bombs and chemicals. So unjustified, wasteful, and cruel was the hopeless U.S. war that a great majority of U.S. citizens rose in opposition and the war came to an end. There was hope of change but the reactionary element of the country came to power. The U.S. intervened in other countries, notably in Central and South America, subverted democratically elected governments that questioned predatory capitalism, and propped bloody dictatorships that in the name of fighting communism jailed, tortured, killed their people, and some, as in Guatemala, committed genocide of our indigenous people. Wars, for fossil oil, all justified as “self defense,” were waged in the Middle East destroying people and degrading the environment greatly increasing pollution and heating the atmosphere.
Such is the history that brought us to now and Globalization, the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets. There is where we are and the ultimate result is slavery in its modern form and the devastation of the Earth. Even a profoundly ignorant man, one who does not believe in science or even truth, one who cannot speak without lying will sometimes tell a truth. Trump, the fascistic 45th President of the United States, celebrating the 241st anniversary of U.S. Independence Day, said that “. . . we will protect and preserve [the] American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”
That date, I maintain, marks the beginning of the Anthropocene. It is the beginning of the imposition globally of the metaphysical myth of a patriarchal monotheism that posits humankind’s mastery of the Earth, its obligation to populate it, subdue it, master all other of its living creatures.
When the Europeans conquered us of Abya Yala, the Americas, our conquerors were not only the soldiers but also the missionaries. We were forced to convert to their beliefs, our cultures, our traditions were denigrated and the new cosmology so strange to us was imposed upon us. Our myths and ideas of the divine were male and female, our cosmologies did not reduce the Earth and its creatures to mere commodities for the use of us humans. Many of our creator deities were female, most of them if not all, personifications of the Earth. We recognized our relationship to the other animals, and to the plants, and to inanimate beings, as our kindred and helpers, our teachers. Mountains and lakes and springs were holy. The Earth was sacred, our Mother, Pachamama, Tonantzin. As one of our elders, Chief Seattle, told the invaders, “The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth.”
Many of our indigenous cultures were destroyed, our languages lost, our wisdom denied or unheard. Our indigenous peoples have lived for millenniums in harmony with the Earth, with our fellow creatures, our relations, the other animals and plants, and we disturbed little the natural order of things. There is much that they have to teach us. And we must learn to listen.
Myths are important; our myths set the metaphysics by which we relate to the Earth and one another. They form our reality. Even if we do not know our myths, even if we may repudiate them, they still have formed the matrix of our culture and our society and they form more-often-than-not the unconscious premises of our values and institutions that determine how we live our lives, relate to one another, to the Earth.
The greatest power of conquest of the new world may not have been the soldier but the missionary who replaced our myths, our beliefs, with those of Europe, telling us that what mattered was an imagined existence beyond death. The Earth was but a valley of tears through which we passed on our way to the beyond. And, as a friend who was related to the royal family of Hawai’i said to me of the missionaries: “They said, these wooden figures are not gods, pointed up to the sky and said, there is your god, we fools looked up, and they took all our land.”
Since the middle of the last century, the term “decolonization” has gained much currency. What it refers to is the breaking away of the colonies of the empires and the forming of independent states. But as it is being used more and more, it refers to the “decolonization” of the mind, liberation of our indigenous minds from the brain-washing of colonialism. I, of both Mexican Indian and Spanish blood (and for all I know, African) born into a traditional Mexican Catholic family, can attest to the difficulty of the task. But be assured that the conquest of Abya Yala has by no means been completed; the five hundred twenty eight years of conquest has also been five hundred twenty eight years of resistance. We have not gone away. By the same token, in this United States, the war to abolish slavery has not yet been completely won either. Our brothers and sisters of African ancestry to this day are discriminated against and murdered at the hands of the police. The virulence of racism is much ingrained in the culture of the nation, inherited from colonialism and the economics of empire. It is a sickness that, like patriarchy, must be overcome.
I have painted with a broad and select brush a history complex and nuanced. (I will leave it to a Howard Zinn to tell the history that I have not touched upon.) I have focused on the United States of America because that is where I was born and live and because it is the foremost modern empire. I recognize that many of our European brothers and sisters who came to these shores and many of their descendants have been and are of good consciousness and have struggled and do struggle to create a world that is compassionate and just and honors the Earth that holds it. It has always been so since the “discovery of a new World” with such as Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and gains have gradually been made to make democracy in the Americas. In the U.S. in my mother’s lifetime women gained the right to vote. In my lifetime our brothers and sisters of African descent gained their civil rights even in the former “slave states” of the South where racism has been most virulent. The right of labor to organize has been a continual struggle with gains to be counted. Gains, too, have been made by our brothers/sisters who differ from the traditional norms in sexuality and gender. Much of those gains have been at great cost of struggle and pain to be sure and we have our martyrs, foremost among them the great visionary and prophet Martin Luther King Jr. (whose dream, by the way, shares many of the elements of “The American Dream” of the historian who coined the term.) Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of the cloth who understood and followed the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth. His was very much a theology of liberation.
I write in the isolation forced upon me by the threat of a deadly disease made even more deadly by the policies of a government headed by men who have dropped all pretense of democracy or justice or compassion, indeed of decency — the poisonous bloom of unbridled capitalism, fascists. The policies of capitalist empire have torn the world with continuous war and concentrated the wealth in the hands of a few creating famine and violence for the many. The effects of reckless violation of the Earth has caused her to become feverish and changed her climate. Great numbers of our brothers and sisters are displaced fleeing violence and poverty and homes devastated by the effects of that climate change. They come to seek asylum to the borders of the wealthy nations whose policies are the very cause of their fleeing only to be jailed and their children caged. My heart is often heavy and I struggle with sadness. (Yes, and with rage.)
But also there is great awakening and my brothers and sisters of good heart and consciousness flood the streets at great risk of infection to demand justice for our African American brothers and sisters and for everyone and for protection of the Earth. They are met with violence, guns and tear gas and clubs by the military sent by the fascist POTUS Trump — day after day. And my brothers and sisters protesting make my heart glad and hopeful and proud. And we make our revolution of mind and of heart for justice rooted in compassion, for peace, for the Earth, for life. But the violence directed against them by federal military and by local police promises a repressive police state and makes me sick with fear as POTUS 45 and his party openly undermine the coming elections. We must continue to take to the streets in protest.
On occasion I don my mask and walk in the ‘hood. It makes me sad to see my neighbors masked and careful to keep their distance, see their smiles only in their eyes. To us human mammals accustomed to the pack, for whom the first communication is the touch, to be denied the kiss, the embrace, even the shaking of hands is a violation of our nature. I wonder what effect it will have on those of us who survive, on our children, our species. But it is summer and the sun is bright, the flowers a riot of color and of scent, and the bees go about their business, butterflies flit about, the birds fly and sing. The Earth and the life she bears are beautiful and precious beyond measure — our revolution is of fierce love that must at all costs prevail. Now.
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
~ Howard Zinn
Rafael Jesús González, Prof. Emeritus of literature and creative writing, was born and raised biculturally/bilingually in El Paso, Texas/Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, and taught at University of Oregon, Western State College of Colorado, Central Washington State University, University of Texas El Paso (Visiting Professor of Philosophy), and Laney College, Oakland, California where he founded the Dept. of Mexican & Latin-American Studies. Also visual artist, he has exhibited in the Oakland Museum of California, the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, and others in the U.S. and Mexico. Nominated thrice for a Pushcart prize, he was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English and Annenberg CPB for his writing in 2003. In 2013 he received a César E. Chávez Lifetime Award and was honored by the City of Berkeley with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th Annual Berkeley Poetry Festival 2015. He was named the first Poet Laureate of Berkeley in 2017. Visit <http://rjgonzalez.blogspot.com/>
An excerpt from the book,Loaded A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
In the summer of 1970, while I was living and organizing in New Orleans with a women’s study-action group, we discovered that our group had been infiltrated. One of the volunteers who had come to work with our project six months earlier was secretly making detailed reports of our meetings, but with distortions and outright lies, using terms like “extreme,” “fanatic,” “potentially violent.” We were aware that she was a Social Work graduate student at Brandeis University, but had no idea we were the topic of her dissertation or that she was associated with the government-funded Lamberg Center for the Study of Violence. She had also lied to us about her background, claiming that she came from a single-parent family with a working mother in Mobile, Alabama. We had not checked out her history, but it only took one phone call to learn that she came from a wealthy, social register Mobile family. When confronted, she appeared earnestly sorry and tried to convince us that she had been required to report on us in order to continue receiving her stipend, without which she supposedly could not continue her studies at the university.
After her departure, we became caught up in a current of repression and paranoia. One or two or three pale blue New Orleans police cars parked across the street from our building every day. The cops took pictures, and a suspicious, unmarked car with Illinois plates followed us. Older local activists told us the cars’ occupants were “red squad” detectives from the Chicago Police Department. We installed a heavy lock on the flimsy wooden door to our run-down building, but we did not feel safe.
After a week of heavy police surveillance, we began receiving telephone calls from a man claiming to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The man threatened to burn down our building, and, of course, we didn’t trust the police, so we did not report it. Instead, we decided to arm ourselves. We saw it as a practical step, not a political act, something we needed for self-defense in order to continue working, not at all embracing armed struggle, which our group opposed as a strategy for making change in the United States. We knew that law enforcement authorities would think twice about attacking us if they knew we were armed. In reality, we were joining a trend occurring in movement groups across the country at that time, and once armed, our mindsets changed to match the new reality.
Two of us drove across the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway to a gun show that was held weekly in a large tin shed on the Slidell fairgrounds. The pickups and vans of traveling gun dealers, with license plates from a dozen states, were parked around the site; I had a cousin in Oklahoma who made his living selling guns that way. Inside the shed, the scene was festive, like any ordinary weekend craft fair or flea market. There were children running and playing, older women sitting on folding chairs visiting with each other, younger women clutching infants and staying close to their men, vendors hawking wares and bargaining, Confederate battle flags waving. Everyone was white. We had no trouble finding the used 9mm automatics we sought. We chose three used Brownings for $100 each, clips included, and a case of military surplus ammunition.
“We’re looking for a shotgun, too,” I said to the dealer. “For protection or duck huntin’?” the vendor asked. “Protection.”
He offered us a Mossberg 500 12-gauge police special riot gun, with a short barrel. “Isn’t it illegal to have this weapon?” I asked. “Ain’t a sawed-off, legal as taxes.” We bought it, along with some buckshot shells, all for cash. No paperwork required. The man who sold us the guns also had for sale a number of swastikas in various forms—pins, arm patches, photographs.
We went to the Tulane Law Library to research Louisiana gun laws and found that there were no gun laws in Louisiana. The only restriction was against building an arsenal—defined as more than twenty automatic or semiautomatic weapons—for illegal purposes. Carrying concealed and loaded weapons within the state with no registration was entirely legal. Federal laws prohibited transporting firearms across state lines for sale or to commit a crime, possession of stolen weapons, removal of serial numbers, and various foreign weapons, such as the AK-47.
We kept the loaded shotgun at the door, and we joined an indoor shooting gallery at Lafayette Square. We practiced with the Brownings every day. Shotguns weren’t allowed at the shooting club, but a shotgun took no skill to fire, only nerve and a steady shoulder. Soon after, we acquired rifles and joined a rifle club in the West Bank area. We loaded the bed of our station wagon with four M-1s, a Winchester .22, a .30-30 with a scope, and the riot shotgun, all purchased at the gun shows in Slidell. We paid for membership in the National Rifle Association and affixed their red and black emblem to the back window of the car. Cops were known to not stop vehicles with the stickers, although that probably didn’t work for African Americans.
We acquired more small arms and went daily to the Lafayette Square pistol shooting gallery to practice. In addition to the Brownings, we now owned a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .357, an S&W long-barrel .38, a Walther PPK 9mm, a Colt .45, and a Beretta .32 automatic. We’d purchased all the weapons legally and anonymously at gun shows. We soon had a closet full of guns, plus our new shotgun reloading equipment and a 100-pound bag of gunpowder.
We spent hours every day breaking down, cleaning, oiling, and polishing our weapons. We took turns loading shotgun shells. We had fallen under the spell of guns. Our relationship to them had become a kind of passion that was inappropriate to our political objectives, and it ended up distorting and determining them.
Knowing that the FBI intercepted our mail, and wanting to inform authorities that we were fully armed, I wrote to my father about my new hobbies—guns and gunsmithing. Ironically, it seemed the first thing I’d done in my life that he really understood and supported. “When you can shoot a squirrel in the eye with a .22 at forty yards on the first shot, you’ll be a shooter,” he wrote.
He must have been pleasantly surprised, because he knew that as a child I was terrified of his Remington .22 rifle and shotgun; I got it from my mother, who hated guns. I never asked her why, but she put the fear and hate in my sister and me. Notwithstanding her objections, my two older brothers followed our father. At adolescence, each one started hunting and brought home game, which was our major meat item. We were poor, and ammunition was expensive, so they all had to be good shots, practicing on bottles and cans with BB guns for years before they handled real firearms. It was all for hunting, practical, but there was that other element I could detect but not explain, until I fell in love with guns.
Gun-love can be akin to non-chemical addictions like gambling or hoarding, either of which can have devastating effects, mainly economic, but murder, suicide, accidental death, and mass shootings result only from guns. Guns are made for killing, and while nearly anything, including human hands, may be used to kill, only the gun is created for the specific purpose of killing a living creature. The sheer numbers of guns in circulation, and the loosening of regulations on handguns especially, facilitate deadly spur of-the-moment reflex acts. The Trace, a nonprofit news organization focused on gun violence found that cases of road rage involving a firearm have more than doubled in two years, from 247 in 2014 to 620 in 2016. Research from Gunwatch suggests that “more guns in more cars may simply equate to more road rage incidents in which a gun was brandished, or fired.”1* At the time of my gun-love, which lasted about two years in the early 1970s, approximately half of all homes in the United States contained a weapon—112 million in total—but nearly a half century later, only a third of households contained firearms, which sounds like progress.2 Yet the number of guns privately owned in the United States had reached more than 300 million, a number equal to the total population. The reality is that in the early twenty-first century, each gun owner possessed an average of eight guns.
It seems that our group, and others, during the years that the Vietnam War was playing out live on our televisions, were in the vanguard of a trend of owning multiple weapons. Army and Navy surplus clothing accompanied the trend, which was soon replaced by sweatshop-produced camouflage garb to meet consumer demand. Something else was also at work, which will be probed in the following chapters.
In 1970, at the time of my own gun phase, the then-celebrated U.S. historian Richard Hofstadter coined the term gun culture. “Many otherwise intelligent Americans cling with pathetic stubbornness to the notion that the people’s right to bear arms is the greatest protection of their individual rights and a firm safeguard of democracy—without being in the slightest perturbed by the fact that no other democracy in the world observes any such ‘right’ and that in some democracies in which citizens’ rights are rather better protected than in ours, such as England and the Scandinavian countries, our arms control policies would be considered laughable.”3
Hofstadter narrates the historical roots that might explain the violence wrought by civilian gun use, but argues that other European countries were surely as violent. In one brief paragraph, he dismisses the Second Amendment as having any validity in constitutional law: “By its inclusion in the Bill of Rights, the right to bear arms thus gained permanent sanction in the nation, but it came to be regarded as an item on the basic list of guarantees of individual liberties. Plainly it was not meant as such. The right to bear arms was a collective, not an individual, right, closely linked to the civic need for ‘a well regulated Militia.’ It was, in effect, a promise that Congress would not be able to bar the states from doing whatever was necessary to maintain well-regulated militias.”4
Did Hofstadter believe that these astute “founding fathers” mistakenly threw in the Second Amendment to a Bill of Rights that was about individual rights? Hofstadter does note, without discussion, that the first draft of the Virginia Constitution of 1776—Thomas Jefferson’s work, which preceded the writing of the U.S. Constitution by nine years—included the individual right to bear arms, stating: “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Did Jefferson make a mistake in Virginia, and then contribute to another mistake, making the right to bear arms an individual right in the U.S. Constitution? Hofstadter attributes these “flaws” in Jefferson and the other founders to “reverting to one of the genial fictions . . . the ancient Saxon militia.”
Killing, looting, burning, raping, and terrorizing Indians were traditions in each of the colonies long before the Constitutional Convention. “Militias,” as in government-controlled units, were institutionalized by Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the U.S. Constitution, and were used to officially invade and occupy Native land. But the Second Amendment (like the other ten amendments) enshrined an individual right. The Second Amendment’s language specifically gave individuals and families the right to form volunteer militias to attack Indians and take their land. Asserting this scattershot guess about the origin of the Second Amendment, Hofstadter offers no tie-in between this genealogy and the astronomical number of guns possessed in this country. So he settles on the National Rifle Association: “American legislators have been inordinately responsive to the tremendous lobby maintained by the National Rifle Association, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations. A nation that could not devise a system of gun control after its experiences of the 1960s [referring to the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy], and at a moment of profound popular revulsion against guns, is not likely to get such a system in the calculable future. One must wonder how grave a domestic gun catastrophe would have to be in order to persuade us. How far must things go?”
Hofstadter’s argument is important, not just because he was an influential liberal historian of the United States who penned the classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” but because his arguments about guns in 1970 have been used and repeated, like a mantra, ever since. Then, as now, gun-rights advocates and gun-control advocates have little basis for communicating. The great divide reflects, rather remarkably, the persistence of pro-gun narratives that have morphed as times changed over two centuries, from westward expansion, industrialization, and urbanization, to the advent of movies, television, and the Internet. Gun ownership appears irrational if not insane to gun-control advocates, while gun lovers rely on the Second Amendment, because they have no other argument and don’t wish to admit, perhaps even to themselves, what the Second Amendment signifies. Neither party seems to have any idea what the Second Amendment was originally about, although many who “cling to their guns”5 intuit why.
This blind spot, as well as the racism and erasure of history, can be seen in the following example. After retiring, the late Warren E. Burger, who served as the fifteenth chief justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986, wrote a long and impassioned plea for gun control, arguing that the Second Amendment was dated and no longer valid. Significantly, he published his commentary in Parade magazine, not a law journal. “Let’s look at the history,” Burger wrote. “First, many of the 3.5 million people living in the 13 original Colonies depended on wild game for food, and a good many of them required firearms for their defense from marauding Indians.”6
There is no doubt that the United States is exceptional among wealthy nations—and even many poorer nations—in legal permissiveness about gun ownership, as well as in gun deaths per capita. By 2016, nearly all the states allowed open carry for firearms with various limitations regarding licensing, loaded or unloaded, weapons training or not, gun types, and so on. The holdouts not allowing open carry were California, Illinois, Florida, and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey allow open carry for handguns but prohibit open carry of long guns, while New York and South Carolina allow open carry for long guns but prohibit open carry for handguns.7
Total gun deaths in the United States average around 37,000 a year, with two-thirds of those deaths being suicides, leaving approximately 12,000 homicides, a thousand of those at the hands of the police.8 Mass shootings—ones that leave four or more people wounded or dead—now occur in the United States, on average, at the pace of one or more per day.9 Disturbing as that fact is, mass shootings currently account for only 2 percent of gun killings annually.10 The number of gun deaths—37,000—is roughly equal to death-by-vehicle incidents in the United States per year. To lawfully drive a vehicle, a person must acquire and maintain a driver’s license and drive a car that is registered and insured. A car owner may be fined for driving with a visible safety flaw on the vehicle, such as a taillight out, and a driver may be stopped at any time by authorities and can easily lose the right to drive, among other restrictions. The high rate of traffic fatalities begs the question of how effective gun restrictions would be. Heavy drinking while driving causes nearly three times as many deaths as guns each year in the United States, despite restrictions on the buying, selling, and public use of alcohol. It is necessary to look elsewhere for what causes firearms proliferation and gun deaths; it is necessary to seek out the historical roots.
With the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the Democratic Party platform for the first time included gun control, while the Republican Party platform opposed gun control, proclaiming: “We note that those who seek to disarm citizens in their homes are the same liberals who tried to disarm our Nation during the Cold War and are today seeking to cut our national defense below safe levels.”11 In the previous three presidential elections, neither the Republican Party nor Democratic Party platforms had mentioned guns at all. With the Democrats in control of the White House and Congress in 1993, there was no trouble passing a gun-control bill requiring background checks, commonly called the “Brady Bill” after Jim Brady, who was wounded and permanently disabled during the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady’s wife, Sarah, had campaigned tirelessly for background checks, which did result in a bill that was introduced in Congress in 1987, but the measure lingered without action until it was signed into law in 1993. The following year, Congress passed a ban on assault weapons but in 2004, when the statute was up for renewal, it was allowed to lapse, as it had proved largely ineffectual and unenforceable. Georgetown University law professor David Cole writes: “It is remarkably difficult to define an ‘assault weapon.’ They are semiautomatic, which means they fire a new bullet with each trigger pull, while automatically reloading. But most guns made today are semiautomatic, so the ban on assault weapons focused on the cosmetic military appearance of certain guns, and was easily evaded by alterations in design. Moreover, while gun-rights proponents are hard-pressed to offer a legitimate reason for civilians to own assault weapons, they are used in a very small proportion of gun crimes. Most crimes involve ordinary handguns.”12 Professor Cole finds a common thread of arguments condemning the National Rifle Association and does not question the organization’s powerful role, which relies on a strong electoral base throughout the country, but issues this caution:
Gun control advocates will not make progress until they recognize that the NRA’s power lies in the appeal of its ideas, its political engagement and acumen, and the intense commitments of its members. Until gun control advocates can match these features, they are unlikely to make much progress. That the gun industry may have helped construct modern gun culture does not negate the very real power that culture holds today.13
Indeed, the N.R.A. has around 5 million dues-paying members, and many millions more who support N.R.A. calls for legislative action. The N.R.A. annual budget is $300 million, only 10 percent of which goes to direct lobbying. The N.R.A. does little lobbying, but rather follows and grades every political candidate on gun rights and calls for supporting or campaigning against the candidate accordingly; it focuses on state legislators, who make most gun laws; gun-rights activists tend to focus on Congress. The N.R.A. has active affiliates in many communities in every state, with an average membership of 100,000 per state.
While Cole recommends that we look for the reasons why guns have such strong appeal in the United States in comparison with other societies, he does not explore those reasons. That is the purpose of this book. However, instead of dismissing the Second Amendment as antiquated and irrelevant, or as not actually meaning what it says, I argue that understanding the purpose of the Second Amendment is key to understanding the gun culture of the United States, and possibly the key to a new consciousness about the lingering effects of settler-colonialism and white nationalism. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is a simple statement: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The National Rifle Association and its constituency argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every individual to bear arms, while gun-control advocates maintain, as did Hofstadter, that the Second Amendment is about states continuing to have their own militias—emphasizing the language of “well regulated”—and that this is manifest in the existing National Guard.14
However, the respective state militias were already authorized by the U.S. Constitution when the amendment was added. The Constitution recognized the existing colonial, now state, militias that formed before and during the War for Independence, and mandated to them vital roles to play: “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasion” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 15). The President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the state militias “when called into the actual Service of the United States” (Article II, Section 2).15
Given that what are now the states’ National Guards are descended from state militias, which themselves were repurposed from colonial militias, why was the Second Amendment added as one of the enumerated rights of man in the Bill of Rights? Unequivocally, the Second Amendment, along with the other nine amendments, constituted individual rights, and the militias referenced are voluntary, not state militias.
One argument that runs through historical accounts of the thinking behind the Second Amendment is the one Hofstadter settled on, that Thomas Jefferson romanticized old English-Saxon rural militias, idealizing his “yeoman” farmers as fiercely independent and rightly fearing Big Brother government, insisting on settlers’ right to overthrow oppressive regimes. But, what colonists considered oppressive was any restriction that British authorities put on them in regard to obtaining land. In the instances of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676,16 the War of Independence itself, and many cases in between, the settlers’ complaint was the refusal of the British colonial authorities to allow them to seize Native land peripheral to the colonies, which could lead to unnecessary and expensive war. Historian Charles Sellers wrote: “Cheap land, held absolutely under the seaboard market’s capitalist conception of property, swelled patriarchal honor to heroic dimensions in rural America. The father’s authority rested on his legal title to the family land. Where European peasant landholdings were usually encumbered with obligations to some elite, the American farmer held in fee simple. Supreme in his domain, he was beyond interference by any earthly power. Except for a modest tax and an occasional half-day of neighborhood roadwork or carousing militia drill, he owed no obligations of labor, money, service, or (finally) religious fealty to any person or entity. Fee-simple land, the augmenting theater of the patriarchal persona, sustained his honor and untrammeled will. This extraordinary independence inflated American farmers’ conception of their class far above peasantry.”17 ……………..
As a whole, this book attempts to confront fundamental aspects of U.S. history that continue to be too often overlooked or denied, and which can be traced back to the original meaning and intention of the Second Amendment. It aims to confront the violence implicit in U.S. society from the moment of its conception, and the various narratives and forces that have taken shape to deny the consequences of that violence by popularizing and commercializing it. The book also aims to acknowledge the families, traditions, memories, and resistance of Indigenous People and African Americans whose lands and lives the Second Amendment was forged to take.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farming family. She is the author of manybooks,includingthe acclaimedAnIndigenousPeoples’ HistoryoftheUnitedStates (featured here in Somos en escrito), RedDirt:GrowingUpOkie,Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, and Bloodon theBorder:AMemoiroftheContra War. Shelivesin SanFrancisco.
Loaded A Disarming History of the Second Amendment is published by City Lights Books, San Francisco. For copies, go to Loaded_CityLightsBooks.
* All footnotes cited here can be found in the printed book.
For sometime now, I have shared my thoughts during my visit to the Vietnam Memorial in 2006 as my way of honoring Memorial Day:
Reflections on the Wall
My first day in Washington D.C., in the heat of August, straight from the Museum of the American Indian, wearing my T-shirt picturing the Apache Gerónimo and his armed companions and reading, "Homeland Security, Fighting Terrorism since 1492," I walk down the Mall, skirt the obelisk of the Washington Monument, down the reflecting pool, past the white marble Greek temple of the Lincoln Monument, to the Viet-Nam Wall - a pilgrimage to the memorial to "my war," mine not because I fought in it, but because I fought against it - heart, mind, and soul. My intent, a kind of penance, like saying the rosary, is to start at one end to the other and read each and every one of the 58,245 names, imagining a face, an age, a history, a life. I know it will be hard, but do not think it impossible (not one of the five million names of the Vietnamese dead are even alluded to.) I start with one name, John H. Anderson Jr. (PFC, 19 years of age, dead May 25, 1968, I later look up in the log), then several, increasing exponentially. It becomes more and more difficult to focus, the faces, the figures of families, lovers, tourists reflected moving against the mirroring black granite Wall is a distraction, their chatter, at times their laughter, an intrusion upon my meditations. As the Wall grows longer, rises higher and higher toward the center, the names crowd upon each other, pile up high and tight, at times difficult to distinguish, I do not know if for the numbers, the height, for the glare of the sun, or for the tears welling in my eyes. The names, the letters blur, run together.
I begin to skim, to let my attention chance upon a name, a Smith, a Cohen, a Bankowski, an O'Mally, a Chan, certainly a González here and there - every European and many another culture represented by a name. How came they to be there, what history of need, what myth or dream of theirs, or of some recent or distant ancestor, brought them to be "American" and die in a war without sense or reason? After a time my reading becomes cursory, I occasionally stop, kneel to pick up and read a letter, a note of testimonial - of love, of remembrance - left at the foot of the Wall by some surviving wife, sweetheart, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, friend. A flag here and there, a flower (mostly artificial, a few in soda bottles, wilting in the heat.)
My mind gradually becomes numb, at times almost hallucinatory, wonders -imagines seeing the name there of a moneyed coward with powerful political connections that now inhabits a white house not far away.
* * *
They say the dead live on for as long as they are remembered. How many of these names etched here are still remembered? A few people, holding scraps of paper against the black stone make rubbings. Most hurry by, the kids impatient to reach the end, the names picked there not interesting enough to hold their attention. The names.
Last year, Xochipilli, my men's ritual group, in collaboration with the 'Faces of the War Project,' created an Ofrenda to the Victims of War for the Días de los Muertos Community Celebration at the Oakland Museum of California. The ofrenda stood against the walls lined with the photographs and names of the U. S. soldiers dead in Iraq, the names, without the photographs, of Iraqi dead. The names, still fresh, living in recent memory. Another war, as senseless, as irredeemable as that of Viet-Nam. I am tired, my face wet with sweat and tears I do not bother to wipe away. Tourists look at me, respectfully keep their distance, look away. They sense that this, that of Viet-Nam, is my war; I do not know if my shirt gives them a clue as to why.
* * *
I reach the other end of the Wall, Jessie Charles Alba (Sgt., aged 20, dead May 25, 1968, the middle of the war.)
* * *
Retracing my way up the reflecting pool, I must climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial from which Marian Anderson once sang, from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream. I stand before the colossal figure of Lincoln enthroned and read his words chiseled into the white marble to his right: " . . . a government of the people, for the people, by the people . . ." A pious hope devoutly to be wished.
Reflexiones sobre el Muro
Por Rafael Jesús González
El primer día en Washington D.C., en el calor de agosto, justo del Museo del Indio Americano, llevo mi camiseta con la imagen del apache Gerónimo y sus compañeros armados que lee, "Homeland Security, Luchando contra el Terrorismo desde 1492." Camino por la alameda, el Mall, rodeo el obelisco del monumento a Washington, sigo la alberca, paso el templo griego de mármol blanco del monumento a Lincoln, al Muro de Vietnam - peregrinaje al monumento a "mi guerra," mía no porque luché en ella, sino porque luché en oposición de ella - corazón, mente y alma. Mi intención, un tipo de penitencia, como decir el rosario, es empezar de una punta a la otra y leer cada uno y todos los 58, 245 nombres, imaginándome un rostro, una edad, una historia, una vida. Sé que será difícil, pero no lo creo imposible (ni siquiera se alude ni a uno de los cinco millones de nombres de los vietnamitas muertos.) Empiezo con un nombre, John H. Anderson Jr. (PFC, 19 años de edad, muerto el 25 de mayo 1968, más tarde busco en la lista), luego varios, aumentando exponentemente. Se me hace más y más difícil enfocarme, las caras, las figuras de familias, amantes, turistas reflejados moviéndose contra el espejo del Muro de granito negro es una distracción, su parloteo, a veces su risa, una intrusión en mis meditaciones. A grado que el Muro se hace más largo, se eleva más y más alto hacia el centro, los nombres se amontonan uno sobre el otro, se amontonan alto y apretado, a veces difíciles de distinguir, no sé si por la cantidad, la altura, el relumbre del sol o las lágrimas que me llenan los ojos. Los nombres, las letras se borran, se corren una contra la otra. Empiezo a pasar los nombres por en cima, dejar mi atención caer sobre un nombre u otro, un Smith, un Cohen, un Bankowski, un O'Mally, un Chan, indudablemente un González aquí y allá - toda cultura Europea y muchas otras representadas por un nombre. ¿Cómo llegaron a estar allí, que historia de necesidad, que mito o sueño suyo, o de algún antepasado reciente o lejano, los trajeron a ser "americano" y morir en una guerra sin sentido o razón?
Después de algún tiempo mi lectura se hace superficial, paro de vez en cuando, me arrodillo a levantar y leer una carta, una nota de testimonio - de amor, de recuerdo - depositada al pie del Muro por algún sobreviviente, esposa, novia, madre, padre, hij@, herman@, sobrin@, amig@. Una bandera aquí y allá, una flor (la mayoría artificiales, unas cuantas en botellas de refresco, marchitándose en el bochorno. La mente se me entume gradualmente, a veces casi halucinante, se desvía - imagina ver allí el nombre de un cobarde adinerado con conexiones políticas poderosas que ahora habita una casa blanca no lejos de aquí.
* * *
Dicen que los muertos viven mientras sean recordados. ¿Cuántos de los nombres aquí grabados son aun recordados? Algunas personas, poniendo trozos de papel contra la piedra negra hacen borradores. La mayoría se apresuran, los muchachos impacientes a llegar al final, los nombres cincelados allí no lo suficiente interesantes para captarles la atención. Los nombres.
El año pasado, Xochipilli, mi grupo de hombres dedicado a la ceremonia, en colaboración con el 'Proyecto Rostros de la Guerra', montó una ofrenda a las víctimas de la guerra para la Celebración Comunitaria del Día de Muertos en el Museo de California en Oakland. La ofrenda se montó contra las paredes cubiertas de las fotografías y nombres de los soldados estadounidenses muertos en Irak, los nombres, sin fotografías, de muertos Iraki. Los nombres, aun frescos, vivientes en la memoria reciente. Otra guerra, tan insensata, tan irredimible como la de Vietnam. Estoy cansado, la cara húmeda de sudor y llanto que no me preocupo de limpiar. Me miran los turistas, respetuosamente guardan la distancia, alejan la mirada. Sienten que esta, la de Vietnam, es mi guerra; no sé si mi camiseta les sugiera por que.
* * *
Llego al otro extremo del Muro, Jessie Charles Alba (Sgt., 20 años de edad, muerto el 25 de mayo 1968, a mediados de la guerra.)
* * *
Retrazando mis pasos a lo largo de la alberca, me siento obligado a subir los escalones del monumento a Lincoln desde los cuales Marian Anderson una vez cantó, desde los cuales Martin Luther King, Jr. habló de su sueño. Paro ante la figura colosal de Lincoln entronizado y leo sus palabras cinceladas en el mármol blanco a su derecha: ". . . un gobierno del pueblo, para el pueblo, del pueblo . . ." Esperanza pía devotamente anhelada.
Rinconcito is a special “little corner” in Somos en escrito for short writings: single poems, short stories, memoirs, flash fiction and the like.
By Carmen Baca
Rosa was a cherished child. The only daughter of three children, she enjoyed all the attention her parents gave her. Her mother, Yolanda, quit her job at the local parachute factory to be a stay-at-home mother to her little girl. So by the time Rosa was five years old, she knew how to read and write in both English and Spanish. Back in the sixties there was no such grade level as kindergarten or head start, only pre-primer and first grade. Since Rosa’s skills were honed by her mother, she went directly into first grade. That first day of school, her mother and she walked the four short blocks to the institution and stood in one of two lines of pupils and mothers waiting for entry. One boy with the same name as the news anchor on the television program her parents watched nightly caught Rosa’s attention as he just wouldn’t or couldn’t stop clinging to his mother’s skirts and crying softly as though his life were over. Rosa stared until her mother pressed her hand and shook her head slightly. That’s all it took for Rosa to obey and look about at the rest of the children around her. She frowned as her eyes went from this child to that to the next: blondes, auburns, and redheads with green, blue, and hazel eyes abounded. There were perhaps only two or three who had dark hair and brown eyes like hers. Before she could ask her mother about such diversity in the appearances of her classmates, the teachers opened the front double doors and with wide smiles, they welcomed her and the rest of the children into the building. Waving one last goodbye at her mother, Rosa walked parallel to the little boy with the television man’s name. He was still sniffling but walked robotically away from his mother in quiet obedience. Directing the grades to different rooms, las maestras moved the two lines along smoothly until all the children were deposited in the rooms of their respective grades. Rosa found herself almost at the middle of the classroom, welcomed by a short but lovely Hispanic woman with black hair done up in a neat bun at the back of her neck. She must’ve worn multiple hoop slips under her flowered dress which flared out so beautifully from her tapered waist, giving her the hourglass figure worthy of June Cleaver and other television personalities of her day. The teacher told them about herself and welcomed her new class, asking the students to introduce themselves. One tall blond boy behind her stood at attention and addressed the lady as M’am when he spoke, and Rosa wondered why he’d been trained to do that. When the children finished, Miss Bustamante gave them their first assignment and moved about the room to look over her charges’ shoulders as they all worked quietly. Rosa found the worksheet very easy and finishing quickly, she looked around at her peers once more, wondering how she was going to make any friends. Clack clack went the lady’s tiny high heels as she stepped closer, and Rosa was overwhelmed by the flowery perfume her new teacher wore as she walked past. The day passed uneventfully and at the end of the afternoon, her mother was standing right where she’d been that morning. The next day was a repeat of the first, only the little boy with the famous name didn’t cry anymore. Rosa was content her school days had begun and were so far all that she’d hoped. She had a beautiful teacher, a classroom full of potential amigos, and so much to learn. Miss Bustamante selected a little blonde girl to pass out the papers from the day before. So Rosa sat quietly at her desk like all the others and waited for hers. She noticed when the little girl frowned at a paper in her hands and walked directly to the teacher. “Miss Bustamante, I can’t read this,” she explained. The teacher, who was still taking roll, replied so softly Rosa didn’t hear. The little blonde girl walked importantly down the aisle and thrust the worksheet onto Rosa’s desk and tapped it hard with her finger. She hissed with a loud whisper, “Miss Bustamante says you can’t write like this. You have to write like I do.” And she showed her own paper to Rosa with a proud shake of her curls. Rosa was crushed. Her own mother had told her how beautiful her cursive handwriting was, so why did Miss Bustamante forbid her to use it? Why did she have to go back to using print like a baby? After school that day after having conferred with the teacher, Yolanda did her best to explain that the rest of the class couldn’t read cursive yet. She tried to convey that Rosa was more advanced in her writing than her peers, and she could still write in cursive at home, just not in school until her teacher said it was okay. As the days in school began to take on a routine, Rosa became aware of a few things which made her feel inferior, as though she lacked something her classmates had, and she didn’t know what it was. Miss Bustamante hardly ever called on her, even when she raised her hand like a good girl. The little blonde girl and her friends quickly became the favorites, called upon to pass out papers, to paste the stars on the reading board, to be the leaders when they formed lines to go to the cafeteria or the library or where ever. Whereas Miss Bustamante shared her good morning and good bye hugs with the blondes, the auburns, and the redheads, she only offered a pat on the head to the morenas like Rosa. She felt like a puppy, not like a human; and again those feelings of being less, of being not-as-good as the lighter-skinned kids took hold. She didn’t understand that this was only the first of the many life’s lessons to come. And they would only serve to confirm that she would never be good enough to earn a hug from her first woman role model. With first grade behind her, Rosa went into second grade somewhat jaded—at age six, mind you. She’d made only two friends in first grade, Eunice and Doris; and all three were almost exactly the same: Hispanic, introverted, and meek. Mrs. Mason, their teacher, was a plump white-haired older woman who didn’t smile. She exuded authority, and she wielded her power over her charges as though she enjoyed every moment of their discomfort. At least it seemed that way to Rosa, Eunice, and Doris, who were her “victims” at any given time, day, or moment. Of course, they were separated by the teacher’s seating chart, so when one became the target of the teacher’s negative attention, the other two weren’t in close proximity to offer even a supporting smile. Rosa found herself seated at the front of the class, right smack in front of the teacher’s desk, as if the lady knew inherently that she would need a close watch, as if she’d been pegged as a trouble maker just by being there. The abuse began almost immediately. First, Mrs. Mason insisted that Rosa didn’t give her the two dollars for her month’s supply of one milk bottle per day. Rosa ran home that day in tears, and her mother went back to school with her the following morning. Yolanda insisted her daughter didn’t lie; she reiterated how she’d handed the two dollars to Rosa in a white envelope the previous morning with instructions to give it over to the teacher immediately, which she had. But the stern-faced woman insisted she’d never received the money, and with no proof, Yolanda had to dish over another two dollars right there in front of Rosa and the rest of the class. Rosa could see the defeated look on her mother’s face, and she disliked her teacher so much more for making Yolanda feel that way. Days, weeks, and months passed with Rosa, Doris, and Eunice trying to keep low profiles and hoping not to anger their teacher. Mrs. Mason ruled her class with an iron hand, literally, and both Doris and Eunice had felt the slaps of that palm on their behinds before Rosa did. The teacher’d told the children they could sit quietly and entertain themselves when they were finished with their work until all the others were finished with theirs, and because all were cowed by what they’d seen her do when she’d spanked the two girls, they always behaved accordingly. So one day when Rosa finished her work and began to draw quietly, waiting for the rest of the class to complete their worksheets, she had no idea she was about to be the subject of her teacher’s wrath. One of the other students called for assistance, and as Mrs. Mason passed Rosa’s desk she stopped cold and yanked the Big Chief tablet from her desk. “What’re you doing?” she asked abruptly and loudly. “Drawing,” Rosa replied quietly and lowered her face as though she should be ashamed of her art. Rosa loved playing with her dolls, and she also enjoyed drawing girls with different styles of dresses and hair styles so she could show her ideas to her mother. Yolanda was a skilled seamstress, and she always made matching outfits for herself and Rosa. And she also made clothes for her daughter’s dolls. Rosa loved when her mother curled her long, dark hair into caracoles, perfectly-formed ringlets that framed her face and cascaded down her back. She did the same with her dolls, only using her finger as a curler instead of the iron wand her mother heated on the flames of the gas stovetop. She’d been concentrating on drawing curls on the girl she’d outlined when the teacher chose her as a lesson to her peers. She jumped when Mrs. Mason threw the tablet down on Rosa’s desk so hard the slapping noise echoed in the silence. But what happened next Rosa didn’t expect and never did understand why she’d brought such anger down upon herself. Mrs. Mason pulled Rosa’s chair back from under her, holding her up with a tight, painful grip on her upper arm. Then she grabbed Rosa from the back of the neck and forced her face forward over the desktop before throwing her dress up over her nalgas so everyone around could see her ruffled panties. The slap of the woman’s large hand cracked on both cheeks and the smarting pain made tears flow from Rosa’s eyes, but it wasn’t quite over as the woman again gripped Rosa’s arm and forced her down onto the chair again. With one harsh look and a stern warning spoken through clenched teeth, “Don’t ever do that again,” the teacher walked away, leaving Rosa shattered as she fought to stop crying. The humiliation mortified her; everyone saw her underpants, everyone saw the teacher spank her, and she had no idea what she’d done to avoid doing it again. And Yolanda, already having dealt with the teacher and seen for herself the type of person she was, didn’t go back to confront her during class time like she had with the milk money. She merely went into the woman’s classroom after school that afternoon after finding Rosa red-eyed and still fighting tears. She laid down the law about the woman laying her hands on her only hija ever again, and for the remaining months of that school year, Rosa didn’t have to fear physical abuse again although the emotional and mental abuse was sufficient to add to her feelings of worthlessness. So cowed were Rosa and the rest of the class by their austere teacher that they behaved like model students, so quietly and so quick to move at only one narrow-eyed glance from the woman that the rest of the teachers envied her classroom management. Closer to the end of the school year Rosa got her revenge, but it wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t something she was proud of, but it was memorable. She was sick, something from breakfast perhaps or the beginning of a virus, but Rosa sat in her desk right in front of the teacher and tried her best to push the sickness back down. She rose and stepped quietly up to the woman’s desk and whispered she needed to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Mason shook her head no. Rosa tried once more, pleading she was going to throw up. Mrs. Mason told her to go back to her seat. Rosa did as she was told. And she sat there, knowing any moment the vomito was going to come up and there was nothing she could do about it. She didn’t even think of defying her teacher by making a dash to the bathroom, her fear of the woman was so great. So when the first heave began and the teacher looked right at her with those narrowed eyes and that expression which seemed to say “don’t you dare,” Rosa’s mouth opened and her liquified breakfast spewed all over the top of her desk and ran down…well, everywhere. “Why didn’t you run to the restroom? How can you be so stupid to just sit there?” The woman’s remarks caused snickers and giggles among the classmates behind her and gulps and dry heaves from those near enough to see and smell her degradation. Tears filled Rosa’s eyes. She sat motionless as Mrs. Mason got up with the roll of brown paper towels and the trash can and knelt beside her desk to clean it up. The woman muttered and mumbled and grumbled and coughed the entire time, but she was the one stuck cleaning up the disgusting and smelly mess. It was only years later that Rosa felt a kind of satisfaction that the odious teacher got her comeuppance even if Rosa didn’t mean for it to happen in such a way that it traumatized herself. Grade three brought a disconcerting change to Rosa’s situation: Doris and Eunice both moved away and she was left to herself. None of the blonde, blue-eyed girls seemed to notice her, much less befriend her; and she became invisible. She concentrated on her school work and dedicated herself to her education. This was how the rest of her elementary years passed: unremarkable and soon forgotten. Middle school wasn’t all that much different other than the fact that feeder elementary schools throughout the district sent all their students to the school, so there were several hundred rather than just a hundred kids. Rosa finally found a group of girls like herself to call friends, and she was finally finding acceptance. The only issue still puzzling her was the fact that once more, she and her friends were still in the minority. The Anglo students seemed to be more self-confident, more outgoing, and as a consequence, more popular. They were the cheerleaders, the student council officers, the members of every club, and once more—the ones who seemed to be more appreciated by the teachers, most of whom were also Anglos. So it was no surprise that one day on her way to class with a couple of her friends as they spoke in Spanish, the vice principal stopped them—right smack in the middle of the stairway as the rest of the students came and went all around them to their classes. Having grabbed her arm above the elbow, he reprimanded her in a loud voice, saying, “Don’t speak Spanish in the halls; Spanish is spoken only in the Spanish classes.” Now, not only did Rosa feel inferior to these more confident, more authoritative adults, but now she also felt that her culture was somehow to blame for her low esteem. The days of celebrating bilingualism were still years ahead. During the ’60s and the’70s, Rosa did what many Hispanics did: she focused on learning English and let her Spanish slowly slip away. Over the course of the next four years, she lost her ability to speak fluent Spanish, and she also lost her identity.
Little Rosa’s experience mirrors those of many baby boomers today. As adults, we are capable of seeing how individuals’ perspectives color their behavior toward their fellow humans. We now realize why and how our early childhood interactions with grown ups influenced our attitudes about ourselves. They may have never even given a thought to how their treatment of Hispanic children like Rosa affected us so profoundly; they certainly never realized how they affected these youngsters’ adult lives because of their thoughtlessness. Much of our sense of worthlessness, inferiority, and self-loathing stemmed from others’ treatments of us, whether because of prejudice or because of their own personal issues. As an adult, Rosa now knows that Miss Bustamante suffered injustices of her own as the only Hispanic teacher of a predominantly Anglo school. Her colleagues and her students’ parents didn’t see her as their equals either, and though she strove to be the best educator she could, she felt she would never be good enough. She knew that she must favor the white kids to keep her position since their parents were the ones with power in their small town: the mayor, the councilmen, the school board and administration among them. In her experience the Hispanic mothers were meek and listened to her observations, comments, and recommendations about their children with deference. The Anglo mothers were more demanding of her, questioning her observations and her suggestions as though they were better equipped than she to know how to teach their children. But little Rosa knew none of this and didn’t realize for decades that her lovely teacher didn’t dislike her and didn’t find her lacking. On the other hand, Rosa never did discover what was behind Mrs. Mason’s victimization of her and her Hispanic friends. Because her detrimental actions were directed toward them, she can only conclude that it was mean-spirited prejudice which guided her. Since she’s long gone by now, Rosa can only hope that at some point in her life, the woman’s perspective changed for the better. In any event, we who are baby boomers today learned some harsh lessons at a very young age, and those experiences affected our self-esteem and our own perspective toward our culture. Rosa learned to like herself eventually; she learned that there would always be those who thought themselves better than she because of their color, their race, their upbringing or some other factor. Where there are people, there will always be prejudice against all sorts of others for diverse reasons. As individuals we need to discover how special we are because of our uniqueness. Even if some of us, like Rosa, still find ourselves feeling inferior deep inside where we never let others see.
Carmen Bacataught a variety of English and history courses, mostly at the high school and college levels in northern New Mexico where she lives, over the course of 36 years before retiring in 2014. She published her first novel in May 2017, El Hermano,a historical fiction based on herfather’s induction into the Penitente society and rise to El Hermano Mayor. The book is available from online booksellers. She has also published eight short pieces in online literary magazines and women’s blogs.
Living in the Shadow of Deportation: A Case for “Dreamers”
By: Ricardo Inzunza
The nation is currently engaged in a fractious debate over what to do about the more than 800,000 individuals, euphemistically called “Dreamers,” residing here without the benefit of immigration authorization. President Trump argues that we are a nation of laws and says “Dreamers” are lawbreakers. He contends that leaving the country is the first step this criminal element can take to make things right. The President maintains that rewarding criminal behavior, by permitting them to adjust to a lawful immigration status here, is a prescription for chaos and a de facto rewarding of lawlessness. The President’s policy pronouncement includes supporters as well as detractors, but what course of action offers the nation the best possible outcome? I am frequently asked if I believe the United States Government has a moral obligation to assist “Dreamers.” The question can be approached from several angles, but for me the most compelling argument is the inhumanity of deporting long term non-immigrated residents. “Dreamers” belong to America and to American society. They are just waiting for America to realize it. Deporting “Dreamers” would strip them of membership in the only communities they have ever known. Forcing them to leave their homes and disconnecting them from family and the place where their most meaningful social and cultural connections were formed is grossly out of proportion to the harm caused by entering the country without inspection. If these are the kinds of ties that make life meaningful and worthwhile, that help us flourish as human beings, then I believe there is a powerful moral argument to be made against immigration policies that undermine them. Support for a path to lawful residence for children brought here through no fault of their own has been stable for more than a decade. The most recent polls indicate that nearly 85 percent of Americans favor a plan which will permit these long-term residents who have developed equities and set roots in America and have become productive members of society to have a path to lawful permanent residence. Yet, the thought of granting "Dreamers" a permanent immigration status is deeply disturbing to some Americans. I wonder why this possibility arouses such vitriol in these Americans. Rationally speaking, we cannot deport everyone who is here without an immigration status. Trying to do so would be equal to deporting the entire populations of Alaska, North Dakota, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. Moreover, such an action would force millions of US citizen children into foster care and devastate the US labor force. Clearly, this option is not in the nation’s best interest. It’s also not in the national interest to refer to persons who are here without an immigration status as criminals or the criminal element. Distinguishing between civil immigration violations and criminal violations can be confusing. Here is what you need to know about whether being in the country without authorization is a criminal offense. Fortunately, there are only two laws we must grapple with: improper entry and unlawful presence. Both infractions are violations of civil immigration law, not criminal violations.The difference in the penalty phase between criminal and civil immigration law turns on the distinction between redress and retribution. Civil immigration law seeks redress of wrong doing by compelling compensation or restitution from offenders. The offender is not punished but suffers as much redress as is necessary to remedy the venial wrong that has been committed. In this case, the Immigration and Nationality Act normally calls for a minimum of a $50 fine for first time violations of these civil statutes. On the other hand, when considering violations of criminal statutes, the main objective of the law is to seek retribution by punishing the criminal in a way that will provide a strong inducement not to commit another crime; in other words, we must satisfy the public sense that punishment should be severe enough to deter future criminal behavior. Most of the folks here without immigration authorization have never been convicted of any criminal activity and there is nothing for which the Government can charge them because the statute of limitation on these infractions has tolled. Statutes of limitations are established on certain crimes because Americans do not believe it’s morally right to make people live indefinitely with the threat of serious legal consequences hanging over their heads for long-past actions. If persons without an immigration status have not been arrested and charged within 5 years, the immigration offense becomes non-chargeable. Therefore, when referring to non-immigrated residents, policymakers would be well advised to refine their language to properly distinguish civil immigration violations from criminal violations of federal law. Falsely labeling “Dreamers” as criminals only serves to keep Americans confused, agitated and divided on a proper course of immigration policy. If we are prepared to let time erode the government’s power to pursue actual crimes, it makes even more sense to let time erode the government’s power to pursue immigration violations, which are not normally treated as criminal acts and should not be viewed as such. In ethics and law, the phrase "let the punishment fit the crime" is a principle that means that the penalty for a misdeed or wrongdoing should be reasonable and proportionate. In our system of justice, proportionality requires that the level of punishment be scaled relative to the severity of the offending behavior. Nonetheless, when it comes to “Dreamers,” there remains an almost overwhelming temptation on the part of legislators to go beyond redress or retribution by seeking what can best be described as retaliation for violation of these civil immigration statutes. They seek to create heavy penalties for “Dreamers” as the price to be paid for a path to lawful residence. They believe offenders must be harshly punished for being brought here by their parents and remaining in the country without authorization. As Americans we share a common moral commitment to limit the range of acceptable policies we can accept as remedies. The destruction of lives, families and communities created by forced removal should never be acceptable. I believe forcefully deporting “Dreamers” who have lived here their entire lives for non-chargeable violations of civil immigration law would not only insult America’s sense of justice but would be totally out of proportion to the severity of the infraction being redressed and would rival our internment of Japanese Americans in its cruelty and inhumanity. A more enlightened remedy is available. By creating an Immigration Benefit Program that identifies a population which has been living in the nation’s shadow for decades, we will greatly enhance our national security posture. Bringing them into the sunlight will free up valuable enforcement resources for more pressing national security and law enforcement concerns. It will also significantly add to government revenues by adding millions of workers to our tax rolls. This can all be accomplished at no expense to beleaguered taxpayers. Erosion of trust in our political institutions, coupled with an absence of acceptable remedies for public wrongdoing, is expanding the nation’s impulse to punish. We must seek a shared moral vocabulary that will unite us in our pursuit of justice with mercy for the “Dreamers.” Shakespeare reminds us in The Merchant of Venice, “We are most God-like when we are most merciful.” Soon, immigration reform legislation will reach the President’s desk. Nearly all Americans believe that a successful adjustment program should combine measured penalties with clear and achievable goals which will set the maximum number of people on a path to lawful permanent residence. The program should identify and remove the relatively few who do not belong here based on criminal activity and integrate those who can contribute their talents as quickly as possible. As the “Dreamer” debate grinds on, just think how much richer America would be if we could re-discover our heritage of nourishing liberty and opening our hearts to those seeking the same legacy. Let us remember that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
Ricardo Inzunza, a native of San Diego, California, was posted in the Pentagon and the Departments of Energy and Justice in the Administration of President Ronald Reagan. He was appointed Deputy Commissioner of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) by President George H. W. Bush; his office was the central source for the development, implementation and oversight of all immigration service policies and practices worldwide, including the “Sanctuary Movement.” Now, as CEO of RIA International, Ltd, Ricardo is often asked to serve as a business consultant to clients such as the World Bank and the Peoples Republic of China. He can be reached at 662-268-1115 (O), 202-664-3274 (M), email@example.com.