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We are the ones

March 7, 2017

In a rather ironic (or perhaps more so disgusting) display of cultural co-option, we sat next to a mother and her teenage son in a quaint and lovely Salvadorean restaurant in Carmel Valley as they proceeded to talk jovially about building a border wall.  We are not normally conversation lurkers, but the tables were close together and my dinner companion and I already raised our eyebrows as the young man discussed service in the military as a resume builder, rather than as …service.

The mom and her son started to discuss the logistics of wall and how one might go about “keeping them all out.” I did not hear all of this myself and relied on my dinner companion to send whispers of Spanish over to me.  But I was (unfortunately) able to take in smattering of the conversation – of how it would be essential to pursue the environmental checks to protect the Rio Grande – though no conversation was had about the welfare of the people.  The duo then turned enthusiastically to the topic of who might get the contract to build the wall, citing rumors about Israel, given their projected sophistication at these types of things – and Trump’s desire to reward his allies.  To the young man’s credit, he had the math skills to realize that $20 billion was a gross underestimation of the walls costs; more like $50 billion he said.  And they both knew that this endeavor would load the pockets of someone else – and indeed, the U.S. would pay for the wall.

My dinner companion stepped in at this point and said.  “I’m sorry, if we end up building the wall; I want to be on the other side of it.  The woman then countered with “Enjoy it; I hear there are lovely beaches” as if hers was a harmless discussion.   We said “welp” in our heads “and there are marvelous people there as well,” assertively and out loud.

Our two tables finished our meal conversations in awkward separation.  The mother and son left.  My dinner companion and I were beyond irked and immediately leapt into passionate conversations about just how horrible this was.  “How dare they enter this space with all of that!”  We bellowed our outrage at the chef/owner of the place.   “They’ll eat the food, but have no love for the people.”

And yet, to no surprise, he was the wisest of us all.  He simply said “ni importa; we’ve already won.”  While the actions may have had a bit of sting, his sights were set on what really mattered. You see with decades in the U.S., he knew that his influence had already been made.  They were sitting at his table, weren’t they?

And he told us about all of his family members, his son, his primos y primas, his nieces and nephews, who were making their way through high schools and higher education.   “Education is the way to win,” he said.  He noted through education they would have opportunities that we didn’t have; he was so satisfied that his life was lived for this purpose.

Over the next bit of time, one of his wait staff told us his story, as to why we could not disturb ourselves with such matters.  He had lived in the U.S. for 26 years, but remembers the clarity of being in El Salvador during the years of civil war and waking each day to say “Maybe this day I live, or maybe today I die.”  He talked about hiding under beds and his mother’s clear plea to soldiers to leave the children alive.  We did not talk about whether his mother had survived.  However, this was nothing.

These men epitomized a statement that I hold so dear: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  A lot of people confuse this statement with an urge to pick one’s self up by the boot straps.  To the contrary,  what it does say is that we have the power to manifest change — and we cannot wait for others to tell us that’s okay.  These men clearly understood that and their eyes were on the long game.  They had stepped in to their power and in that moment would become our sages.

Though there are many origin stories of this phrase, here is one poem, crafted by June Jordan, that speaks it.  It was read in commemoration of the 40,000 women who went before the United Nations in bodily protest of the pass laws in apartheid South Africa. Perhaps, in this Month of the Woman, as we look at how our immigrant sisters and brothers are facing great marginalization, it is time for all of us to be the ones.

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
fertile
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open
eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

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