Monday, May 15, 2006

Javier Benavidez Raza Graduation Speech

marjorie says...

The following speech was given by our friend Javier Benavidez at the 2006 UNM Raza Graduation Ceremony. Mikaela and I had the privilege of being there and were so inspired by Javier's speech that we thought we should share it with m-pyre readers. Javier, you rock!

Companeros y Companeras,

Today is a BEAUTIFUL day. Its a beautiful day, not just because of the brilliant Nuevo Mexico sunshine outside and also not just because in the midst of our graduation, we're surrounded here in this auditorium by those wonderful friends and familia who have carried us through the hardships, those that have sacrificed so much for us but in addition to that all, it's truly a beautiful day because together with them, as graduates, today we are being sent out into a world where there is something POWERFUL in the air.

Over the past few weeks, millions of people around our nation have become galvanized and energized and have begun to STAND UP.

In Albuquerque we marched with thousands; in Manhattan, hundreds of thousands, and in Los Angeles, over one million.

And what more powerful an experience than to march amongst the spirit of thousands of other human beings demonstrating such goodness and compassion for the well-being of others, many doing so even though they risked losing their jobs and many under the threat of being deported? It was important enough for them to take a stand, because this struggle breaks down to a noble fight for dignity, for integrity, for human rights, and for humanity.

Yet amongst those grand moments of marching and feeling the empowerment of ourselves, when the crowd, young and old, was chanting Si Se Puede, Si Se Puede, we should be reminded that we still live in a heart-breaking time of a great deal of xenophobic frenzy, with a media that perpetuates scape-goating and hysteria and a political climate that pits people against people to close ranks, and to put up thick walls of demarcation. We live in a system that has seemingly fought so hard for free trade and a free market and free exported jobs but perhaps we've lost track of the need to fight for free human beings. And if you take a deep step back and take in the big picture, you begin to wonder if our society's perception lens has perhaps been co-opted. These are human beings exercising the ultimate in moral fortitude working to provide for their families, no matter how hard and back-breaking the work, creating community in often hostile environments - along a north to south trade route that has been there for thousands of years, and now they're called illegals. And Aliens. And criminals. And so we ask ourselves, shouldn't the corporations, the powers at play that create the situations of extreme poverty around the world that bring about these struggles, shouldnt THEY be illegal and considered criminals?

So it is phenomenally encouraging, as we graduate, to enter into a world where people are standing up for HUMANITY not as the awakening of a sleeping giant, because so many have struggled so hard in this fight for so long, but we believe, as a bold and powerful tradition of freedom struggle that will lead to a sea change of public judgment similar to that experienced during the Civil Rights movement forty years ago. Think about the thousands of young people all around the country becoming politicized and joining the walkouts and the marches and think of the numbers of young revolutionaries being cultivated STANDING UP because this is a matter of survival and because their love for others drives them to ACT.

And in being part of this all, we remember that for so many historically well-known revolutionary leaders, their fights came out of similarly enlightening experiences. Cesar Chavez initial anger grew around the age 15 when he saw his disabled father lose their house and was forced to live in a 10 by 12 house in the Sal Si Puedes neighborhood in San Jose, California, with 11 other people, and his heart was later broken when he saw so many children die of cancer around him because of pesticides in the fields that they worked. Mother Theresa started at the age of 17 as a teacher and a nun but soon found herself with a calling to reach out to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, those men, women and children who she saw rejected by hospitals and who would have otherwise died in the gutters of the streets of Calcutta. And Che Guevara was a young man on his way to becoming a doctor when he took that vacation motorcycle ride up the coast and instead found himself witness to the exploitation of human beings throughout Latin America and it changed him forever.

And later, in his maturity as a revolutionary, it was Che Guevara who once said at the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.

So today, as we all have become witness to the injustices surrounding us and the need for a profound struggle for LOVE amidst the inhumanity, let us feel within our hearts that as we complete these formal stages of education that it is not enough to go on and make a good living and accumulate the material things that this society bestows upon us as fulfilling. Let us also feel that heartfelt pain that so many of our neighbors are being left behind. That pain is a heavy burden to carry and a heavy responsibility for us to share in, but its one that comes out of a great feeling of LOVE and a great sense of empathy and sympathy for the humanity of every one of us.

Cesar Chavez said the end of all education should surely be service to others. As college graduates, we should all realize the significant privilege that we have been granted but let it also be the opening of our eyes to the many wrongs of our society, because try as we might, we will not be able to close our eyes again to those wrongs. Learning makes us responsible for using that knowledge for the sake of others. Education might bring a sense of liberation, a sense of being set free from a state of captivity, but it should also charge us with the responsibility of being liberaTORS, with a responsibility to serve those held captive by hunger, by disease, by racism, sexism and exploitation and so on. Liberation Theology, the Catholic faith which has driven a great deal of revolution in Latin America, believes that God wants no one to suffer and that leaders have a responsibility to fight for the Liberation of all.

There was One final revolutionary, whose purest of Love should serve as an example for all of us, who on the night of his last meal, took the tired and weary feet of those around him who had come from long journeys and washed them. This was a beautifully rebellious and revolutionary gesture done during those times to welcome and care for those, most often strangers, who had had arrived after their cruel and treacherous crossings, some who had walked across deserts for 40 years, and it was done to honor their dignity, particularly after the suffering they had endured. And so on that night, there was Jesus, the One, the King of Kings, on his knees, bending down to provide hospitality and consolation and dignity and service to His people by washing their feet.

With whatever faith we believe, let us use that spirit of compassion as our driving force to serve others, because when we give so much of ourselves and of our hearts in that fashion, we might often feel like were stepping out onto nothing, only to land on something. Because as treacherous and inhumane as this current political paradigm may seem here in the U.S., one does not have to believe blindly that, as the blues singer Sam Cooke once beautifully sang, Change Gon Come; (that change IS going to come) one simply has to look around at the millions of people; youth, our peers, the working class, the wise elderly, who have stood up, who have marched, chanting Si Se Puede we will overcome and BELIEVE IN THEM.

To my beautiful family, Mama, Dad and my Brother and Best Friend Mario, I love you! Gracias.