There’s a faint glimmer of light on the horizon, the first sign of the coming dawn. The long night of racism and domestic terrorism that has plagued us for years is ending. It’s a tragic thing, but the blood sacrifice of the martyred Mexican people in El Paso may have jolted us awake. It was a high price to pay, but the blood they shed may water the seeds of tolerance. We can hope for that but never forget the sorrow of the bereaved.
These are hard times for us. It’s not just about guns or racist websites. There is a deeper malaise. We must admit guilt. We have not welcomed the stranger as we are enjoined to do in our sacred Scripture. This calls for repentance, as in true contrition and the resolve to never let it happen again.
Even President Donald Trump seems to be repentant, decrying racism and white supremacist violence. This is a positive sign.
Of course, the president has come in for his share of criticism for the incendiary rhetoric against immigrants that we have all heard and that we are obligated to acknowledge if we are serious about creating change. But we can’t just blame Trump. We have let it go on for too long. We need to take responsibility for the dark cloud that has descended on us. Somehow we have forgotten our values. We are a much better nation than we have lately believed ourselves to be. Our goodness is still with us, just hidden under a veneer of ignorance and fear.
By an act of will we can liberate ourselves from the paralyzing fear of brow-skinned people and the hatred fomented by racist agitators. We must educate ourselves about our neighbors to the south.
Remember that fear and hatred always spring from ignorance. Education can remove ignorance, but it has many dimensions. It makes us see asylum seekers as dangerous invaders, as the El Paso gunman obviously believed. It is what tears children from their parents and locks them in cages. Ignorance makes us oblivious to the cries for help of thousands of desperate people.
Ignorance keeps us from common-sense solutions to the border crisis, like a benign intervention in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to clean up the criminal gangs and corrupt politicians who hold ordinary people in thrall to murderous violence. Yes, we have the power to restore order and democracy in these countries. They cannot do it alone, but they can with a robust effort on our part.
It is time for new thinking.
I am fully aware that we have attempted nation-building in Muslim countries and spend trillions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of soldiers doing it, but to no avail. We may have failed but it speaks to our courage and willingness to renew dysfunctional countries.
With new thinking, we can make another attempt at this. Unlike in the Middle East, in Central America we can succeed because the people there are much closer to us, in religion, culture and geographic proximity.
It is truly our backyard.
Once we commit to helping them, our effort will free us of hatred and fear and we can live up our high ideals. We can then experiment with solutions, like viable guestworker programs that allow workers not to immigrate but to enter and depart the U.S. in an orderly fashion.
It will cost but in a broader context it will be less expensive if we initiate a Latin American Marshall Plan to rebuild small countries and make them prosperous, much as we did for Europe after WWII.
We can do it but we must first dedicate ourselves to a new birth of freedom and the proposition that all men and women are created equal.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.