After collecting about 30 links with data and opinion articles about Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy for the Texas Senate I changed my mind about the approach to adopt with this article. My story with the campaign says more about Beto, about the Latinos in the Midwest USA, about the struggle of Latin America to defend itself from violence, from dictatorships, from underdevelopment, from poverty and from cultural annihilation than about me. So let me take you on a journey through the open veins of Latin America.
We are going to follow a sequence of temporal coincidences. The book “The Open Veins of Latin America” was written by Eduardo Galeano, in Uruguay, and published shortly before bloody far-right military dictatorships seized power in Uruguay and Chile through coup d’Etats. Brazil was already under a similar rule since 1964, also through illegitimate seizure of power. Argentina would follow the same fate in 1976.
Galeano went into exile, as did many intellectuals who managed to escape.
As a mature writer, Galeano became critical of the passionate tone of his book. Regardless of the content, though, the book shaped the perception of two generations of intellectuals, opinion-makers and social movement leaders in the continent. It tells the story of 500 years of tragic genocide and oppression.
The Latin American dictatorships established in Latin America during the 1960’s and 1970’s had similar characteristics and relations with the USA, mostly determined by Cold War international policies.
Those of us who were born during those years will be forever shaped by the experiences and intellectual influences we were exposed to.
I was born in 1963, in São Paulo, Brazil, one year before the military Coup d’Etat. I’ve lived in the USA on and off until now, and my perception of the slowly assimilated civil rights here were at first misinformed by my ignorance about racial conflicts in this country.
Beto was born in 1972, as close to Mexico as one can possibly get – in El Paso.
El Paso forms, with Ciudad Juárez and las Cruces, a strange international metropolitan area also known as Paso del Norte (the North passage). El Paso is separated from Juárez by a fence through which you can see the other side. It would be impossible for young Beto, who lived there until his first year in High School, not to be deeply marked by Mexican culture. Among other things, he is fluent in Spanish and carries the nickname given to him as a child.
Mexico is part of North America, but it is the first Latin American country South of the USA border.
Beto was probably at first as confused about Latin America as I was about the USA. Latin America, a land that he could see across the fence, was in permanent turmoil and particularly conflictive at the area close to the USA border.
We both grew up, each one trying to find “what they were looking for” (and rock’n roll also unites us). I got involved in anti-dictatorship activism and, later, in my scientific career, in “local objects” and a search for some elusive Latin American identity. After years living away from Texas, Beto returned to El Paso to pursue the most progressive and inclusive policies in the State. As a child of the melting pot, he always embraced it and that is part of his identity. And in this melting pot, there are two sides: the push and the push back.
That’s when our second set of coincidences takes place.
Early in 2017, as Beto was considering being the Democratic candidate in the 2018 Senate race in Texas, the worst American attack on Latin Americans in recent times took place right under his eyes: the detention of Central American refugees seeking asylum, and the “separation of families” (actually the well-planned kidnapping of children, who were purposefully not identified at the occasion).
The plan started early in 2017, “families separation” started around October and, in April 2018, Jeff Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy at the Southwest border.
In June 2018 deportations were intensified, including adults whose children had been “separated” (kidnapped). Many attorneys are working pro-bono in legal actions on behalf of the children to reunite them with their parents. Both deportations and reunifications have been dramatic and a shocking illustration of an unpredicted authoritarian turn of the USA government.
Beto O’Rourke disapproved of Trump’s attack on refugees in no uncertain terms:
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That leads us to Beto’s campaign since August, gaining momentum and decreasing Ted Cruz’s advantage every week. Beto objected to the current administration’s immigration policy, clearly claimed that Trump’s border Wall project is racist, and recently also condemned the president’s attack on the 14th Amendment (birth rights) as anti-Latino racism.
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It is not surprising that analysts see the Latino vote as the greatest chance as well as the greatest challenge of Beto’s campaign. In spite of the record turnout in Texas, the Latino vote remains uncertain. Although it is a large percentage of the eligible voter population , it is also a historically low-voting electorate.
Beto O’Rourke’s success, whether he is elected or not, is a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored. When he launched his campaign, he wasn’t even considered competitive. Now he is a serious contender in the race.
I got involved in his campaign in August, when the Southwest border crisis had created a high level of despair among all concerned.
Until then, I thought my days of rescuing my Latino identity were over. Many of us had a feeling of failure. In every front we tried to push for progress, inclusiveness, science and democracy, we got pushed back. Many of us ended up abroad: it’s called brain drain.
The Southwest border “month of despair” (July) was a turning point, though. I had to act. The first thing I did was to offer to volunteer at the Latino Agency in Oklahoma City, where I live. I now serve as facilitator at support group “charlas”. The second thing was to engage in Beto O’Rourke’s campaign.
It was also in August that the presidential elections race in Brazil started, surprising the whole world with a grim figure: Jair Bolsonaro, a former low-ranking army serviceman defending the former dictatorship’s values, a hate-laden speech marked by homophobia, racism, anti-intellectualism, anti-environment projects and the strengthening of the repressive apparatus. Nobody was prepared to deal with that. As the second round of the elections approached, it was clear that Brazil was taking the authoritarian route that we, Latinos, well know.
The Central American crisis, pushing desperate refugees into the ruthless hands of an authoritarian American administration, and the Brazilian elections, broke open once again the veins of Latin America.
Beto O’Rourke’s candidacy is symbolic as well as an actual chance of making progress for democracy in the World. In practical terms, winning Texas will have a drastic effect on immigration policies, limiting the federal government’s illegal practices and opening a true national debate towards rational and compassionate measures. It will also mean changes that no other State can experience so soon: Texas has the potential of actually becoming the first fossil-fuel independent State. Finally, it will be a blow on racism, the strongest pillar of the Trump administration. The 39% of Hispanic-Texans will finally be able to reclaim their roots with pride and honor.
Beto has a chance. If he doesn’t win, however, I believe we won’t break down as we did after Susan Collins read her despicable speech nominating Kavanaugh, betraying and re-victimizing thousands of women who shared their stories to avoid this outcome; I won’t break down as I did when the Brazilian electoral system uploaded Bolsonaro’s victory on their website.
Beto will remain a cross-cultural spokesperson, a cross-national leader, a messenger of peace, unity and tolerance across ethnicities and languages, a listener to the lost youth and the damaged PTSD veterans. As a Senator or our local leader, he already has a place in American politics and the new social contract, as well as in the international resistance against fascism and oppression.
That it why I supported Beto O’Rourke and will continue to do so.