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By Peter Morales
The distance from the small Guatemalan city of Rabinal to the Mayan village of Plan de Sánchez is only about five miles, but it takes almost an hour to travel. We rode standing in the back of a four-wheel-drive flatbed truck because our small minibus didn’t stand a chance on the steep, narrow, winding dirt road. It had rained the night before, so the road was mud all the way.
The “road” to Plan de Sánchez is relatively new. It did not exist on July 18, 1982. Then the only way to get to and from Plan de Sánchez was by walking on steep trails. That is how the Guatemalan army unit arrived on a Sunday twenty-eight years ago. They rounded up all the women and children and proceeded to kill almost 200. The young women were raped before being murdered. About 100,000 Mayans died at the hands of the Guatemalan military in 1982. This July 18, I went as part of a Unitarian Universalist Service Committee delegation to attend a commemoration of the massacre at the little chapel in Plan de Sánchez. I stood in the chapel, surrounded by Mayan villagers, wondering how a man could bring himself to slaughter defenseless women and children.
I write this hours before getting on a plane to fly to Phoenix in order to join Unitarian Universalists and others protesting SB 1070, the Arizona law that, before Wednesday’s federal court ruling, would have allowed police to stop anyone they suspect of being in the state illegally. I applaud the judge’s ruling, but I know that this is only a temporary step and that many harsh provisions of this law remain in effect.
Plan de Sánchez and illegal immigration to Arizona might seem completely unconnected. The truth is that the connections are deep and strong. If we don’t understand the connection, we cannot understand what is happening in America today.
People are being pushed from their homes and pulled by opportunities in the United States. America is involved in both the push and the pull.
First, the push. We have to understand that the US has helped to set in motion the forces that drive people to risk their lives to come to America. In the case of Guatemala, our CIA overturned a democratically elected government in the 1950’s. The massacres of the 1980’s were carried out by a military government we supported, by US-trained officers and by military units using American weapons. More recently, our economic policies have helped contribute to massive unemployment and dislocation in Mexico and Central America. The vast majority of immigrants from the south are not criminals, they are economic and political refugees.
And then there is the pull. American employers have been more than happy to hire Mexicans and Central Americans to pick crops, cook in restaurants, clean offices, do landscaping and provide cheap child care.
Now in Arizona we have the kind of thinly veiled racism and fear, stoked by demagogues, that can lead to violence.
People of faith and conscience must do three things. First, we must raise our voices. We must stand on the side of love and the side of human dignity with immigrant families. We must resist the implementation of this law, even if it means breaking it.
Second, we must make the law of our land reflect the highest moral ideals of our people. We must continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. We helped to create this crisis. It is our job to fix the mess we have made.
Third, we have some religious work to do. We must be faithful to our ideals of compassion and of the inherent worth and dignity of all people. We must bear witness to a vision that includes all people. Laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 exist because of fear, ignorance and hate. We must be tireless practitioners of hope, knowledge and love.
We are all Arizona. Todos somos Arizona. We are all Plan de Sánchez, too. It is more than a slogan. It is a reality. Together we can help create a new reality.
Peter Morales is President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).