Enrique Morones’ fight for justice and human dignity
By Maria Garcia
There are many reasons for reading Border Angels The Power of One by Enrique Morones with Richard Griswold del Castillo. It includes powerful border stories and photographs that give a face to the many hurdles confronting those who come to El Norte.
Some of the stories come from mothers or other family members who have not heard from or seen their grown children for months or years. Immigration is the hot issue today. Do those who speak against undocumented workers know the hardship and pain the families face?
We learn that the city of Holtville, located in the Imperial Valley, has a section in the cemetery full of graves of unidentified people. For the rest of their lives, families are left wondering what happened to their son or daughter, brother, sister or cousin. Enrique includes a very potent and emotional letter written by a mother who writes about the loss of her son and the pain and anguish she faces every day as a result of him dying crossing the border. For those who have not considered the emotional, physical, and economic suffering faced by these families, the book is a must read.
Border Angels The Power of One is the meeting place between those stories and the personal history and activism of Enrique Morones, the founder of Border Angels. This humanitarian non-profit focuses on migrant rights and immigration reform. One of its most visible programs is providing water drops and rescues in the deadly desert along the border with Mexico.
Enrique Morones was fortunate enough to grow up in San Diego with a loving and caring family, one of five children in a strongly Catholic family. In this book Enrique not only shares the details about his family but also the pride he feels about his Mexican roots and the roots they established in the United States. It seems fitting that in 1998, when Mexican law permitted Mexican-born citizens of other countries to reclaim their Mexican citizenship rights, he would become the first person in the entire United States to receive dual citizenship.
Enrique was fortunate enough to attend St. Augustine High School and earn a four -year scholarship to the University of San Diego. There he was approached by a professor who suggested that he transfer to San Diego State University saying it was one of the ten best business schools in the country. With this type of background one would expect Enrique to move into the business world and live happy ever after.
His life took a different turn in 1986 when he founded Border Angels as a response to the terrible conditions of migrants living in the canyons of San Diego’s north county. He credits a woman named Yolanda, whom I believe is our mutual friend though he does not identify her with a last name, as responsible for his activism. Yolanda told Enrique about the canyons in Carlsbad and migrants living in the canyons without shelter and water. That visit to the canyon changed his life forever, becoming a turning point in his life.
When he met Ethel Kennedy and spoke to her about his canyon experience she not only encouraged him to follow this path to make the needed changes to improve the lives of others but also explained why it was so important. Here in San Diego he would also be encouraged and mentored by the late Roberto Martinez who was director of the American Friends Service Committee.
Enrique writes of his involvement opposing Proposition 187, Operation Gate Keeper and NAFTA in the 1990s. Enrique worked for the San Diego Padres and gives examples of how this job prepared him for working with Border Angels. At that time there were two team owners one of whom was Larry Lucchino, who recruited Enrique to work with the Padres as the Vice President of Latino Marketing, a position he held from 1995-2001. Baseball fans should read this book and become familiar with the contribution Enrique made to the San Diego Padres and to building bridges between the United States and Mexico.
When Lucchino left the Padres the current owner basically told Enrique his services were no longer needed. I am not sure Enrique would agree with this but the new owner of the Padres and Enrique’s own commitment to the power of one helped him move on to work full time with Border Angels. He also went to work in radio, interviewing many influential guests and discussing controversial topics. I will let those that read the book savor that experience but I will pique your interest by telling you that one of his guests was a Minute Man. He also had a debate with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Some activities and Border Angel events are spur of the moment but reflect a commitment to helping those who cannot help themselves. There’s the 2010 case of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian who had been mistaken for a Mexican in New York, who was kicked to death in a brutal hate crime. When the Border Angeles learn his mother and sister were flying to New York there was an immediate change of plans to provide a memorial service for Marcelo.
Stories such as this not only bring the problems immigrants face but show a human face of those that come to the United States undocumented. For those that value human rights, this book is a must read. There are various uplifting examples of people who are willing to stand for human rights for all people regardless of immigration documents.
For those who live in San Diego County this is a must read in order to become knowledgeable of what is going on in your own back yard. Racism is not contained only in the South as the many stories is this book will show you. Because of the current political unrest reading this book will demonstrate the very human problems faced by undocumented immigrants and their families.
Last but not least Border Angels The Power of One is an easy read. Less than one hundred and fifty pages, the book will enable you to understand the need for political involvement. You may be just one person but by reading this book you will understand the difference that one person can make.
For those who believe the “What can I do? I am only one person” philosophy, read this book and learn that you can make a difference and you have a moral obligation to fight for human dignity as Enrique and others have done.
Editor Note: You can read Enrique Morones “I (Also) Have a Dream” on San Diego Free Press