Saturday, August 31, 2013

Las Americas

I woke up this morning with notes of pots and pans echoing in my ears…  and I’m not even in Colombia yet.  If any of you haven’t been reading the news, Colombia is rocking with thousands of its population on the streets, marching, shouting, blocking highways, and pounding on kitchen implements as a nationwide strike almost reaches two weeks.  It is first and foremost a farmers’ strike, but new groups take to the streets everyday- truck drivers, university students, potato/onion/rice growers associations, oil workers, health care workers.  Colombia is continuing (over the last 60 years and counting) to undergo a massive rural-urban shift, as a lack of rural development policy, violence, multinational corporate interests and land issues make campesino life increasingly difficult, and protests like this speak to the seriousness of the issues.  Negotiations are underway but on very shaky ground, and the sense of indignation and injustice is running high. 

Colombians are awake and acting courageously.  After over 60 years of armed conflict, centuries of rural oppression, violent reprisals against community organization and protest, and lack of political options, they are still taking to the streets.  They are demanding that their dignified demands as citizens and lovers of their land be answered.  One video of the protests played Latinoamerica by Calle 13 (if you haven’t heard it, listen!) which has become an anthem of people power and pride in Latin America, and today, in Colombia. 

The song says, among many profound things, mi tierra no se vende / my land cannot be sold; quien no quiere a su patria, no quiere a su madre/ whoever doesn’t love their country, doesn’t love their mother; and ¡qué vivan las américas! / long live the Americas!

Today, writing from the U.S., I want to say YES.  Long live the Americas, but ALL the Americas.  I want to say goodbye to my country, where I have spent the last two months, in the spirit of another country, in which I have the joy and privilege to live. I want to stand on the roof and beat my chest and yell WAKE UP!  Let’s LOVE this place, and treat it like we love it!

These two months have been tragic.  I came home to read about Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman acquittal; I am leaving as our president- for whom I voted!- is pursuing a unilateral military strike against Syria.  I know that if you are reading this, I don’t need to yell about GMO crops, irrigation from the Colorado River in the desert, parking lots, Starbucks and McDonalds, consumption culture, and the free trade agreements we insist on signing with countries like Colombia, forcing small farmers worldwide to throw away their seeds, sell out, and move on.  I know that you know.  But I’m still trying to figure out my relationship with my country (even calling it that is uncomfortable), and I want it to be based on love, not tragedy.

I want to live like I care about this country enough to yell at the newspaper every morning.  I want to follow the lead of Colombians as they protest positively by buying 770- the beginning digits of the barcode which show that the good is Colombia made or grown.  I want to sing about the colors of my flag, cook up the national soup, rabidly cheer our soccer team into the world cup, and wear clothing that shows my love for this place, like Colombians.  I want to remember that the soil here is sacred, the water and air, and feel like it is part of my community, like many Colombians I know.  I want to be able to honestly say, without irony, that I love my country and my land, not as the superpower police state that can ram its economic policies through at the expense of everyone else, but as a place that deserves to receive and needs to show honest love and respect.

As Colombia is made up of campesino/as, we are made up of campesino/as.  In these two months I have seen just how vast and varied this land and its peoples truly are.  Urban food growers in Pittsburgh, quiet progressives in Akron, biking families in Harrisonburg, desert water-savers, border crossers and protectors in Arizona, safe spaces in San Francisco, alternative thinkers in DC, prison activists in Baltimore.  We are.

I want to love my country, and believe in it enough to fight for it, not just shake it off as the great evil empire that resists change.  So that we feel that there really is a place for us here, and we are welcomed.  So that our vast diversity and dignity are expressed as the norm, not the alternative.  So that we begin to live into our whole identity and demand that our government honors that.  So that the people that live on the margins are recognized as what they really are- the majority- and begin to exert their power.  So that we recognize that we will gain so much more if we take a few steps down and collaborate with our neighbors.  So that we, too, take to the streets.

I want to be able to yell, along with Colombia and all of Latin America, ¡qué vivan las Américas!  And mean up and down the whole continent.

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