Carnalismo is alive and well…
“Si sangra mi hermano, yo también sangro … la herida es igual…” (If my brother or sister bleeds, I too bleed … I also am wounded) Chicano Movement song “Yo soy tu hermano, yo soy Chicano” (I am your brother, I am Chicano)
Those lyrics capture well the spirit of Carnalismo, the deep sense of community that was one of the ideological pillars of the Chicano Movement. Carnal, derived from the Latin carnalis, means “related to flesh.” In barrio Spanish, “carnal” refers to one’s biological brother and “carnala” to one’s biological sister. “Carnal” is also used to denote a close friend or colleague. Recently, I have had occasion to ponder this notion of Carnalismo.
The Chicano Movement nurtured amongst us a strong communion with our community. We saw our community as one large family. What hurt one segment of our community hurt all of us, for our destinies were intertwined. Thus, we identified with the poor, the elderly, the alienated young people, the workers, and with all other segments of our community. It was this feeling of community that spawned the very powerful notion of Carnalismo, brother/sisterhood. Carnalismo was not a romantic, abstract notion to us. We supported and lent our training and abilities to move issues involving our elderly, young people and students, and workers. And we did this not from afar but by working directly in the barrios and with barrio grass-roots groups. Some of us (myself included) even quit college to become full-time movement organizers.
Carnalismo is not blind loyalty…
But Carnalismo does not translate to blind loyalty, that is, supporting Mexican Americans solely and only because they are Mexican Americans—or in today’s parlance, “Latinos”—regardless of their behavior and actions. On the contrary: intrinsic to the principle and practice of Carnalismo is fighting anyone who is harming our community, bringing shame to our community, etc., even when the people involved are of our ethnicity.
What is going on with the children whom the U.S. government has in essence jailed for the “crime” of being brown and wanting to live in the U.S. is a case in point. Detaining immigrant children has morphed into a billion-dollar industry. What these children are being subjected to is beyond shameful, and even more so is that the perpetrators are “Latinos” as is the person who is getting filthy rich off of these children’s misery.
The largest recipient of taxpayer money for detaining immigrant children is an outfit named Southwest Key. More than 5,100 immigrant minors—about half of the total population in the custody of the U.S. government—are housed in Southwest Key’s 26 facilities in Texas, Arizona and California. Southwest Key is owned and operated by Juan Sanchez, who touts his Mexican American heritage to obtain federal contracts. Since 2008, Southwest Key has received $1.39 billion in such contracts. Sanchez and his wife each receive a $1.5 million annual salary. When his salary is questioned, Sanchez figuratively wraps himself up in a zarape and complains that his salary is only being questioned because he is “Hispanic.”
The following comprises only a small sampling of alleged abuses and actions taken involving Southwest Key facilities, employees, and detainees. These are taken from newspaper reports and other credible news sources (e.g., NPR, CBS, NBC, AP, etc.):
* After receiving repeated reports of abuse of migrant children by Southwest Key employees, the Arizona Department of Health Services moved to revoke the licenses of Southwest Key’s13 Arizona shelters for migrant children, citing Southwest Key’s failure to provide proof that its workers had received the required background checks.
* Pursuant to allegations that staff members at an Arizona Southwest Key shelter physically abused three children, the facility was closed.
* Police reports and call logs, re: Southwest Key facilities, from the last five years detail dozens of allegations of molestation by employees. One of those cases led to the conviction of a Southwest Key employee for molesting a 15-year-old boy detainee.
* A federal jury convicted a former Southwest Key employee on 10 sex charges stemming from abuse of detained children throughout 2016 and 2017. The employee was HIV-positive.
* A Southwest Key employee was convicted of class 5 sexual abuse after a 15-year-old boy alleged that the employee sexually abused him.
Carnalismo is not dead…
A Phoenix-based organization, Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition (URFC), has come together to support and assist in reunifying immigrant children and their families who have been separated and detained as they crossed the U.S. border and to hold Southwest Key accountable.
A good number of the core members and leadership of URFC is comprised of veterans of the Chicano Movement. These include Lupe and Saúl Solís, Ofelia Cañez, Petra Falcón, James García, Randolph Lumm, Esther Durán Lumm, Rosie López, Ralph Martínez, and Tony Bracamonte. [Tony, like me, quit college circa 1970 to become a full-time organizer for the movement. He and I were organizers for the Centro Chicano in Tucson in the early 1970s.]
URFC is demanding that the licensure for all Southwest Key facilities be revoked. To this end URFC has held picket lines at Southwest Key facilities and has brought attention to the issues at Southwest Key by means of press conferences and media interviews. URFC has also brought together leadership of non-profit organizations, members of the clergy, and elected officials (local, state, federal) to speak out against the abuses of detained immigrant children and to support URFC’s demand that Southwest Key licensure be revoked.
URFC’s actions are a perfect manifestation of Carnalismo. For, URFC members have no vested interest in the situation. Comprised of parents, members of the non-profit community, and just regular citizens, URFC’s sole motivation is rooted in a deep sense of community. URFC member Ofelia Cañez recently wrote: “Last night I saw 100 recently released amnesty-seeking children and families being deposited in local churches in Phoenix. I smelled their bodies, I touched their skin, and I felt their suffrage. ¡Ya Basta! Enough! This must end now.”
Just as the song says: “Si sangra mi hermano, yo también sangro … la herida es igual…” (If my brother or sister bleeds, I too bleed … I also am wounded) That the leadership and staff of Southwest Key is Latino is of no consequence—if anything, it just makes the situation even more shameful.
Leaders as servants…
URFC manifests the notion that Robert Greenleaf posits in his essay “The Servant as Leader”: true leaders are those who act as the servants of the people, who focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. URFC is in good company. In a recent essay, “César E. Chávez – The Man and the Servant-Leader,” María D. Ortiz wrote that, “Cesar E.
Chavez was a leader and a servant of the people who needed him the most. He triumphed as a leader among those who followed him because he knew how to be a servant first.”
Chicano/Chicana students put this servant principle into action in the 60s and early 70s. Almost 50 years later many of those students are still living by that servant principle. That is staying power. Indeed, Carnalismo is alive and well and our community is the better for it. c/s
Donate to help Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition (URFC) in its important work. Make your check out to PROMISE ARIZONA and mail it to: Promise Arizona, 701 S. 1st Avenue Phoenix Arizona 85004. Please designate the money is for Humanitarian Aid for Asylum Seekers. Special thanks to Tony Bracamonte for inspiring this blog and for his research assistance.
Copyright 2019 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: Salomonrb@msn.com. Photos of marchers, Cesar Chavez copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions. Uncage and Reunited Families Coalition poster used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.