Joe Barrera: Do We Still Have a Conscience?

This is the season when we celebrate the voice of conscience. This celebration is unique in the world, and springs from our spiritual inheritance. As we understand our history, we were founded by people of conscience, dissenters who fled the oppression of church and state in order to remain faithful to their beliefs. We honor this inheritance of freedom of conscience. It has a name. We call it American Exceptionalism. We feel that it makes us better than other nations. The vision has faded but so powerful is the legacy that there is still a memory of it, still a twinge of conscience which prods us to pay homage to our founding ideals. Heroes of conscience continue to spring up in this country. They are Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature,” born to fight the dark forces of fear and discord. We are perpetually torn between conscience, the insistent voice of reason and light, and the devil of fear, which for us always takes the form of racism and xenophobia. It is the eternal war in our souls. The battle manifests in our belief that our purpose in the world is to be “a light unto the nations.” To be this light is to bear a heavy burden, which we carry willingly. But it can be self-destructive. We are torn by repeated struggles, the endless cycles of progression and regression in our history. These occur when we perceive to have either succeeded or failed in our mission of enlightenment. At the moment we have failed. We are caught up in the cycle of regression. We are moving backward.

Martin Luther King

In their latest visitation, progression and regression have been ferociously fighting since the 1960s. The ebb and flow is ceaseless. The decisive battle has not yet been fought. In the titanic struggle a better angel appeared. The darkness killed him, but his life continues. Because of him we know that regression will give way to progression. The hero said this about conscience: “Cowardice asks the question, Is It Safe? Expediency asks the question, Is It Politic? And Vanity comes along and asks the question, Is It Popular? But Conscience asks the question, Is It Right? The Ultimate Measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.”

This would be one more moment of great crisis for him. If he were alive today he would be down on the Mexican border, rescuing the 13,000 children torn from their parents’ arms by the U.S. government and caged like animals. “We are responsible for that atrocity,” he would say to us. “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” He would condemn the racism he knew so well, still directed against his own people, and at the same time non-violently lie down and stop the latter-day slave ships, the dangerously overcrowded vans ferrying desperate immigrants to slave-like jobs. He would stand in front of the wall of shame and intone, “Tear down this wall!” He would fearlessly defend the asylum seekers, reminding us that we have laws granting them the right to seek refuge in the land of the free. He would call all of us, Whites, African Americans, Latinos/Chicanos, to stand with him in conscience. And we would respond, knowing that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is not just a hero for Black folks but for everyone of us.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Joe Barrera: First Thanksgivings

We should always give credit where credit is due. I’m thinking of the Native Americans in this season of Plymouth Rock, Captain Miles Standish and John Alden, who both wanted to marry Priscilla Mullins, the only marriageable woman left after all the others died of disease and sheer heartbreak on the pestilential tub called the Mayflower. Priscilla must have been pretty tough. Tisquantum was there, the kidnapped and returned Patuxet Indian better known as Squanto. He had learned English during his sojourn in Europe and was able to translate for the Pilgrims and negotiate with hostile tribes, which saved the Plymouth colony from annihilation. Indians helped Europeans in the New World. This relationship is part of Thanksgiving lore, a gift from American mythology. We think of Captain John Smith and Pocahontas at Jamestown, Leatherstocking and the Mohican, Chingachgook, Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark, and the cowboy version–the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Native Americans helped white people in this land, which for Europeans was often strange and savage. Of course, it never seemed to work the other way. We give thanks for Indians like Squanto, who introduced us to the turkey which the Pilgrims ate at the banquet in 1621, when they celebrated the anniversary of their arrival. Except they ate venison, not  turkey, but turkeys are part of the myth. Besides, they are so much more fun for kids to draw, along with men carrying blunderbusses and wearing hats with buckles.

Frozen Berries Color
     photo by: Marian Lanham

We honor the New England Thanksgiving, but there was an earlier one, on the banks of the Big River, el Rio Grande, when the Spanish mining magnate, Juan de Onate, brought 500 settlers north from Santa Barbara in the the present state of Chihuahua, in 1598. This is important to know because American history is incomplete without the Spanish contribution. Knowledge of Spaniards, Indians and Mexicans is crucial if we are to understand our present situation. Onate’s aim was to colonize northern New Mexico, which meant that the Pueblo Indians had to bear the brunt of European exploitation. This was true whenever Europeans encountered native peoples. But the Spanish were different from the English. Spain did not drive out the Indians to make room for white settlement, unlike the English. Spain sent mainly soldiers and priests to the New World, unlike the English who sent entire families. This meant that Spanish men often married Indian women. Onate was married to the granddaughter of the Aztec emperor, Moctecohzuma, and the settlers he led had already begun el mestizaje, the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood and culture, which characterizes Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.

The settlers crossed 600 miles of waterless desert, a journey every bit as hazardous as the Atlantic crossing. They finally reached el Rio Grande in what is now El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. So grateful were the people to find water that they had a real thanksgiving, the same as the Pilgrims more than twenty-years later. They prepared a feast of fish from the river, and staged pageants, among them the reenactment of los moros y cristianos, the battles between Moors and Christians, celebrated to mark the reconquest of Spain and the expulsion of the Moorish king Boabdil in 1492. The Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, drove out the best part of their industrious population, the Muslims, and also many Jews.

The Spaniards, in spite of extensive intermarriage with Native Americans, transferred their rage against Muslims to the Indians  The following year, 1599, Onate sent his nephew, Juan de Zaldivar, to Acoma Pueblo, to demand provisions from the people there. The Indians attacked the soldiers, which prompted Onate to retaliate. He punished the Acoma people by cutting off the right feet of the men and selling many of the children into slavery. The Acomas have never forgotten this but Spanish justice caught up with Onate. He was tried for his crimes and banished from New Spain. I cannot think of similar punishment for English crimes. Regardless, we can learn from this and truly give thanks for the Indians who made European settlement possible.

Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

Lucy Bell’s new Novel

Lucy Bell’s new book is now available at the Pioneer’s Museum.  It will also soon be available at other local sites and Amazon. Her first book signing is October 27, 1-3 PM at the downtown Hooked on Books (12 E. Bijou Street).

Coming Up (Lucy_Bell)Cover

Coming Up is the true account of Oliver Bell who was born in Colorado Springs in 1933. The five chapters take place from 1941 – 1945, and offer an authentic look at what life was like in the black community during that time. Full of humor and adventure, each story includes a related history segment along with historic photographs.

 

Issue 6: Submission Deadline

This is a quick update to anyone who might like to contribute to our sixth edition, the “Veterans Issue,” which is scheduled for winter.  We’d like to have all material in by October 25th. In past issues, we have reached out to writers locally and all over the world, but in this particular edition, we hope to really focus in on our Colorado community and those along the front range.

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We are looking for stories — fiction, essays, memoirs, poems — from those who have served. While it might sound like we are interested only in the military experience, we recognize that veterans are not only soldiers, but members of our community in every capacity. If one has served, she or he may send us a piece about their military experience…or anything else under the sun. And, if you are not a veteran, we still invite you to share, so long as the piece is relevant to the veteran experience. Many civilians are involved with veterans, are married to them, or are raised by them. Please continue to send us the high quality work we have been so generously provided now for two years.

We hope this clears the way a bit, and look forward to carefully considering each piece. If not, feel free to tug our sleeve with a question or two.

With Gratitude,
The Almagre Staff

La Llorona in Denver: @ the Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library

Thank you to everyone who came to Karen’s reading in Denver. We had a wonderful time–met wonderful new writers, artists, and literature enthusiasts. We hope to hear back from our new friends and look forward to our next visit. Thank you Denver Public Library Staff, you made this a breezeless, beautiful event.

Karen Gonzales (Bio Pic) copy

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Issue 5 Contributors Spend Sunday at Rico’s, Downtown.

Thank you to those who came. A lovely time with wonderful people doing writerly things among an inspiring place. Thank you to Poor Richard’s for their continued support in this ongoing literary project.

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The Lady Llorona can be found in the rocks, the water, a bush…
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Colorado authors… relaxed, confident, exemplars of craft
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Lucy Bell: there from day one

Event in Denver: Saturday August 25

Come join the growing Almagre community this Saturday up in Denver. Issue 5 contributor, Karen D. Gonzales, will be reading her memoir about encountering the legend of Lady Llorona.

RCG Denver Event

go to: DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY

~Hope to see you there,
the Almagre Staff