I was ashamed of myself today. Ashamed because of the thoughts I thought, ashamed because of the anger I wasn’t aware I had, ashamed because all this time I thought I was doing good, and now I’ve realized I haven’t been doing nearly enough.

Once in a while I watch inspirational speeches and movie scenes to give myself a new perspective.

A few outstanding speeches in history are able to uplift us, give us direction, help us see our flaws, our shameful prejudices, and Barack Obama’s speech on racism, “A More Perfect Union,” moved me to tears this morning, and it is so true in Chiapas, Mexico as well. Here are some notable segments:

“In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.”

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“This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time…And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.”

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“And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom…Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.”

…Solidarity and unity has such a tremendous resonance in it, that I’m almost angry at myself for letting the little things bug me sometimes. The market guy who tries to rip me off, the person who makes me wait for forty minutes more, the laundry woman who says one thing and means another, the shocking ignorance. Sometimes they take out their resentment and frustration on “the gringa” even when this gringa has nothing to do with their repression or indignity. Sometimes it angers me that I have a stronger fight for their wellbeing than they have for themselves. It angers me to see people succumb to victims, and then play the victim role all the time, manipulate everyone into thinking they’re the victim…and even fight you and blame you when you try to actually empower them.

It’s like people with depression, sometimes they know the way how to fix their lives but they just don’t want to…they’re rewarded with pity for being feeble and weak. When your identity is “that messed up person” that everybody feels sorry for, it can be scary to be healthy and independent again. You wonder if your support system will still be there. So it is, here, when you show some mestizos in San Cristobal that they’re poor mostly because of their choices and their mindsets that they can change, not discrimination or racism, the implication of personal freedom and personal responsibility is scary. They’d rather be pitied; that way it’s not their fault. When you try to teach them skills to empower themselves to not be that beggar victim anymore, the prospect of not being that helpless-marginalized-martyr who plays all these victim-cards is terrifying. So they resist. They fight. They flake. They blame you. Anything from actually facing that change in their life.

As for me, when I live life reacting to daily things, I forget to take a huge step back and analyze it, stop myself and ask why. And maybe I myself have overcome some odds, and I’ve seen families persevere despite tremendous violence, despite excruciating tragedy, despite hopeless adversity… and so when I see people here falling into the cracks over such simple barriers it makes me angry. But the truth is, these are the people left behind. These speeches hold me to higher standards, higher expectations for myself. Let’s think of another way.

Other Good Stuff from Today

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I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring a real change in Washington. I’m asking you to believe in yours.” –Barack Obama.

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