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ISSUES | Education

You must be examples of organizing wherever you may be...

Advice to Graduates  

(Graduation comments, May 25, 2012, ITA Academy, El Cerrito High School Auditorium

by Antonio Medrano, WCCUSD School Board member)


"You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who not afraid anymore." -Cesar Chavez


Antonio Medrano
School Board member Antonio Medrano serving food at Safe Fields Coalition

Many of you are the first in your families to go to school and later college. So was I. My parents never finished school (they had to work in the fields). When I was born, my folks lived in a farm labor camp (campamento de campesinos) in Modesto, California.  

 But throughout my early years, my folks stressed the importance of education ..." me decían. The purpose of education is to awaken one's conscience and learn to ask cuando, porque , como y para que (when, why, how and what for) and work to change the structure when they cannot answer those questions

 I am often asked what examples can I give from my 40 years in education. I have many but I will give you two...

 La niña in Guatemala... In the 1980s I worked in a refugee camp populated by Mayan Indians who had fled the fighting in Guatemala. One evening I heard the voice of one of my students, who I could hear giving instructions to an older man who I presumed was her grandfather, but it was her father. Upon seeing me, he spoke to his daughter and she translated for me. He wrote on a small piece of paper very carefully and handed it to me. "The land is ours"..."la tiera es de nostros." Though misspelled, I clearly understood the meaning. And then he spoke to me in broken Spanish. "I was happy because I discovered I could make the words speak..."

 During my years of teaching at MacAteer in San Francisco, I heard about the longshoremen picketing ships in the harbor in San Francisco. I stopped by and found out that they would not unload ships from South Africa. So I invited some of them to come to my classes and explain why they were picketing ships from South Africa. This was the era of Apartheid, one of the most racist governments in the world. Blacks had no rights and could be jailed and tortured if they spoke out against the government. So began the divestment campaign against that racist country. Soon other governments and finally the U.N. did the same and finally the U.C. system followed along.  

 My students took coffee and donuts to the striking workers early in the morning before the beginning of school and some joined the picket line. At the end of that year at the awards assembly, one of my students went up on stage to receive her scholarship from Bank of America, and as she went up to shake the hands of the bank representative, she said: "I cannot receive this award because you still invest in South Africa..." There was absolute silence in the auditorium, and I in the back of the auditorium said to myself, "God, am I in trouble now!" But then a lone African American student stood up and began to applaud, and soon the entire auditorium stood and applauded-the sounds bounced off the walls.   

 To the graduating class of 2012, felicitaciones, congratulations on your great day. You are leaving with a set of talents what no one else has: Your ability to compose, draw, design what most of us can only imagine. Use those talents to benefit others. Wherever you work or go to school, go out and seek those who need your talents...all those non-profits who have no idea how to do those things.   

 We are facing difficult times ahead of us. The racist laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Utah and Indiana are now more racist that those in apartheid Arizona. They affect enforcement, transportation, apartment rentals and also education. They are unconstitutional and are motivated by bigotry and racism. You must be the examples of organizing wherever you may be, those laws affect our communities.   

  "Nadie puede callar a la voz humana cuando tiene algo que decir"... "No one can silence the human voice when it has something to say." -Eduardo Galeano

Let us echo the chant of the Zapatistas (from Southern Mexico, from the mountains of Chiapas): "Queremos un mundo donde quepan todos" ... "We want a world where everyone can belong."

From the indigenous languages of Native America, Chile, Brazil,Mayan:

"Suma gamana"... "Live well"

"Ama suwa"... "Do not steal"

"Ama qhilla"... "Do not lie"

"Ama llulla"... "Do not be lazy."

"Quiero aprender a leer, escribir y a hablar bien"... "I want to learn to read, to write and to speak well," said by Mayan adult in the jungles of Guatemala.

Why do some governments fear education? Because "to learn to read is to learn to walk... to learn to write is to learn to ascend." -Jose Martí.

It awakens the conscience.

Be proud of where you are from, proud of your families, of your friends. Digan con orgullo, somos de Richmond, de West County. (Say with pride, we are from Richmond, from West Contra Costa County.)
Stand up for your rights and the rights of others. Never allow someone that you know to put down others based on race, on color, on religion, on sexual orientation, or country of origin. Discrimination is wrong…wherever it is found.

Embed your work, your studies your life, with the theme of social justice.

I know that you are excited and proud of your accomplishments. Your parents should also be applauded because you are here in a large part thanks to them…”

From the Stanford graduation last year, the words of Felipe Calderón, the president of Mexico: “Do you want to be another person who goes through life without making your mark?” Or as Gandhi said, do you want to “be the change you want to see”? Embrace your ideas and fight for them with all your heart. It does not matter how hard it seems. Fight the good fight, and defend your principles in the face of adversity…

I will end my comments with a quote from a Protestant pastor, Rev. Niemoller during WWII, Nazi period:

“First they came for the socialists; I did not speak up because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Communists; I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews; I did not speak up because I was a not a Jew. (I might add: Then they came for the undocumented and I did not speak up, because I was not an undocumented person.)
“Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me.”

On behalf of your school board, congratulations…
Stand , even if you stand alone…
Remember, no one can silence the human voice…

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Un pueblo que no puede leer ni escribir, facilmente puede ser enganado”… “A people that cannot read or write can easily be fooled/deceived.”
—Ernesto Che Guevara