Southern California is on fire, columns of smoke and flames rise up, residents flee their homes. The governor declares that state a disaster zone and soon after the president does the same.
The impact on North San Diego County is tremendous. Thousands of field and construction workers leave their residences in Ramona, Valley Center and Escondido. They take refuge in the football stadium where they believe they will receive aid just as their neighbors do. But many of these workers are undocumented. They are afraid to go out, but the fires give them no other option. When they reach the stadium, they are shocked to find immigration officials. Some are detained and deported. Many flee and disappear in the city’s landscape.
It is wonderful to see how the community is coming together during this disaster. People helping one another. Race, religion, gender, class do not matter. Californians demonstrate their unity — human rights groups, churches and individuals unite to give as much as they can. And then, like a dark stain on these laudable efforts, a group of racists — the Minutemen — invaded Chicano Park and began to insult and provoke the Chicano community that had gathered to collect aid for those displaced by the fires. In this site so symbolic of Chicano history and pride, the people refuse to be provoked and continue their charitable work.
The fires passed very close to my home. I watched the terrible news; the phone rang and the Escondido police said we had to evacuate. We packed a suitcase with documents and clothes and left, but no one told us where the nearest evacuation center was and so, as we waited in a parking lot filled with hundreds of cars, RVs, vans and families, I began to wonder.
In December of 2003 when I visited Iraq, I witnessed a catastrophe even greater than the one we have just lived through — Bush’s war.
More than 3,838 American soldiers have died, among them my son, and the American people are not moved to action. We are saddened by the fact that 14 people died in the fires. But what do we feel for the thousands who have been killed by Bush’s criminal acts?
We lament the high cost of the fire damage. Who will lament the much higher cost of Bush’s illegal war?
We lament the fact that many homes were lost in the fire. Who will lament the loss of everything from museums to poor people’s homes in Iraq? Enough hypocrisy. Enough apathy about human suffering. If, here in California, the people and the media were moved by the fires, why are they not moved by an even greater tragedy — the genocide in Iraq? Why?
Citizens of the world, I invite you to consider the pain of your fellow human beings. We come together and help one another in times of natural disaster. Why do we not do the same when misguided leaders are causing more death than any fire could?
Iraq is burning, but not from a natural disaster. It burns because of the bombs, bullets and lies unleashed by immoral men. Let us act now!
Fernando Suarez del Solar (Fernando @guerreroazteca.org) founded Guerrero Azteca Peace Project after his son Jesus was killed in Iraq. (Translated by Jorge Mariscal.)