Next time you go to Philadelphia, make sure to stop by the Liberty Bell. It’s been cracked since the birth of this nation. It is the crack that symbolizes the fact that our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and then went home to their slave-owning homes. It is the crack that haunts us in memory of the lynching tree, segregation and detention centers, and a racist and out of control prison-industrial complex that maintains white American privilege and power. It is the crack that hires undocumented immigrants to build a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants. It is the crack of the “third space,” along our nation’s arbitrary Mexican border that allows continued myths of American Exceptionalism to have no memory of the bloody war that stole this land in the first place. It is the crack between checkpoints in which thousands of mothers and children await deported husbands in the colonias with very little means of securing employment, denied the dignity of driver’s license, furiously learning English and taking classes in continued pursuit of the “American Dream” of freedom that history shows to have been built on the backs of those living the American Nightmare. It is the crack in our “pursuit of happiness” that leaves a single man running a homeless shelter for immigrants and refugees with the help of three cooks and two social workers, where the reality is that the mostly undocumented men from that shelter wait outside the fence to be picked up for construction, farm, or any other manual labor by employers who know of their desperation and more often than not never honor their promised payments. If the men are fortunate enough to find work from the shelter, a woman with children at that shelter has no childcare, no transportation, and very little hope of pulling herself and her family out of that living environment which is supposed to be a temporary respite. It is the women, children, and men that occupy this “third space” within a country that repeatedly prides itself on its founding notions of liberty that continue to fall through the cracks of our dominant national memory. As is clearly symbolized for us in the building of a wall that does not fool anyone in its uselessness and yet intimidates in its armed patrol, the consequences for asserting oneself as a full human being with a right to dignity, respect, and opportunity in the Texas-Mexico Borderlands are deadly.
The despair of this situation can be overwhelming. A retired minister named Joe, who’s organization, Pax Christi, has as its goals nothing short of ending the death penalty in Texas, disbanding nuclear armament, and obtaining world peace, quietly shared with us as we met in Methodist Church in Brownsville that despair was his biggest cross. And yet, when I begin my own spiral into despair, I have to remember the faith that was so unquestionably expressed by the women workers of the maquiladoras who are organizing to learn and spread knowledge of the labor law and rights for the members of their community, for their fellow workers. I have to remember that, after hearing about what a battle it has been to just get public lights for the colonias in the Rio Grande Valley region (still not accomplished), Martha, the seemingly fearless leader of the colonias’ community organizing union—LUPE—finds her motivation and inspiration to get up and go to work every day in the determination, resilience, and beauty of her Latino immigrant community. There is a great potential in the people, she says. And what does the liberty bell stand for, if not the realization of the potential of human beings to freely become who we might be?