Targeting the War on Drugs

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia lost his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco last year after going into a bar with six of his friends run by a drug cartel. All suffered a violent death.

After his son’s murder, Sicilia founded the Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity) in Mexico. His crusade swept across borders in Latin America as many victims, like him, joined a movement to end what he called a lost and needless war.

Caravan for Peace is a call to action for the governments of the United States and Mexico to find solutions to the War on Drugs.

In a bi-national movement, political activists, citizens and 110 victims of violence in the United States and Mexico joined forces in San Diego for a 30-day, 6,000-mile journey to 27 cities and across 17 states to Washington D.C. Sicilia and his caravaneros delivered their message of peace and hope to the White House, calling for an International Day of Action for Peace in Mexico on September 12.

Led by Sicilia and Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity/Marcha Migrante VIII kicked off at Friendship Park on August 12, and began its sojourn to the White House. Morones said more than 150 civic organizations along the way provided food, shelter and care for all and the caravan met hundreds of volunteers, victims and supporters at each stop.

Morones said it is vital for people to realize the consequences of the escalating violence on both sides of the border since the two nations declared the War on Drugs. He said the campaign left innocent casualties in its wake, with more victims falling to failed policies and drug violence every day.

“Over the past six years the War on Drugs has left more than 70,000 dead and more than 20,000 missing in Mexico alone,” he said.

Los caravaneros called on Mexico and the U.S. to enter into a dialogue about alternatives based on evidence and forward-thinking options for drug regulation. Morones said it is essential that the importation of assault weapons into Mexico stops, that concrete steps are taken to combat money laundering, and that both nations re-examine the militarized border and criminalized immigrants.

As the activists gathered to begin their journey, California Senator Juan Vargas and U.S. Congressman Bob Filner met the caravan at Friendship Park with Senate and Congressional resolutions declaring August 12 a “Day of Peace” in San Diego County.

Filner said he stood with Sicilia to confirm their mutual humanity and call for new thinking by federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico.

“I have worked in non-violent campaigns in the U.S. and throughout the world,” he said. “It is up to government of America to claim some responsibility here. This is not a Mexican problem. This is our problem.”

Dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil later that evening at Chicano Park. After moving a performance of “Misa Azteca” by the Southwestern College Concert Choir, one by one victims of the Drug War spoke of their losses. They hoped their heart-breaking experiences would be the beginning of change.

Gretchen Burns Bergman, lead organizer of Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign, said both countries have suffered senseless tragedies, the erosion of human rights and loss of liberties due to the punitive policies that fuel the violence of the drug cartels. She said her son spent more than a decade “cycling through the criminal justice system” for possession of marijuana.

“We are losing our sons and daughters to drug war violence, to accidental overdose death, and to mass arrest and incarceration,” she said. “It is time for families to unite, stand side by side, sister to sister, mother to mother, cross borders to demand no more Drug War for the sake of our children and future generations.”

Aracely Rodriquez, mother of Luis Ángel León, a federal police officer who refused to cooperate with a drug cartel, was murdered in the state of Michoacán. Rodriquez said the heartbroken people of Mexico found solace and a voice in the heart of Javier Sicilia.

“We have walked across this border with you to unite our pain with your pain,” she said. “I believe in my heart with all of the people with us here now that in uniting our pain we can create a change.”

Sicilia said he dedicated himself to protesting the War on Drugs and the escalating violence. His crusade travels across many borders of the world now and he said he brings his message for change in peace and love, not hate and anger. After 40 years of this war declared by President Nixon, “all is left are the dead, the missing loved ones and the innocent that lost their homeland,” said Sicilia.

“We are losing our democracy and we are losing our frame of reference of life-that we are human beings,” he said. “The only people that benefit from this are the lords of death, the lords of war and lords of pain.”

In Washington Sicilia and los caravaneros spoke to scholars, staff and guests at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, associate director of Latino Affairs and Immigration Julie Chavez Rodriquez, U.S. Mexican Ambassador Anthony Wayne, and members of Congress and the Senate.

Sicilia said there has been no reduction in America’s consumption of drugs, only an epidemic of murder and violence.

“We bring our disappeared children that never approached a dealer,” he said. “We bring defenseless orphans and widows. We bring young people, children of misery, because the Mexican government and the other places of Latin America allocate more American money to the promotion of war than to social programs that have found shelter in the crime and have ended up butchered.”

Sicilia said he dreams his daughter and his grandson will be able to go back to Mexico some day unafraid that someone will kill them like his son was killed.

“I dream that all those who have been displaced by this war and are absolutely defenseless will be able to return to their homes with their families while being assured that nobody will harm them.”


Campus Mourns Professor

By Nickolas Furr and Albert H. Fulcher

Michael Schnorr’s world-famous murals in Chicano Park tower over the small but revered piece of tierra santa that was once the epicenter of the Chicano Rights Movement and is the globe’s greatest outdoor Latino art gallery. His ambitious Dia de Los Muertos pieces span hundreds of yards of the Tijuana side of the border fence, warning would-be crossers that el norte can be peligroso for migrants.

Not bad for an Anglo man and Muslim convert.

America’s burgeoning border art community lost a visionary pioneer in July when Schnorr jumped from the same Coronado Bridge that features his stunning murals. His suicide shocked and saddened legions of admirers, including hundreds at Chicano Park who gathered for an emotional memorial. Schnorr had recently retired as a Southwestern art professor after 39 years.

Art major David Bonafede said he was devastated by the news of Schnorr’s death and that Schnorr remains a teacher, mentor and friend in his heart.

“No matter how hard or how easy you think something is, he always made you look at things from a different perspective,” he said. “He never let you quit and he always made you finish.”

Bonafede said he did a biography on Schnorr for his art history class and came to know his mentor well. He said he loved not only his art, but also his sense of humor.

“I remembered when I asked why he chose art, he looked at me and laughed and said, ‘To meet girls,’” he said. “But more than that, he taught me to never give up, never second guess myself, even though you are your own worst critic.”

Murals painted by Schnorr gazed down at family, friends, colleagues and students as they gathered on July 14 at Chicano Park to celebrate the life of Schnorr.

Tables of balloons, flowers, candles and notes to the artist were scattered throughout the iconic grounds. Pools and eddies of mourners and celebrants formed around each shrine, shapes changing as Schnorr’s friends moved from place to place. Hard hatted restoration workers stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity.

Under a gray, cloudy sky, all eyes turned to the park stage and the central shrine to the missing artist. As the first music notes dedicated to him and his family began to echo across the park, the gloom broke apart and the sun began to beat down on the celebration.

Schnorr’s admirers spoke of his talent and compassion, played music in his honor or told a story about him. Calpuli Mexica, a Mexican folk dance group that practices three days a week under Schnorr’s murals at Chicano Park, performed in his honor.

When Schnorr’s wife, Axa Negron-Schnorr, went forward with their four children and several nieces and nephews, they released a pair of doves. One immediately soared into the trees. The second one landed next to the central shrine and gazed up at the crowd placidly.

“Michael is with us!” someone shouted.

As his family, friends and vivacious art energized Chicano Park, it seemed that he was.

Schnorr, a soft-spoken man, created art that was loud, powerful and shouted down inhumanity. He once transformed a Southwestern College lawn into a symbolic migrants’ cemetery by planting hundreds of white crosses with dead inmigrantes’ names hand-painted on each one. He traveled to Afghanistan, Argentina and other troubled nations to create art that cried out for freedom and justice. A former Catholic who converted to Islam, Schnorr possessed an aesthetic that was stunning in its breadth and rich in its depth. When United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited Tijuana to study the immigration situation, she asked to meet with only one American. It was Michael Schnorr.

SWC’s quiet megaphone for human rights could seem sullen, his friends said, but had the heart of a revolucionario visionario. Schnorr painted injustice and protest, but spoke with eternal hope and optimism.

“Change is not a dream,” Schnorr once wrote. “We can leap over history and monsters. Not even the stars are out of reach. Barriers, walls and fences must be moved. Must be broken down between countries, between people, between neighborhoods.”

Schnorr’s paint brush moved barriers and moved people by prodding them to reconsider their points of view, his friends said at his memorial. Schnorr himself, they insisted, was a work of art.

True tolerance comes through self-acceptance

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

Without truly knowing all the origins of my genealogy, I am certain that the blood of many cultures runs through my veins. That is what makes me American. I am a self-contained mixture, a melting pot of immigrants and Natives blended during our country’s short life.

My father was in the military and I was born in Stuttgart, Germany. We returned to my grandparent’s home in Tennessee when I was a toddler. My first recollections of life are from a much simpler place in time.

Farm life shaped many of the characteristics that I have carried through life. Even at the age of three there was work to do. Everyone contributed to the home, safety and care of the family. In the beginning I worked with the women in the garden and kitchen. Sometimes my only job was to sit on the washing machine while it was spinning so it would not bounce off the back porch.

I learned as I watched my grandfather do his daily routine of tending to the animals in the barn, moving cattle from one pasture to another. He had fields, crops, woods, lakes and many animals during those years. Both of my grandparents influenced a strong family and work ethic that I use every day of my life.

I learned that work is hard, but fruitful. My family taught me the joy of many simple things in life. Even though at the time there were many new electronics emerging, we sat around on the porch to listen to stories about our heritage, religion and some good tall tales-or listened to radio and music. My grandfather was a preacher and built a church right down the road from the house so farmers in the area could meet and worship.

Most people have work to survive. Life can be wonderful and it can be just as cruel. Principles that I learned as a farm sprout follow me to this day. They are innate. Family, in any form, is one of the only truths in life you can count on. Though I protest religious dogma, faith and hope are a necessity.

Another part of me is rebellious, always asking questions folks do want asked. I have the spirit of a wanderer and am not afraid to venture into the unknown, unexpected or the “unacceptable.” My mother often referred to me as a gypsy. When asked who was the black sheep of the family, my two brothers lovingly point to me.

“Unacceptable,” I use loosely. What is unacceptable to one person can be a strong passion for another. This has roots in many things, including culture, family upbringing, life experiences and circumstance.

All of the traits, even those that I consider weak and dangerous, are the threads that make up the elaborate tapestry of me. I cling to these threads, for without them, my tapestry would unravel.

Woven together, the threads of my tapestry struggle against each other, but hold together as a single piece. Though many of them plague me, I learned to embrace the intimate diversity of myself.
That constant struggle is the journey of life. Learning to hold to these qualities takes me a step closer to accepting the diversity of the world around us.

A new home for battle tested Old Glory

HOME FROM THE BATTLEFIELD — Lt. Cmdr. Luis Nuñez director of the SWC medical laboratory technician program, presents superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish, an American flag that was flown over Kabul, Afghanistan. The flag is displayed at the National City HEC. / Albert Fulcher 

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Campus Editor

November 28, 2012

As the sun set over the dusty Kabul sky in Afghanistan, the red, white and blue symbol of freedom flew above the U.S. forward operating base. In time-honored military fashion, Lt. Cmdr. Luis A. Nuñez Jr., U.S. Navy Reserves, saluted as the color guard started down the flag, knowing its ultimate destination would be Southwestern College.

Nuñez, program director of the medical laboratory technician program at the National City Higher Education Center (HEC), said it was significant to him that he chose the flag. He said he wanted to bring home a symbol of his yearlong duty in war-torn Afghanistan where he and his comrades established clinical laboratories.

“I chose a flag for the National City Center because the closeness I feel with my team at the college is as strong as the team I served with in Afghanistan,” he said. “It was my way of letting them know that while I was away, they were there with me.”

As Southwestern celebrated its own time-honored Veteran’s Day ceremonies, Nuñez presented his gift to Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish.

“Receiving a flag from the field is a true honor,” she said. “It is a special symbol of recognition from Lt. Cmdr. Nuñez to all of us at Southwestern. This flag will forever be a symbol of all the contributions of veterans, past and present. On behalf of the entire Southwestern College community, I thank Luis Nuñez for this honor.”

In a smaller but emotional ceremony, Nuñez, along with Nish, brought the flag to its final destination.

Christine Perri, National City HEC dean, said the first thing that comes to her mind when she looks at the flag is that it is a privilege having Nuñez working there.

“Nuñez represents all the things filled with goodness and kindness in the world,” she said. “Through his willingness to protect our liberties and freedom here, I am grateful he is home safely.”

In traditional shadowbox fashion the red, white and blue adorns the National City HEC. A reminder that many past, present and future veterans not only serve the nation, but serve the Southwestern College community with as much honor.

Brutal Chilean history stitched in folk art

A HISTORY STITCHED IN TIME — Arrested, tortured and raped before fleeing Chile, resilient Professor Cecilia Ubilla travels the world displaying hand-stitched arpilleras (tapestries) created in secrecy by women who lived through atrocities during Agusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Written by: Albert Fulcher and Amparo Mendoza / Staff Writer

November 28, 2012

Chile’s brutal coup d’état left blood on the hands of the American CIA and the multinational corporation but it bloodied poor Chileans.

It was the poor of Chile that suffered the brutality of the Chilean military’s ousting the democratic Popular Unity government in 1973 and the murder of President Salvador Allende. Professor Cecilia Ubilla, from Curicó, was swept up in the violence. She was thrown in jail, tortured and repeatedly raped by members of the militia before she could escape.

Dictator Augusto Pinochet, his military and the elite class of Chilean society crushed the Popular Unity movement supported by the middle class and the poor.

As Chilean democracy unraveled, women told stories of atrocities by weaving arpilleras, colorful tapestries. A common cultural bond between women, arpilleras before the coup were pieces of artistic expressions in miniature tapestries that traditionally recounted family life, social events and cultural expressions.

They grew darker during the oppressive Pinochet era, little hand-crafted works of defiance that chronicled the suffering of the Chilean people.

“Every time you see embroidery and beautiful things of all kinds of Latin America, ask if there is some pain there and if there is a hidden message about inequality,” said Ubilla.

Harassed and abused by Pinochet’s misogynistic military, Chilean women secretly gathered in churches and homes to stitch the personal stories of atrocities under the rule of a ruthless dictator.

Ubilla was abandoned by her own Pinochet-supporting family. She eventually fled Chile and has not returned.

“I have fear,” she said. “I also have a big pain that prevents me from going back because my family always supported the military. They were against me and I do not want to see them again. I have lived a lonely life, but at least I am at peace with my conscience.”

She carried with her a suitcase full of arpilleras, smuggled out of Chile through the Swiss Embassy in Santiago, to show the world the little-told history of Chilean’s poor through the eyes and hands of its women.

Chile is a democracy now, Ubilla said, and the government is stable, but she is waiting for funding to take these remaining arpilleras to the great museums of Chile, a reminder of the country’s past struggles and inhumanity.

“I will not forget and I will not forgive,” she said. “My duty and my job as a human on this planet is to denounce these atrocities.”

Ubilla and her invaluable arpilleras came to Southwestern College hosted by the School of Language and Literature. Professor of Spanish Dinorah Guadiana-Costa said the presentation by la Profesora Ubilla was like no other she had ever seen.

“I did not know anything about these arpilleras,” she said. “What a way of maintaining and telling the history of Chile!”

%d bloggers like this: