Sunday, May 02, 2010

Peace and prayer for Juarez

May 1. The International Peace and Prayer Day for Juarez. I almost didn't go to Saturday morning's event at the Chamizal National Memorial. I had stayed up until past 2am, and there was laundry to do. But I thought back on the horrors of Wednesday and felt I needed to go to an event like this. I wrote last year about a need to express solidarity with the citizens of Juarez. Well, here is a chance to do this, to show up and say I am not OK with the way things are going. I was late but I was there, the white ribbon a volunteer gave me in hand.

I sat down in the grass at the outdoor amphitheatre and my first thought was, wow, there are not very many people here. A few hundred people were in attendance. I've seen the Chamizal packed with thousands of people for summer concerts, and this was pretty skimpy in comparison. I don't know what it is about El Paso. I know it is not that the people don't care about what is happening in Juarez. They do. I think that is just not this city's mentality to get up on a Saturday morning and show up at a rally. (Actually, I wrote this and then saw this story about Arizona immigration law protests, where around 400 people showed up. Maybe it depends on the issue and the type of event?)

I listened to alternating choirs and speakers. An all-girls choir sang in heavenly harmony "This little light of mine/I'm gonna let it shine." A women's group leader read (in English and Spanish) a powerful long prayer written by some women from Juarez. She said, I want my mother not to tell me, God watch out for you when you go out and when you return. Her voice cracked with emotion. A reverend invoked Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and even the book of Exodus in comparison with the oppressive violence in Juarez. Then another choir followed with gospel songs. "I Never Lost My Praise" is the one I remember most. It's a thought-provoking song. How can you be joyful even when you are suffering? Over five thousand murders in the past 2 1/2 years, and you can still find a way to praise God?

It was such a beautiful morning. The sun finally came out after two days of hiding. I looked at the border fence a few hundred yards away from where I was sitting and thought, the sun is shining just the same on the other side. There is still sunshine in Juarez, still joy, still good people, even with the seemingly never-ending stream of deaths.

The portion of this event I saw was beautiful and I'm glad I attended. Still, I was a bit frustrated by the lack of specifics. A couple of speakers prayed that all evil would end. I don't disagree with a general sort of "deliver us from evil" prayer. But my mind knows that it is the specifics that will help put an end to Mexico's drug war: laws, money, and focused courses of action. What do community and religious leaders agree should be done to help Juarez?

The other thing was, well, I wanted to see more anger. I'm all for peace and tranquillity, but I think there's a place for anger, too, even at a peace rally. I found myself thinking about a different sort of event that could be held with picket signs and loud rock bands, something that might draw more attention (and possibly more people).

But I know there are different ways to demonstrate, some quiet, some loud. Does every event have to involve marching down streets and shouting slogans? Here the emphasis was on peace and healing, solidarity of the community, and connection with God.

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