Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One to One, We Can

I want to tell you about Fernando.

I met Fernando last week. He's in his sixties, short, chubby and gray-haired; a mechanical engineer, I believe, who lives in Monterrey, Mexico, home to four million people.  

Bodies of the slain.
Monterrey: where an estimated 80% of the police force are now controlled by three drug cartels terrorizing the city's residents. Where the drug war among the cartels has escalated as guns and ammunition from the United States have flooded the streets. Where on average nearly five people are murdered by the cartels each and every day. Where an estimated 240,000 young people, most without jobs or prospects or hope, are now being directly affected by, or are actively involved in, the rampaging violence. Where young people are routinely recruited into gangs by the cartels--after which their life expectancy is a mere three years. Where young people, once having joined a gang to survive, ironically have no way to get out to save themselves. You leave, you die.

Fernando has had enough.

With the help of many others, Fernando has started a nonviolent movement in Monterrey, aimed first at stopping the bloodshed, then at transforming the social conditions causing it. Sound like a pipe-dream? Pie-in-the-sky idealism? Think again. Fernando and his friends recently persuaded the leaders of nearly 20 gangs, all of them sworn enemies, to sign a peace treaty. At the signing, many members of those gangs ended up dancing together, talking together, lighting candles and praying a peace prayer together. Will the peace hold? "We'll see," Fernando says, but he believes it's a start. Enough of a start that after the peace accord was struck, the Mexican government sent a representative to meet with Fernando and others in his organization, "Uno a Uno" ("One to One"). The man was supposed to learn what their secret was. What was happening in Monterrey, he said, could be a model for the rest of Mexico.

Maybe so. But Fernando, for now, is just worried about his city. About its thousands of young people, who are in danger of being a lost generation. About whatever gang member he happens to be talking with at the moment.

This nonviolence movement that Fernando started doesn't have lots of money. It doesn't have a board of directors, or even a steering committee. It doesn't engage in mass marketing or fancy public relations efforts. What it does have is heart. It has leaders who know well the dynamics of cartels and gangs and turf and revenge, because many of them have been active participants. It has an appreciation of how music and dance and graffiti and street art and festival can build community and offer an alternative message to the anti-gospel of violence and mayhem and nihilism and death. Perhaps most of all, it has a commitment to change that begins and ends with uno a uno contact. I talk to you, you talk to me. I be with you, you be with me. I live with you, you live with me. We reach some sort of understanding. We don't have to kill each other.

A peace demonstration 
of 7,000 marchers in Monterrey.
I wish you could have heard Fernando's stories about the young people of his acquaintance, and how they're giving themselves permission to change, and what they're trying to do to alter the violent dynamics of their neighborhoods. The stories just poured out of his heart. As I listened, I realized: I know nothing about courage. These people, Fernando and all the rest--they're putting their bodies and souls on the line every day. They have told their families what's to be done if they're kidnapped, or disappeared, or murdered. They don't pretend they're not afraid. They're damn scared. They know the risks. They live the risks. Every day. But they don't give up.

Sometimes we in the United States despair at the breakdown of our economy, our political system, our society, our local communities, our planet's environment. We believe there's nothing that we can do. The problems seem too massive, too complex. They overwhelm us. We are too puny....

Never. All of us can be Fernando. Each in our own way. Each in our own place. One to one, we can each make a difference--in our homes, in our workplaces, among our neighbors, as citizens of this country, as inhabitants of Earth. Uno a Uno. Maybe we won't have to fear for our lives to do this, but sometimes we'll be afraid. And sometimes we'll make mistakes. But we can always know, just like Fernando and his friends: love does not quit.

Gracias, my amigo, Fernando. Y paz a Monterrey.

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