Latinos Standing on Sacred Ground
Indians, who for centuries populated the Americas before the Europeans’ arrival, always thought that the land we are standing on is, essentially, sacred.
Indians who for centuries populated the Americas, before the Europeans arrival, always thought that the land we are standing on is, essentially, sacred.
Given by the Almighty for us to work on, make it fruitful and render sustenance to our bodies and redeeming honor and dignity for our human condition.
These native Americans believed so much so on this principle that they never could grasp the European notion of ownership over the land.
Furthermore, they would mock those who believe in it by underlying the obvious fact that no rich “landowner” some of them became could never carry their thousands of acres to their graves—being sufficient for such final moment only 6 or 7 feet, at the most.
Today, in our own Judeo-Christian tradition, inherited from those Europeans immigrants, we also can easily reach the conclusion that, in fact, there is a sense of sacredness of the land, particularly some plots that command reverence to our hearts, here in America, once we become aware of its extraordinary history.
Take, for example, Independence Mall, right here in Philadelphia, a small stretch of land where 233 years ago 13 men decided to take public their grievances to England’s King George and boldly declared that, instead of continuing to beg for leniency from his tax collectors, judges and generals, they would replace all of them --and George himself as head of government-- creating a new republic in the process, and cutting once and for all ties to London, to which Philadelphia was the second largest city in the then British Empire stretching over the Atlantic Ocean.
We must remember that the Declaration of Independence by the 13 colonies was also, at the time, a Death Sentence for all of the signers, who nevertheless boldly put their names down and with it bet everything they owned: Land, money, reputation, families and friendships, all dissolved all of a sudden in the inevitable war that would ensue.
Today such act of extreme courage is rightfully commemorated in those couple of acres, where buildings, statues, flags and the famous Liberty Bell remind us of heroism past.
The rest of us, who inherited, and now enjoy the great nation they founded, can’t avoid feeling a deep sense of respect for it, while looking at the modest desks Jefferson, Washington and Franklin sat at, or read the words they penned or spoke (“give me Liberty or give me death!”, comes to mind from Virginian Patrick Henry), and get to know the bloody battles they engaged in to finally break the colonial bond from England (General Washington’s Battle of Trenton, NJ, tops the list).
This Philadelphia story of which they were protagonists in 1776 spread across the Americas, no only to become the bedrock of our 50-State Nation, but also beyond, inspiring libertarians everywhere, including those in the South waging in the 18th and 19th Centuries their own beleaguered battles against Spain and its iron grip of half of the continent.
Some of them --attracted by the words written here, and battles fought here-- ended coming to Philadelphia, like Cuban Priest Félix Varela, in 1823, a precursor of the better known José Martí for the battles of independence of Cuba.
The Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco Miranda preceded all of them.
He had come to Philadelphia in 1783 and became acquaintance of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Alexander Hamilton.
A Latino who met in person America’s Founding Fathers, that was Don Francisco de Miranda, precursor of Simón Bolivar, who followed his example, but went all the way and liberated half of the subcontinent, throwing out Spain after 350 years of a merciless colony.
Several other prominent figures followed Miranda since, including Manuel Torres, Colombian Ambassador to the US, first ever appointed from a Latin American nation, who died here in 1824 and is buried in a historic graveyard of Old City Philadelphia, unnoticed and totally forgotten, as the gravestone finally succumbed to the ravages of time.
Today, not only Venezuelans, Cubans or Colombians, but Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Mexicans has formed over the past 70 years a sizable community of close to 150,000 Latinos (over 10% of the Philadelphia’s population), residing today within the City’s limits, just a part of the 500,000 Spanish-speaking people scattered all over the tri-State area of Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Northern Delaware.
One thousand of them reenacted 4 years ago, their own unique way, this act of respect for Independence Mall’s most sacred ground, and obedience to the symbols and principles enshrined in this temple of our young Democracy.
In the best spirit of the Declaration of Independence, in front of Liberty Bell, they brought out their grievances for lack of good government and adequate federal legislation, particularly in the area of immigration laws, which everybody agrees, no mater the ideological persuasion, are in huge disrepair, and, therefore, an urgent fix is required.
(President Obama’s 2010 legislative agenda may top the list with this item, as it is the hope of millions of Latinos across the country, but everything remains uncertain.)
That Philadelphia day was February 14th, 2006-- cloudy, with frigid temperatures, plus ice on the ground and a climate of fear in the air.
Those new immigrants, mostly born and raised in the tropics, ended up having a sort of celebration, in cold weather, of the civil liberties they are yet to fully attain and enjoy.
Civilly, peacefully, bringing their own children, they stood up with signs, standing up to the invisible forces that, up to that point, had kept them scared, under rumors of impending raids of their homes and work places, shortly after the first vote of approval of the infamous Sensenbrenner Bill in the US Congress, on December of 2005, that would label them, their parents, their children, and anybody who help them, “felons” subject to potential prison and/or deportation.
This Sacred Ground, as perhaps was considered by these white, brown, or native-American looking “immigrants”, inspired again and that inspiration never stop until it spiraled up into massive human demonstrations across this Land of the Free –from Philadelphia all the way to Los Angeles--, where some said that “one million” marched along the streets.
Today this social movement is remembered as the major “Immigration Marches of 2006.”
One of its historic byproducts, in addition to the Kennedy/MacCain Bill --now buried in Capitol Hill along with the Sensenbrenner initiative-- was perhaps that the US Latino community was able to see itself, like in a mirror, for the very first time, in all its full stature.
*Founder & CEO of AL DÍA News.