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2010-07-01 issue:

Why Mennonite Church USA must boycott Arizona

by Felipe Hinojosa and Hugo Saucedo

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"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.

Hugo Saucedo.

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.

Felipe Hinojosa.

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.

Reader Comments

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  • Posted by tristaanogre at Monday, June 28, 2010 at 03:53 PM

    Why are we getting involved in politics? This seriously disturbs me. I agree, there are justice issues in potentia with the new law. But there are justice issues DEFINITELY without it. Is that new law perfect? Of course not. Will racial profiling happen? Probably. However, it's no different than any other law on the books in the United States. Rather than taking a political position and boycotting Arizona over one aspect of justice, consider this: What about the hotel workers, taxi drivers, restaurantiers, air travel employees, etc, who depend upon convention spawned revenue to be able to maintain their lives? Is it just to them to boycott the entire convention over a law that only has the potential for injustice? We are just to some (the immigrants) but are injust to others (the residents and legit employers) when we do so. Rather than caving in and being just like every other organization in this country, why not be a "third way"? Why not show up in Arizona and speak on justice issues from a Kingdom perspective and live it out in full view of the entire society? By boycotting, we're just another piece of the noise.

  • Posted by laisda at Monday, June 28, 2010 at 04:40 PM

    I was just thinking of an alternative to this issue... -What if the convention went on as planned -What if there was a campaign for every possible person to attend -What if every citizen would demand "equal treatment under the law" from every law enforcement person encountered and be checked for citizenship status -What if at an appropriate time the media would be asked to witness the cooperative spirit of a group of peacemakers I do not know all of the legal and logistical issues that such a thing would raise. The account of Paul's use of citizenship in Acts 22ff has always intrigued me. I don't know it it is applicable in this case or not. Imagine from 1 - 1000 Mennos singing "606" or "I'll Fly Away" in the local detention facility while waiting processing. Just thinking.... Dan Lais Lebanon, OR (Before any action is taken it should be a matter of much prayer and discernment.)

  • Posted by echorning at Monday, June 28, 2010 at 05:18 PM

    I am really in agreement with tristaanogre's thoughtful comments.

  • Posted by Leo Hartshorn at Monday, June 28, 2010 at 06:03 PM

    Was there any real integrity in companies that invested a lot of money in South Africa and tried to use the opportunity to speak out (of the other side of their mouths) against apartheid? Will hotel workers, taxi drivers, etc. be much better off financially if a group of "high tipping" (ha!) Mennonites come to Phoenix? Will Mennonites come out in full force with one united voice to speak out against the injustices of this law? Let's get real.

  • Posted by PhilMorBru at Monday, June 28, 2010 at 11:55 PM

    What if White Mennonites actually took seriously the clear calls from Latino Mennonites to not hold the convention in Pheonix, instead of thinking that White Mennonites probably have a better way of going about it? Paternalism lives on. And, tristaanogre, are you against getting involved in "politics" or are you looking for a "third way." Seems to me that you are primarily interested in the kind of politics that appeals to you and probably doesn't really involve any risk. Come on, people. How many Latino Mennonites will travel to AZ in these circumstances? Should the convention really happen in a location where large numbers of Mennonites would not be welcomed or feel safe? It's a no brainer... unless you see Latino Mennonites as second-class Mennonites and not really essential to making all the decisions that convention delagates engage in.

  • Posted by mcastillo at Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 09:28 AM

    I believe that we "especially white Mennonites" need to hear and to take seriously the concerns and suggestions from our Latino churches (brothers and sisters) across the United States. We need to trust their faith, wisdom, and experience on this issue.

  • Posted by Neuf at Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    I'm all for "Third Ways" of getting involved and putting rhetoric to practice, but I'm much more for the direction of later comments in honouring the voices of those who have the least power and the most to loose. I must be willing to have my desire for efficacy (and my assumption of the power of choice) take a back-seat to honest submission/service to my friends/brothers who are much more at risk than I am (even as a white "alien".) Thank you both for speaking up, and I hope we hear more voices, lay and "official" on this in the near future. I fear the time for response is slipping already.

  • Posted by RFisher at Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 05:14 AM

    Thank you Felipe and Hugo for a powerful and beautifully written piece. I am saddened to see a zeal for conservative politics trumping the welcome that we are called to extend to all God's children, regardless of origin or immigration status. May the Church listen carefully to your voice and witness.

  • Posted by nesdetd at Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 06:47 AM

    If we choose not to boycott Arizona, so as to ensure convention revenue to hurting people, then we might instead hire day laborers to serve the convention (and perhaps do so by driving many vehicles to stop to hire them).

  • Posted by jenniferlg@mennonite.net at Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 02:52 PM

    I would like to echo that we need to take the requests and wisdom and counsel of our Latina(o) Sisters and Brothers seriously. It is already difficult for racial/ethnic persons to attend our conventions, and I do not see how the majority in our denomination would ever get behind protesting this law, not to mention providing the financial support needed for so many of our denomination to show up at great risk to themselves. If this convention takes place in Arizona, I will not be in attendance. It would be the first convention I've missed since 1993. Additionally, it would be excellent if Mennonites showed up in droves to protest the injustice of this law in Arizona- but I do NOT find it possible to do so with integrity by having a convention in Phoenix that a significant portion of our denomination would not be able to attend because of racism and personal risk. We anglos cannot keep making decisions we think are "better" for minorities among us. We do not know best what to do in situations that directly affect racial/ethnic persons... THEY do! We need to practice listening to, HEARING, and LEARNING from our racial/ethnic Sisters and Brothers and protest injustices as they ask us to.

  • Posted by dhwert at Sunday, July 04, 2010 at 03:31 AM

    I have often wondered (and argued with close friends about) whether "listening to someone" equals "doing exactly what they say". I appreciate Jennifer's point that we Anglo Mennos need to do the listening part much better than we are presently doing. However, I think that a common sign of good listening can be to ask clarifying questions or even to challenge certain points. In that spirit, I will say that I am very compelled by the reasons to not hold the MCUSA convention there. However, I am perplexed by the suggestion that we should simply cancel the convention altogether. Why would we do that? Why not just move it? When I boycott a product, I choose another product, I don't avoid that category of products altogether. I'm not sure why this would be any different. And if part of the point of boycotting Arizona is because Latino (and other) Mennonite church members would not attend the Phoenix convention, thus keeping us from meeting together as a whole body, then why would we voluntarily choose to *not* meet together? Doesn't that sort of go against the point?

  • Posted by rod at Monday, July 05, 2010 at 04:11 PM

    Thanks Hugo and Felipe. I'd like to suggest that we move the convention from Phoenix to a border town - maybe El Paso/Juarez or Brownsville/Matamoros. It is hard for me to imagine that the convention will be cancelled. And I assume that wherever it is held, the main topic will be immigration. But if we simply relocate to another, typical convention site (Charlotte or Colombus or wherever), we will still be discerning at the safe distance of isolation. What if we booked half the rooms on the Mexican side of the border? What if we held panels with Border Patrol agents, undocumented workers, local politicians and business owners, immigration reform activists, local church leaders, and others who live with the realities constantly? Maybe that is a more authentic way for us to follow in the wake of Jesus who has "broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us" (Ephesians 2). Rod Stafford

  • Posted by tristaanogre at Friday, July 30, 2010 at 04:15 PM

    I feel compelled to reply to the person who questioned whether or not I was interested in a "third way" or just another kind of "politics". My response: no politics AT ALL please. Boycotting is politics. Showing up and doing nothing is politics. Anything where we are trying to influence our government and try to make our legislators and governors do what we wish is politics. I say "no" to politics. I'm not interested, really, in the legislation or what not. Quite frankly, I'm fed up with politics. Christians have been polarized in this country too much over the past number of years and we Mennonites are the worst of it when it comes to politics. We try and make over the government and such in the image that we want as if, for some reason or another, we have final and complete knowledge of what God wants. Instead, why not a "third way"? Why not, instead of deliberately trying to change the government, we just do what we were called to do in the first place: make disciples, feed the poor, clothe the naked, free the prisoners. We are the Kingdom in this world. We have the power and, for that matter, the duty to do these things. To decide whether or not we will do something based upon how it will influence our government really sticks in my craw. How many of our Mennonite ancestors did things simply because they were the Kingdom way and did so no matter what the government thought? So.. no politics. We're trying to decide what we're going to do as a denomination based upon what sort of message it will send to the politicians. What stronger message to send, not just to the politicians, but to everyone watching, than to show that we are not ruled by the Kingdom of this world, that we are not ruled by a spirit of fear, that we are not ruled by our own mental image of God, but that, instead, we are ruled by a King who implores us, commands us, to get into the world and be his hands and feet. There's gotta be a better way than "politics".

  • Posted by tristaanogre at Friday, July 30, 2010 at 04:25 PM

    As for me seeing Latino's as second class, thus the problem with anonymity on the 'net. My mother was conference minister to hispanic congregations in New York City, struggling to make sure that they got a fair shake in the whole deal. I was born in Puerto Rico. No, I'm not Latino myself, but there is no way that I see Latino's as "second class" when my life was influenced, from the start, by Latinos and that what I saw around me, Latinos and "whites" working and living and worshipping together as equal brothers and sisters, was the norm instead of the exception. Please do not cast snap judgments. Again, another piece of evidence as to how "politics" has damaged the church. I present a view that you don't agree with so I'm automatically racists, biggotted, and somehow a horrible person.

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