Be careful what you say, the children are listening. For the past year, children of immigrants have been hearing the worst things about their parents. Finally, across the country from Los Angeles, California, to Bastop, Texas, teenagers agreed all at once that it was time to talk back.
“Another day, another walkout” said a recent headline. This time the news was from Tyler, Texas, where students marched from Tyler High to the Smith County Courthouse carrying Mexican flags. Across the country, similar stories played.
I was eating lunch in downtown Austin, cleaning up a tasty plate of enchiladas mole, thinking about a fantastic exhibit of Mexican art that I’d just visited, when students filled the restaurant window with bodies marching north to the capitol.
“We’re here to work, we’re not criminals,” said one sign written in black marker on white posterboard. The young woman held the sign at the main gate to the Texas state capitol, surrounded by excited students. They chanted “Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co, Me-xi-co” and then cheered themselves on. They shouted “Si, Se Puede” the famous slogan of Cesar Chavez. In English it means, “yes - we can!” On this day, Chavez would have turned 79.
“We Pay Taxes,” said a slogan written in black marker on the back of a white t-shirt. “Without us Mexicans, the US is Nothing,” said a poster-board sign. A few young women wore petite-sized flags tucked into the fronts of their shirts.
It was a warm afternoon with temperatures climbing to 84 degrees and a South wind blowing up from the Colorado River. Bottles of water, eagerly grabbed up by students who had walked miles to get here, were poured into mouths and onto heads, sometimes accompanied by those little sounds you make when a cold splash catches you by surprise.
From passing cars, the students were treated to honks of support, which they often answered with cheers. Some of the cars were themselves filled with students and more flags of Mexico rippling from the windows.
“Who made this country?” asked one student waving a good sized flag. He drew cheers talking about beans and tortillas. “We’re a whole new diverse group that this country needs,” he said. “And we’re not going anywhere. We built this country. Even if they stop us, we’re going to come back. They’re not going to stop us. We’ve been here too long.”
In the shade of the small trees, the tone was jubilant and lighthearted, like a pep rally, but there was a serious message. These teenagers were confident in their heritage of hard work, determination, and life that keeps growing.
Political consultants are saying it would be better if students would carry American flags, but these teenagers haven’t been given very good examples lately of how the American flag can be carried with their kind of pride. The red, white, and blue has been used against them this past year. Who can blame them for unfurling the red, white, and green?
I’ve seen stories that listen to these teenagers and I’ve seen stories that listen mostly to adults who think they have something more important to say. Things like: they should be more pro-American, or they should be punished for leaving school. But that’s just the problem these days, that pro-American pretty much means pro-punishment, along with the self-proclaimed entitlement to talk right over others as if they deserve to never come from places they call their own.
I’m no political consultant, but as I was standing in the South wind that blew through the capitol gates among the splashing voices and fresh water, I was feeling that this is what America is supposed to be like. And I haven’t felt that way in years.
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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