For the labor rights and all human rights of the maquiladora workers
Women on the Border
This is your Communications Coordinator speaking.
I am on the verge of speechlessness. I have made too many travels and received too many impressions in the last few weeks. However, I feel its important to try to say something about the recent delegation to Reynosa.
First the incomparable viejas (elders), Josefina and myself, ATCF people whom you know; then the incomparable Carole M. whose last name I don't know how to spell, a deeply multicultural, multi-lingual person from Haiti, New York, Philadelphia, Austin, well travelled in Mexico, full of insight and feeling for the complicated cross-border relationships and so actively weaving connections. Her personality is extroverted and engaging. She enacted humorous "dramas" that everyone could participate in. For example she conducted an "affair" with an openly gay man, Mario from Piedras Negras, full of declarations of love and abandonment. Their "liaison" lead us all into an interesting conversation about gender and sexual orientation. A lot of it was in Spanish so it is without too much confidence that I add in this context that Julia Quinones is going to conduct a three-day meeting in Piedras for CFO people from the length of the border. It will include training in the labor law, their primary organizing tool, and also focus on gender and sexual orientation issues.
The other incomparable element of our delegation was Judith Norman and her partner Alistair Welchman. Their enthusiasm or determination or drive convinced us to go ahead with this delegation though it was small. Both have Ph.D's in philosophy. Judith teaches at Trinity in San Antonio; Alistair is something of a computer maven it seems. Both are excellent researchers and writers; both have a wacky sense of humor (is it fair to mention in this context that she's Jewish and he's a Brit?) I have never before travelled with people so tuned into the concrete human realities at the border as well as possessed of insights that cut through the bullshit so efficiently and come out with powerful explanations - the kind of thing that is so obvious that no one sees. I have coined a new term for activists like them - marxists with manners and will explain this in a minute. Our time in the SUV was enlivened by each other, by eating prunes and trailmix, and by Josefina's CD collection. Alistair is burning copies for us of Mercedes Sosa, Jarre, and the Venezuelan group that sang "Cases de Carton."
About the incomparable Josefina, I must add that we all felt a gratitude to her not only for her CD collection, but also for how she translates cultures and languages and her fluency and experience in many worlds and her genius for articulating. She is a particular kind of Ph.D. all her own (in addition to the one she has from the U. in Tucson)
Judith has only been in Texas five (5) years. At one point I said to her, "I see you've been reading Marx for years, but how did you get so interested in the border?" She said, "by riding the Greyhound bus between Austin and San Antonio and witnessing the INS abuse of immigrants." Judith is good at making connections between events and between ideas.
So about the incomparables in Reynosa. There was a contingent of CFO people from Ciudad Acuna and Piedras Negras as well as the local folks. Our delegation had become a pretext for the CFO people to gather from different cities and for us all to be briefed on Reynosa issues and events. Since we were a relatively small group we suggested that the CFO didn't have to give an educational performance but we could be more informal, ask questions, discuss. These were the highlights for me:
The presence of the gay men and the opening of that conversation.
Mario, my Spanish language and Mexican culture maestro, taught me the word "machora" which means a butch woman. He rehearsed me frequently on it which made everyone laugh a lot - with embarassment but also the pleasure of our openess.
Meeting Lulu and Victoria and hearing Lulu's account of their experiences in Warren Ohio at the Delphi annual shareholders meeting and with the director of human resources and the harassment and threats she's receiving back on the job in Reynosa.
I can't give details now - maybe Judith Norman can - but Lulu is extraordinary - outspoken, canny, daring, determined, and good spirited, and more than a match in wits for these managerial jerks that they deal with on the Reynosa and Ohio level. She is however vulnerable and we are concerned about her safety. Lulu is fearless. Her determination and reflexes are exemplary. We should all learn from her. We should also appreciate the risks these workers take. For that reason I have felt that in certain ways we have to study and follow the workers' lead. They are cheek to jowl with the monster. Their reflexes will tell them what to do. As outsiders we cannot know. Lulu's life has been threatened, directly and verbally.
Just like when you go to the therapist, we started talking about the hard issues toward the end of the visit. After a long breakfast on Sunday, and before checkout time at 2:00pm, we piled into one of our hotel rooms for "reflecciones" but started talking candidly and honesty about what is going on internally in our groups and also - directly related - problems in our interface. This is important stuff but I'll be brief in summarizing. When we visited them in January we met three Reynosa/Rio Bravo promotoras - Veronica, Maria Elena, and Atanacio. Since that time Veronica has resigned and left hard feelings. She made personal attacks in writing and copied her views to various people outside of their immediate circle. Her action seemed intended to hurt and in that way it was successful - It's not a fatal blow but neverthless, on a level, traumatic. They don't really understand what drove her. They must feel psychologically like soldiers in battle who are renounced by one of their strong cohorts.
At the same time they sense instability and inconsistency from us in Austin - from Austin tan Cerca and from Austinites in general. Different groups who want to visit use our name. The CFO assume that they are part of Austin Tan Cerca - but they are confused when these visitors are not guided by prinicples of solidarity or even by respect. These are some examples - the bike delegation that turned up at 3 in the morning at Piedras or Acuna and wanted help in getting the bicycles across the border. Another large group that went to Reynosa and asked the CFO to cook the meals and make hotel reservations for them but made their own agenda and didn't collaborate in any way with them in working out the content of the visit - in other words, used them for housekeeping services. Then again, various researchers turn up, pump them for information, for testimonies, for connections, for images and then disappear. They do not make a relationship. They do not give back. One of our group said, You are being used. I saw on their faces that they knew. Julia expressed the quandary. They want and need the connections and contacts; they want and need the bicycles. They do not want to be used. Carole articulated what a difficult dynamic it is to be in such a position. They want to say yes and they want to say no. I thought of situations I have been in, work situations and personal situations, in which I have felt dependent on someone else's authority or resources and therefore unable to say no; and handicapped by not knowing how to negotiate between yes and no and how to make my own demands. And this is where Judith Norman made her show stopping analysis - actually she did it later in the SUV going home. She said something like: Its the same old story. The third world is supplying the natural resources, the raw material (the life experiences and the testimonies) and the first world, the PHDs and the researchers are appropriating it to increase their own capital - e.g.get an article published; the activists are co-opting it for their own prestige or activist capital. This is where I coined the phrase marxists with manners as a contrast to marxists without manners who have all the good intentions and the credentials without the human sensitivities or without really understanding the political situation and the power dynamic.
Here I am, as many of us are, laboring in academia yet believing that the academy is a self serving industry, exploitative, contributing very little, if anything, to the struggle at the border. The PHDs troop through inching toward tenure, adding feathers to their caps and feeling good about their services. We must not forget that nobody speaks for the workers as well as they speak for themselves. Their impact is stunning.
I apologize for using this corny word incomparable to describe everyone. But everyone moved me deeply. I will never get over it. I don't know what word to use.
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