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What if Berlin was Tijuana?

09.7.08 @ 04:35 pacific

Gómez-Peña shifts the location of Obama’s Berlin speech and replaces a few words, here and there.

In the realm of symbolic politics, I think that the best thing that can happen right now is for the US to elect an articulate mulatto president, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, whose second name is Hussein. But I must confess I have a hard time grasping what Obama is really about. His speeches have become so watered down—in order to appeal to the center right majority of Americans—that every time I hear him speak I am left with the same sensation: By trying to appeal to so many constituencies, his identity and voice are getting lost in the process.

But if Obama didn’t have to spread himself so thin, what would his speeches be like? I am thinking in particular of his recent Berlin speech—a masterpiece of moderate humanism and global sentimentalism. When I heard it I thought: what if we shift the contextual geo-cultural information of the speech and replace Berlin with Tijuana in the language of the text? And this is precisely what I did, as an exercise in performance literature and cultural expropriation. (I should also note that I took the liberty of shifting a few tenses, erasing all the NATO stuff and European historical specificities and added a few Gómez-Peñismos here and there.) The resulting text is quite revealing: Obama addressing Latinos sounds like a compadre of subcomandante Marcos. If read by Obama in Tijuana, the speech would be considered so radical that it would probably translate into his political hara-kiri. So, what follows is a speech by the Obama I would really like to hear:

(The imaginary speech by candidate Obama takes place right at the US-Mexico border checkpoint, on the Mexican side, in front of half a million Tijuanenses, a handful of perplexed tourists and the international press)

“Thank you to the citizens of Tijuana and to the people of Mexico.

I come to the US-Mexico border to speak as so many of my countrymen have come before to party. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a fellow citizen of the Americas.

I know that I don’t look like the gringos who’ve previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of the US, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British, like so many of your relatives are domestic servants to the US.

At the height of the Cold War, my father decided that his yearning – his dream – required the freedom and opportunity promised by El Norte. And so he wrote letter after letter to universities all across the US until somebody, somewhere answered his prayer for a better life.

That is why I’m here. And you are here because you too know that yearning. This city, of all cities, knows the dangerous dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations have come together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life.

Ours is a complicated partnership that began 160 years ago this summer, on the day when the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty was signed and half of Mexico was taken by force by the USA. and an arbitrary border was created here in this great city.

People of the world – look at the present Tijuana-San Diego metropolitan area!

Look at this border town, where Mexicans and Americans have learned to work together and trust each other.

Look at Tijuana, where the many borders imposed by the North, borders made out of barbed wire, metal and concrete, helicopters, dogs and high tech weaponry, insist that we never forget our common humanity. Here at the Tijuana-San Diego border, a triple wall must come down and a continent must come together, so that history can prove that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.

When you, the Mexican people, tear down this wall – a wall that divides arbitrarily North and South; freedom and poverty; fear and hope – walls will come tumbling down around the world. From Guantanamo to Abu Greib, prison camps will close, and the doors of democracy will reopen in closed societies like the US.

Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope, the imminent fall of the Tortilla Curtain will bring us even more hope.

While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history.

But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers that affects us all – dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Michoacan.

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris or Iran. The coca leafs in Peru and Bolivia become the cocaine in LA. The poverty and violence in Somalia and inner city USA breed the terror of tomorrow. The madrasas in Pakistan and the Jesus camps in rural USA are also breeding the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur and Iraq shame the conscience of us all.

In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a Berlin wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the border, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny.

In Latin America, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In the US, there are racist and isolationist voices that demonize Latino immigrants and deride the importance of Latin America’s role in our future. Both views miss the truth – that the US simply cannot exist without the Latino labor force and its vibrant culture of hope.

Yes, there have been major differences between the US and Latin America. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not necessarily lift this burden. In this new century, North Americans and Latino Americans alike will be required to do more – not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between neighbors cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; the documented and undocumented, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

We know they have fallen before. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance with Europe ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid. Why then can’t this wall fall before our very own eyes?

So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require learning each other’s language and history. They require neighbors who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other. And this is precisely the opposite of what the Bush doctrine states.

That is why the US cannot turn inward. That is why Mexico cannot turn inward. The US has no better partner than Mexico. Now is the time to build new bridges and tunnels across the border. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong binational institutions, inter-cultural diplomacy, ongoing artistic exchange, and a commitment to dialogue, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is precisely this brave spirit that leads people to assemble everyday right here where we stand today in hopes of crossing the border. And this is the moment when our two nations – and all nations – must summon that spirit anew.

This is the moment when we must defeat paranoid nationalism and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This well exists both in the Middle East and the US. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it.

This is the moment when every nation in the Americas, including those who disagree with the US like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay, must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday and free from the pressures of Washington.

In this century, we need a strong Pan-American Union that deepens the prosperity of this continent. In this century – in this city of all cities – we must reject the Cold War isolationist mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with one another when we can, to stand up for human rights when we must, and to seek an equitable partnership that extends across this entire continent, from Alaska to Patagonia.

This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably with our neighbors to the South. Trade has been a cornerstone of our Northern growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all. This is the moment when we must defend the human rights of the migrant workers and day laborers for they are the vanguard of our shared future. This is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world.

And this is also the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same seriousness of purpose as nations such as Brazil and Iceland, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one world.

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child of Tijuana and East LA from poverty, shelter the undocumented refugee in Miami and San Diego, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, the voter in Zimbabwe, the political artist in the US or the migrant worker in North Carolina? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur and New Orleans?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Tijuana – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time, orale carnales!

I know my country has not perfected itself. We’ve made our share of mistakes, from the Native American genocide and the slavery of Africans to the theft of half of Mexico’s territory and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America, I mean the USA. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to create an egalitarian multiracial and society; to seek a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country and should continue to be spoken freely; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares; every music is played on our radio stations, from tex-mex to hip hop. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to the US shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and criticize the government we please. I know all these ideals have been endangered by the Bush administration but I am committed to restore them. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world and bring these border walls down.

People of Tijuana – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are heirs to a struggle for a borderless future. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

Carnales…si se puede!