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In a Time of Hope, We Have the Power to Make a Change

In a Time of Hope, We Have the Power to Make a Change

Editor’s note: It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to a pioneering Chicana force in our community, Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez. Betita, an accomplished educator, activist and author, died on June 29 in San Francisco at the age of 95. To honor her memory, we present you with an opinion piece that Betita wrote for El Tecolote, published in September of 2002. Que descanse en paz.

For Latinos, to remember that dreadful day a year ago when so many people died has many painful meanings.

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Hundreds of Latino workers in the Twin Towers were killed by the suicide bombings. Many were undocumented, and their families still struggle with great difficulty to receive some of the financial compensation offered. Once again, we see the injustice of immigration policies that do not recognize migrant workers as full human beings with full human rights. Over a thousand

people of Arab and Muslim background in the U.S. have been held since last September without even their names being released.

Also, in response to the attacks, the U.S. government has launched a “permanent war on terrorism” against many countries of this world. It has used the grief and anger about Sept. 11 to justify that war, even when the families of victims cry “No!” Among them are Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose son Greg died in the World Trade Center attack. They wrote a letter to newspapers on Sept. 15 saying:

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“We sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering, and nursing further grievances against us. It is not the way to go. Not in our son’s name. It will not avenge our son’s death. Let us think about a national response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times.”

Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martínez en Acción Latina, agosto de 2007. Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez in Accion Latina, August 2007. Photo: Steven Simonetti

Sad to say, such thoughts as the Rodriguez’s have not prevailed. Instead we have seen thousands of Afghan civilians die, and the government will not even say how many. We have seen the threat of war anywhere and everywhere, above all against Iraq. There is no proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. But we are supposed to believe it does, just because war-hungry politicians say so. The rest of the world opposes a U.S. attack. As in the past, it will be brown and black soldiers who die most often in such a war.

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We have also seen new laws like the “Patriot Act” that hurt our civil liberties and civil rights. We have seen a climate offeargrow, that makes Latinos fear losing jobs or being deported if they supposedly sound “unpatriotic.” In high schools with large numbers of Latino students, military recruiters are trying to entice youth into the armed services.

A photo of Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez’s opinion piece that ran in September of 2002 in El Tecolote.

The case of Jose Padilla, born in Brooklyn, N.Y. of Puerto Rican parents, is one example of the repression. Padilla converted to Islam after a life of minor crimes in Chicago. On his return from a trip to Pakistan, he was arrested at the Chicago airport based on a rumor that he was planning to make a “dirty bomb.” With no evidence against him, he could not be held legally. The night before he would have been released, Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” and he was put in military prison where he has absolutely no rights, not even to see a lawyer.

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The good news today is that more and more people in this country are beginning to oppose the official militarism and repression. According to National Public Radio polls, as described in The New York Times on August 5, 60 percent of voters thought the country was headed in the right direction last March and only 28 percent thought the opposite. But now, only 36 percent believe things are going well and 56 percent say they are headed in the wrong direction. 

More and more people do not agree with the idea that “might makes right,” that the U.S. can impose its Manifest Destiny on the whole world. So it is a time of hope, even as we commemorate the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. 

The finest way to memorialize the victims that day would be to help build a new society of peace and justice. Latinos can play a major role in this, for we have much direct experience of war and repression. But we must speak out more strongly. We must set our fears aside and think of our children, so they will not inherit a world of more destruction and death. We must build alliances with others to defend our communities, to defend life on the planet.

We must begin working now, today, with our families, friends, neighbors, and co workers to make a unified cry of ¡YA BASTA! We are the new majority in many parts of California. We have the power to make a change, if we just have the courage to affirm it. ¡Si se puede!

El Tecolote is 51 years strong this month!

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