Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Yo soy peregrino fronterizo

 

Seventeen Novembers ago, I remember, a wall fell in Germany. Greater even than the quake that had disrupted the World Series, something seismic had happened. From Great War to World War to Cold War, an epoch spanning a human lifetime had come to a close, and properly so. Also kam die Wende.

Once upon a time, Americans and their Presidents understood that the Wall was an emblem of evil. "Tear down this wall," said Ronald Reagan, that Grand Old Partisan. By and by, his Soviet counterpart complied -- and won political oblivion as recompense for his good deed.

In those days the quest for friendship between nations had no partisan identity. So bitter, perhaps, was the enmity that had been sown during the Second World War, or the enmity that had grown between America and the Soviet Union, that global leaders sought to mend relations among peoples, not to rend them. At the height of the Cold War, another President declared himself a free man, a citizen of Berlin, and a sworn foe of walls:

President John F. Kennedy, Berlin, June 26, 1963, Ich bin ein Berliner :
Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner." . . .

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. . . . [L]et me ask you . . . to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

John F. KennedyAll free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."
El MuroA different spirit prevails today. On October 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Michael Olivas rightly derides this scheme to build a 700-mile fence as "a shortsighted election-time absurdity that cannot work." Worse still is the official reaction. Mexico's outgoing president (Vicente Fox), Mexico's incoming president (Felipe Calderon), and 29 members of the Organization of American States have condemned this move. President-elect Calderon has explicitly compared El Muro to the Berlin Wall. Claro.

Perhaps what is needed most urgently in these times is a return to the vision that inspired America, Berlin, and the world during the depths of the Cold War:

For more than two centuries the proudest boast on earth has been this: I am a citizen of the United States of America. In due course that boast might yet be rendered thus: Soy ciudadano de los Estados Unidos de América. For the moment, though, for today, the proudest boast is Yo soy peregrino fronterizo.

Estoy cruzando la frontera entre los dos países grandes que se llaman "los Estados Unidos." There are many people in America who really don't understand, or say they don't, why Mexico protests the American turn against immigration. Let them come to El Muro. There are some who say that autarky is the wave of the future. Let them come to El Muro. There are even those who say that raising a wall between America and Mexico vindicates American culture and values. Vienen al Muro, vienen todos al Muro. Let them all come to the Wall.

El Muro, otra vezFreedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep new people out, to prevent them from joining us. While the Wall is but one obvious and vivid demonstration of the moral bankruptcy of American politics, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of la Frontera is true of Mexico and of Latin America and the world at large -- real, lasting justice in the world can never be assured as long as America closes its doors to the world and denies to those yearning to breathe free a privilege that it should extend freely: the opportunity to become an American by choice. We Americans live in a cloistered island of prosperity, but our life is part of the main. So let me ask you to lift your eyes beyond the struggles of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of la Frontera, or the country of Mexico, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the Wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Peregrino fronterizoFreedom is indivisible, and when one person is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when Mexico and America will again flow as one, like all other countries and continents in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people on both sides of El Muro, on both sides of La Frontera, can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they will have been in the front lines of that struggle.

All free people, wherever they may live, are pilgrims along the borders of this world, and, therefore, as a free person, I take pride in the words, Yo soy peregrino fronterizo.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Berlin wall was built to keep people in. The American wall is being built to keep people out.

This is a small difference, and subtle, but may have some significance.

Thanks,

Jim

11/01/2006 9:27 AM  
Anonymous JKC said...

A wall keeps people in and it keeps people out, even if not physically, regardless of the intent with which it was constructed. Ursula Leguin's novel, The Dispossessed, discusses this at length.

This is a great imitation, Professor Chen. Not sure if it compares with, say, the Seneca Falls declaration, but it makes the point well. Way to voice-merge.

"si con mi canto pudiera derrumbaria las fronteras para que el mundo viviera con una sola bandera en una misma nacion.

De paisano a paisano del hermano al hermano por querer trabajar, nos han hecho la guerra patrullando fronteras no nos pueden domar."

--Los Tigres Del Norte

11/01/2006 11:48 AM  

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