The Thanksgiving Myth

Cliff DuRand
[This talk was given at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of San Miguel of Allende, November 23, 2008]
June 11, 2009

In many ways the Thanksgiving celebration is a unique festivity. As harvest festivals go it’s not particularly unusual: families gathering for a special meal to enjoy the bounty of nature and the fruit of the growing season’s labor. Most societies in the temperate zones of the earth have such harvest festivals. In the more northerly latitudes of Canada it comes in October as it does also in north China at the time of the harvest moon. At the latitudes of the United States Thanksgiving comes in late November, after the harvests are in.

So what is so special about the Thanksgiving celebrated there? Unlike most of our other holidays, which are religious, Thanksgiving is secular. Neither is political like the 4th of July which marks the beginning of the political entity called the United States of America. Thanksgiving is a more private holiday, celebrated with family around the dinner table.  Yet it is also a celebration of families together in community with others.  In addition to being a harvest festival, what is distinctive about our Thanksgiving is that it also celebrates the English settlement in North America and the founding of a nation. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a nation, of a people, a century and a half before the formation of the U.S.  It tells a story of our founding, a settlement. As such, it conveys an image of who we are as a people.  It presents a narrative of how we began, of what we value, of who we are.

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The New Solidarity: A Case Study of Cross-Border Labor Networks and Mural Art in the Age of Globalization

Fred Evans, Duquesne University
Barbara McCloskey, University of Pittsburgh


We argue that the traditional notion of solidarity is being, and should be, replaced by “network solidarity.” This ew, non-hierarchical type of solidarity links labor unions, activist organizations, progressive academic groups such as Radical Philosophy Association, and concerned individuals in relation to various endeavors including cross-border organizing. It also supports equally both modernism’s penchant for unity and postmodernism’s commitment to heterogeneity and novelty. In order to illustrate this new type of solidarity and support our claims for it, we focus on a concrete example of a cross-border labor network. Moreover, we will show how art, specifically labor murals, provides this network with the identity necessary for its cohesiveness and yet preserves the heterogeneity of the groups composing it.

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From Trotsky to Puppets: Other Revolutions are Possible

Graciela Monteagudo

Graciela Monteagudo is an Argentinean organizer, street theater maker and performer who has coordinated puppet and street theater actions as part of protests in Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico and throughout the US and Canada, against the World Economic Forum, the School of the Americas and the G8. She also works with Bread and Puppet in Glover, Vermont. Her use of art and theater for liberation grew out of her organizing for human rights in the post-dictatorship years in Argentina. Graciela coordinates the argentina autonomista project, an exchange program between people of the US and Argentina. Her recent show “Que se vayan tod@s, a cardboard piece” is currently touring Universities and community centers in the US and Europe. Monteagudo spends time in Vermont and in Buenos Aires with her 8-year old son, Jan.

“Giant puppets took the streets, visions of a better world and images of the tools to build it were carried aloft, people drummed, sang, danced and chanted through the streets. For many people, I think especially for people who were stretching their courage to even be out in the streets at all, the march was liberating and inspiring.”

- Starhawk describing the World Economic Forum Protest, New York City, February 2002

A beautiful street theater piece may have a deep impact on the conscience of those who see it, but that impact will soon fade away if it is not reinforced by another artistic or political event. By emphasizing a democratic process in the creation of social art, I attempt to help people learn how to do this work themselves. My experience participating in direct actions in the streets and engaging in performances has taught me the importance of everybody being heard and of making decisions in a democratic manner. The process of working with people, either in popular theater or in direct street actions, is far more important than the artistic product. If the process is democratic, people will learn how to work with people. As they learn how to express their voices in ways that other people will listen to, their final artistic outcome will improve. Artists who work with more hierarchical strategies sometimes end up with aesthetically more powerful pieces than collectives where the community participates in freer ways and nobody holds a veto control. Although I understand the need for strong, powerful images, I think that the process should be taken more into account than the product.

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Pilgrimage, Penitence, and Revolution: Mexican Cultural Resources for Nonviolent Resistance in the Thought of Cesar Chavez

by José Antonio Orosco
Oregon State University, U.S.A.

Abstract: In this essay, I examine Cesar Chavez’s thoughts on the effects of Mexican immigration on the United States. I argue that neo-nativist authors are wrong in thinking that a growing Latino population will develop into a distinct political bloc that will destabilize the nation. Instead, I maintain that Chavez suggests how a strong Latino presence might occasion a shift of values in the United States toward a culture of peace.I argue that Chavez develops a logic of nonviolent practice, drawing on aspects of Mexican culture and political history, that is meant to guide the struggle for social justice in the United States. I explore how Chavez structured the nonviolent campaigns of the United Farm Workers around this logic of nonviolence in hopes of being a model that would revitalize the tradition of American nonviolent protest.

In his history of American figures in nonviolence, Ira Chernus maintains that American political life has been structured throughout the twentieth century to respond to various forms of external threats: fascism, communism, and now, terrorism. (210-212) Recent neo-nativist works, such as Samuel Huntington’s Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity and Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia: A State of Becoming extend this list of dangers to include Mexican immigration. Huntington and other neo-nativists argue that Mexican immigration represents a major potential threat to the United States that is on par with the threat of terrorism posed by “religiously driven militant Islam.” (340; Barry 31-31) For Huntington, Mexican immigrants could effect a “consolidation of the Mexican dominant areas into an autonomous, culturally and linguistically distinct, economically self-reliant bloc with the United States” that would destabilize American politics. (247) Such a bloc would be particularly harmful to the U.S., he maintains, because “profound differences exist between Mexican and American values and culture.” (253). The cultures of the two societies are not only irreconcilable, according to Huntington, but Mexican cultural norms actually inhibit the educational, political, and economic success of immigrants and their descendants. Allowing Mexican norms and values to flourish within the United States would mean its eventual decay from within. This corrosion of public life is already visible, according to Hanson, as illegal Latino immigration is associated with crime, gang violence, disregard for private property, and an enormous drain on public services. (61-67) Both Huntington and Hanson argue for restrictions on Latino immigration and a focus on acculturating Latino immigrants into Anglo-American values.

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Unity Without Uniformity: Class, Heterogeneity, and Culture

Kathryn Russell
State University of New York College at Cortland

At the beginning of the Twenty-first Century, an exciting movement for global justice ties activists together in many ways, forming a diverse and decentralized unity. People engage with each other in local, regional and world social forums, across the internet, during encuentros, and in networks of mutual support and communication like People’s Global Action. PGA initiated the global days of action which included “the battle for Seattle” and other confrontations with global capital. A Peoples’ Global Action Asian and Gender conference will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in April, 2004. “The Krishok Federation of farmers, women, indigenous and landless are convening this week-long conference of which two days will be devoted to gender and the struggle against patriarchy.”

PGA unites Bolivians who successfully prevented the Bechtel corporation from privatizing their water and forced a change in the central leadership of the country, farmers in India struggling against Monsanto, women in Colombia fighting Plan Colombia, Mexicans opposing Plan Puebla Panama, Canadian postal workers, and thousands if not indirectly millions of others. The PGA is “a grassroots movement of all continents” which is a “coordination network of resistance to the global market, a new alliance of struggle and solidarity . . . for all those who fight the destruction of humanity and the planet by capitalism and [seek to] build local alternatives to globalisation.” It is not only anti-corporate, but also explicitly anti-capitalist.

The variety of activist forces fighting the neoliberal model of global capitalism dominated by Washington does not represent a communist movement, of course, but socialists the world over participate and many are in leadership positions. Objectively, the movement can be said to represent a historical force through which the working class is constructing itself internationally. To participate effectively in such struggles Marxists need to be able to demonstrate a serious commitment to diversity and democracy.

Thus, there are strategic reasons for Marxists to be concerned with diversity. But there are theoretical reasons too, ones not foreign to classical Marxism but ones that can be seen as grounded within its core. I will argue, contrary to some Marxist theoreticians, that capital is not a material force that homogenizes everything in its greedy path. An attention to cultural heterogeneity is a necessary correction and further elaboration of a Marxist philosophy of human development. Taking Marx’s thought as a paradigm rather than a dogma, we see that it has core assumptions, but that there is also room for disagreement, growth and change. I will argue that articulating an appreciation of diversity is necessary in the following four areas:

A. A theory of class formation consistent with Marx’s own emphasis on class as a social relation that is historically constituted;

B. A recognition that the direct producer is a collective laborer distributed throughout the productive process;

C. A methodology that blends abstract and concrete modes of analysis; focusing on capitalism as it “actually exists.”

D. An appreciation of the power of culturally based resistance

Marxists have too often seen class as a monolithic entity. I will claim that class relations are not homogenous but are a complex and multifaceted unity of many concrete determinations. Also, we need to appreciate the complexity and attention to empirical detail that Marx brings to his own analysis of actually existing capitalism. Capitalism and socialism do not exist as abstractions: they exist within local, concrete forms of life that are profoundly diverse, containing many variations. For example, in Capital, Volume 3, after discussing how the “direct relationship” between “the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers. . . [reveals] the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social edifice,” Marx cautions his readers to remember:
This does not prevent the same economic basis – the same in its major conditions – from displaying endless variations and gradations in its appearance, as the result of innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural conditions, racial relations, historical influences acting from outside, etc., and these can only be understood by analysing these empirically given conditions ” (927-28).

I will argue that the dynamic of capital accumulation itself creates heterogeneity. Capital cannot effectively spread itself without capturing real economic and political forces that make possible the extraction of value. Following Marx, we see that attention to local conditions and cultural forms make it necessary for our theory to have an appreciation of diversity.

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“50 Years of Foreigners in San Miguel de Allende”
historical project

Holly Yasui

Article published in “Atención”, Feb 4, 2005: Introduction

Article published in “Atención”, Feb 18, 2005: Report on Talk by César Árias

Article published in “Atención”, Feb 25, 2005: The Predecesors

Article published in “Atención”, March 4, 2005: The 50s and 60s

Article published in “Atención”, March 23, 2005: Video and Roundtable Event

Cultural Relativity Workshop

Holly Yasui

January 2006

The Center for Global Justice sponsored a trial run of a special “Cultural Relativity Workshop” on Saturday, December 11, for members. Approximately twenty people participated, about two-thirds foreigners (mostly from the U.S.) and one-third Mexican nationals.

The purpose of the workshop was to learn about and explore cultural differences through role-playing in various scenarios, such as greeting and conversing during a chance encounter at a bank, buying products in a store, working in a group to set up an event (cleaning, preparing a bar, an information/registration table, and projection equipment). The workshop leaders, Lilia Trápaga and Holly Yasui, also handed out pages with photos of Mexican gestures, which they acted out in dialog order to give context to meanings that are difficult to put into words.

The discussion among the participants was lively and spirited – so much so, in fact, that the first scenario and “gestures guessing-game” took up the whole two hours programmed for the workshop.

The first scenario was “played” by three pairs – first, two U.S.-Americans, then two Mexicans, then a mixed pair, a U.S.-American and a Mexican. The first two pairs were volunteers who were given stage-setting instructions and asked to improvise a typical interaction based on 1) greeting the other person 2) asking after the health of the other’s family and 3) conversing a bit and 4) saying good-bye. The third pair that “played” this scenario was the workshop leaders, a Mexican and a U.S-American.

The discussion focused on issues of physicality, courtesy, and family relationships. Participants noted that Mexicans are much more physical than U.S.-Americans (e.g. the embrace-kiss greeting, as opposed to a handshake), and that U.S.-Americans observe fewer formal courtesies than Mexicans (e.g. asking the other to sit, standing up when the other stands). One of the most interesting observations regarding the impromptu conversation was that in many Mexican families, grandparents are honored and are largely responsible for the care and cultural formation of the children when the parents are out of the home during the day working. Thus courtesies and traditions are transmitted in a way not common in the U.S., where nuclear families usually do not live with the older generation. This means that caring for aging parents is sometimes seen as a burden for working parents. Read more...

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