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Right time, wrong place

Stan Gotlieb

Protest flag, Zocalo, Oaxaca City, 1996: "Death to the PRI government, responsible for the corruption, misery and killing of the Mexican people" Photography by Diana Ricci.

The local July 4th party was hosted by the Oaxaca Lending Library, an institution that serves both the English speaking foreigners and the local Oaxaqueños. In previous years, we had been out of town, but this year we attended.

The setting was a spectacular outdoor (palapa covered) restaurant, holding hundreds of people. Food is served buffet style, and includes everything from soup to dessert: all you can eat, and there's a lot to eat, believe you me. One of our more compulsive comrades actually counted 65 individual cauldrons, platters, grills and pans.

Our party of around a hundred was a mix of about 70-some US citizens, maybe 6 Canadians, and about 20 of our Mexican neighbors. The spirits (both personal and alcoholic) were high, and everyone was enjoying a rare perfect, sunny, dry afternoon in the middle of the rainy season. The mariachis were strolling, singing and strumming, throughout the huge dining area. Speeches of welcome and doorprize drawings had come and gone.

Suddenly, the conversation and good feelings were rendered by the cry "Everyone, let's stand up and sing God Bless America". What? Where did this come from? I mean, this is Mexico, right? And we have Canadians, Mexicans, a Belgian, a Dutchman, what's going on here? "Well, I said it was voluntary", said the leader. Boos, shouts of Chauvinist, and other epithets that can get a web site closed on AOL. Someone else importuning: come on, stand up, where's your patriotism? Another voice: if you don't like your country, why don't you turn in your passport? More unprintable responses.

In the end, most of the US citizens did stand up, although some didn't sing, they just moved their mouths. Many, however, remained seated, as a protest against a government that subverts democracy and beggars the people in the smaller, browner, poorer countries south of its border. People who were there when the troops hit the beach in Grenada, who picked cotton to help provide a better life for the people in Nicaragua and ended up dodging US made and supplied bombs dropped by cocaine-smuggling US supported Contras, who have talked to the victims of Rios Montt (a Christian) in Guatemala, whose elder family members were persecuted by McCarthy, whose grandparents died fighting for freedom in Spain against fascists who had not yet become a problem for "our" interests abroad. People who do not believe that there is a God, let alone that "He" (always masculine) blesses the US or singles out the Jews for special treatment, or supports the enslavement of women by opposing abortion.

Several of the folk who attended have expressed their unwillingness to attend any more Library functions where such behavior is likely to be repeated. They believe that if the Patriots want a rally, they should start an American Legion post. Like me, they pay their taxes, vote in the elections, do good works and hold good thoughts, and they don't need loyalty oaths or sing-alongs to prove their worthiness as US citizens.

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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