I’m watching this Netflix documentary following the Rolling Stones as they do a series of free concerts around Latin America: Cuba, Peru, Argentina. The audiences in all these countries are enormous, and unabashedly emotional–concertgoers are not only cheering and singing along, they are also weeping with joy. There were also scenes of the band talking to–or/and rocking out with–various musicians in all the places they go. There is no lack of talent to be found.
How refreshing: to see Latinx people treated with grace.
All U.S. citizens of conscience should have hit their breaking point by now. It’s far past time for us to take responsibility for undermining the stability of most of the countries in this hemisphere. Argue the technicalities of citizenship all you like; the fact is, our CIA systematically destroyed the stability of a staggering number of places throughout the twentieth century. For those unfamiliar, these were all democratic nations we were ostensibly protecting (from themselves); we did so by funding coups to overthrow their elected leaders, sometimes not even bothering with a proxy to carry out these assassinations. It was said our nation had to ward off the specter of communism, but the true stimulus was corporate greed. The resultant civil wars, violent dictatorships, military juntas, and ubiquitous corruption destroyed the peace, well-being, and prosperity of millions, for generations.
To deny responsibility for our monstrous past is unacceptable. To deny asylum and opportunity to any and everyone affected by our disingenuous friendship to the rest of America–we are not the only Americans–betrays both how ignorant or/and how morally bankrupt our citizenry truly are. The rhetorical tagline, “keep the bad guys out” is utterly laughable. The poison endemic to our national character originates (largely) with the white people in this country who believe ownership of, or paternalism towards the entirety of this continent to be their existential privilege; it is not.
We must dismantle the internment/concentration camps constructed on our borders. They are a shameful call-back to WWII-era Japanese internment camps, indentured servitude, slavery, and the ghettoization of non-white citizenry since our founding. We must stop providing private prisons with the slave labor of our brothers and sisters from the southern regions of America. It is an abomination to treat as subhuman the people whose suffering and challenges are already our responsibility. No more slave labor. No more erasure of our true nature.
We have become a cartoonishly evil villain, showcasing the most detestable qualities of our national character. The ideals we should all accept as common decency are the very ones we’re desecrating now. Liberty. Progress. Humanity. Generosity. Respect. Courage. These are the characteristics we desperately need. Anyone who stands for the opposite–enslavement, regression, cruelty, greed, paranoia, prejudice, and cowardice, should not have the privilege of calling himself a United States citizen.
The sad truth is that, as my friend Gregorio reminded me today, the United States was founded on genocide, hatred, and imperialism. What will it take to transform our legacy into something better? To actually become a world power for the people–as many of us we were fallaciously taught we were?
Watching the Rolling Stones share their gifts with our southern neighbors reminded me of the times I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some of these places. Cuba. Guatemala, twice. Mexico, more times than I can remember off the top of my head, with friends like Tila, Ven, Diana, and Nathan. I’d like to share a generalization with you–a stereotype, if you will–based on my limited tourism in these places: the people are kind. Almost everyone I met, even strangers, were open-hearted and good to a degree that stunned me.
This might come across as exoticism, but I know my travel was not representative of everyone in these nations; it’s impossible to fully know a people based on short-term visits. But overall, in all three countries, there existed a genuine humanity so powerful that, when I returned to the U.S., I palpably felt its loss. We are missing something in this culture that I genuinely believe we need to move forward. Something that, possibly, we may gain by being a little (a lot) more open.
Ultimately it occurred to me that the Stones are a British band. Those old bastards rep one of the most notorious imperialist nations of the modern world, and they could easily continue to add to their stacks of money without anyone thinking less of them. Yet they didn’t. What kind of opportunities do all people have when those with privilege–with a history of oppression–turn around and try to make amends? How can we do that? Where do we even begin?