This week’s Latino Congreso taught me that, from Maywood, California to the Bronx and Cochabamba, Bolivia, brown people are drinking brown water. I also learned about the deepening wells of of elite fear beneath racist metaphors like “brown tide rising” used to describe the political ascent of Latinos across the continent.
But what struck me most was how problems like the dirty brown water are giving rise to a political clarity and unified vision unprecedented in the annals of hemispheric history. Like the oceans and subterrenean waterways that have always united us beneath the surface, political agendas from the Canadian border to Patagonia are starting to flow from the same source: the pursuit of justice.
I heard this from 22 year-old Latino Congreso delegate Karen Linares. After looking at a thick, rusted pipe and a bottle of brown water used as part of the presentation by a South LA activist on a panel about “Water Justice”, very smiley Salvadoran-Mexican college student Linares got a serious look about her. “The L.A. river water running by my house is full of filth. I saw the same brown water in El Salvador. In Tijuana you see the sewage trickling down the dirt roads.” Asked whether a and what, if any, connection existed between what she saw in her neighborhood and in her parent’s homelands the rather “shy” (ie; “You should talk to my friend cuz this is my first event and she knows more”) answered, “Clear water runs upward where the money runs. Brown water runs down where poor brown people are.” In listening to Linares’ “shy” brilliance one hears the political music of the spheres, the hemispheres being written.
The beauty I found running through the Congreso was in how the line connecting Linares’ issues and consciousness to the rest of the continent is growing. “I look at the facial expressions here and I see meetings I’ve been to in America Latina” said Bernardo Alvarez, the US Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who also attended the Congreso as part of a large Latin American contingent. “I listen to the issues they discuss and they are the same issues: housing, employment, the environment, women’s issues, community development and others. We support the agenda in Latin America and we support the Latino agenda in the United States.”
Though not yet concluded, the Latino Congreso has already managed to channel the insurgent energies of its more than 1,500 delegates towards the development of a broad, inclusive and different Latino agenda that brings together and connects many issues. For example, members unanimously passed a resolution calling on the US to stop signing trade agreements they believe are one of the primary causes of immigration. Also connecting several issues, Oscar Chacón, Executive Director of the National Association of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a National Congreso convener said “NAFTA has been the main cause for more than 1.3 million Mexican campesinos to lose their livelihoods. Not surprisingly, the number of Mexicans who have emigrated to the United States rose 60 percent in the first six years after NAFTA,” adding “We can only resolve immigration issues by addressing the bigger question of what is forcing so many people to emigrate in the first place. The first step is to stop expanding the same agricultural rules of NAFTA to Peru and other Latin American nations.”
Chacón and other Congreso delegates also passed resolutions around such “non traditional” Latin issues as Renewable Energy, Farm Bill Reform, Production, Ocean Management , Green Schools and many others. And, of course, they also addressed the very continental issue of how to turn brown water into clear water – and clear continental thought. Have a a clarisimo day 🙂