Why Mennonite Church USA must boycott Arizonaby Felipe Hinojosa and Hugo Saucedo
"Quiero recordarle al gringo, yo no cruce la frontera, la frontera me cruzo, America nacio libre, el hombre la dividio ... es un eror bien marcado, nos quitaron ocho estados, ¿quien es aqui el invasor?"
"I'd like to remind the white man, I did not cross the border, the border crossed me, America was born free, but man divided her ... it is a grave injustice, they took from us eight states, who then is the invader?"
-Los Tigres del Norte
The lyrics to the song, "Somos Mas Americanos," by the popular Norteño band Los Tigres del Norte, highlights the complex and interconnected histories of Mexico and the United States. Within a history of war, colonialism, capitalists exploiting natural resources, railroads, immigration, and—of course—Protestant missionaries, is a deep memory of the geography that is now the Southwest, or "el México de afuera." This was once Mexico. It was once Indigenous land. The dual colonial projects of the Spanish and Euroamericans, whether an assimilation program or a reservation system, has left a legacy and a memory of what once was and what was unjustly taken. While the colonial projects most affected Indigenous and poor Mexican communities, even wealthy Mexicanos quickly learned that money did not necessarily whiten in the Southwest. The nation moved West and defined the "American" character through uneven ideas about race; to be Indian and to be Mexican meant to be non-white, non-Christian and a problem to be subdued.
The lyrics and rhythms of Los Tigres del Norte resonate with so many of us because they capture the frustrations and sentiments of many Mexicans and Mexican Americans who have lived in the Southwest for generations. The song reminds everyone—especially those with anti-immigrant sentiments—that Mexicanas/os come here to work, provide for their families, and live out the supposed American dream. If indeed Mexican immigration is an invasion to reclaim the Southwest territories for Mexico, or if they are here to criminalize your youth, make you sick with Mexican diseases, or grease up the streets with taquerias—as some folks believe—then we are here to tell you that we never got that memo. And to be honest, we'd be offended if our fellow activists and immigrants left us out of a grand plot to retake the Southwest.
The new law about to take effect in Arizona, SB1070, which gives power to law enforcement to question the citizenship status of folks they deem "reasonably suspicious" will no doubt lead to racial profiling and heighten the already tense relationship between police officers and the Latina/o community. But while it is easy to blame the nonsense in Arizona on a wave of racist nonsense consuming our nation these days, this is part of a larger historical trend that has plagued this part of the country for over a century. From the "case of the 40 blonde babies" (Linda Gordon's The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction), to repatriation campaigns that blamed the Great Depression on Mexican immigrants in the 1930s, to multiple federal projects like Operation Wetback in 1954 and Operation Gatekeeper in 1990s, Arizona has been on the frontlines of defining the boundaries of race, the nation and national identity.
Operation Gatekeeper in the 1990s actually made matters worse by funneling immigrants to the most dangerous crossing paths in the Arizona desert. Months before the attacks on the World Trade Center, 14 Mexican immigrants died in the Arizona desert in what became an all too familiar scene for many immigrant rights workers. As we think about our collective church response to SB1070, it is imperative that we understand how a long history of colonialism and racism has contributed to minutemen projects and beefed up border security all in the name of "defending the nation."
We write this and provide this history in order to call on Mennonite Church USA to officially boycott the state of Arizona. Yes, this means rethinking the plan to have our church convention in Phoenix in 2013. We understand that this is not an easy decision for our church leadership, especially since cancelling our commitment in Phoenix comes with steep financial penalties. However, we believe that the financial hit we would take is not money lost, but an investment in our integrity as a people of God. As a community of faith, we must remember that being disciples of Jesus means not only taking risks and facing persecution, but also exposing systems of oppression that dehumanize us and remove us from God. In other words, we are God's people—a people of dignity, and a people who must be ready to stand in solidarity with one another.
In the case of Arizona, we believe that solidarity means fully supporting the call by Mennonite churches across the country, including those in Arizona and Iglesia Menonita Hispana, to cancel our convention commitment for Phoenix 2013. Let's cancel everything. If delegates must meet, they can organize separate sessions, but we have no youth convention in 2013. Let's call it a sabbatical. This is radical and it will cause us much concern, fear and financial anguish, but we believe it will be good for us. It serves as a deeply prophetic step to call out injustice and moves us away from the much-maligned "quiet in the land" approach to political concerns. With that said, we also believe that existing programs in Arizona should remain intact. Mennonite Voluntary Service, SOOP, and any other collaborative work with Mennonite churches in Arizona should continue. This is not the time to sever relationships where we can be a prophetic voice and where we have worked and lived for many years. Mennonite Church USA has stated publicly that the Latino churches are of great importance to the future of the denomination. If this is the case we call on Mennonite Church USA to take seriously the concerns and ideas raised by our constituent churches in Arizona and Latino churches across the United States.
Hugo Saucedo is a member of San Antonio Mennonite Church. Felipe Hinojosa is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University and attends Houston Mennonite Church.
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