“Do you want another song?” asked Mariana Iranzi, an Argentinian-American folk singer, raising her guitar slightly.
“Yes!” exclaimed my preschool aged son and several children. They waved the multicolored scarves Iranzi had passed out, a rainbow of movement in the basement of our public library in Boston.
“All right, well this song is by a social justice fighter and poet from Cuba named José Martí. It’s called Guantanamera,” she said, strumming a chord.
Soon our children were singing in Spanish and English and dancing once again along with Iranzi. Our children, the hope and promise of America.
My mind wandered.
It was two days after the July 4 holiday, where the Stars and Stripes flew, tanks rolled by the Lincoln Memorial, and the Blue Angels soared overhead. Our tax dollars at work.
Meanwhile other peoples’ children sat in filthy, cramped, unsafe detention centers in Clint, Texas, guarded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. Scabies and chickenpox spread among them. As an infectious diseases doctor, I can testify that these are preventable illnesses. In medical school, I also learned about the importance of attachment between children and their parents. Children should not be separated from their parents, as attachment is critically important in predicting children’s later social and emotional outcome.
It certainly seems that America is at a turning point. This country has a long history of dissent, from brave abolitionists to women’s rights and civil rights activists. People like my father, who attended the 1963 March on Washington, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. And two years later, when Alabama state troopers beat non-violent protesters in Selma, my father, along with many others, answered the call.
Now is our time. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II is calling on people of conscience, clergy, and members of Congress to meet in Texas for a nonviolent protest July 28-29 if there is not a fundamental change regarding U.S. government policy and crimes against humanity.
“When racist modern day concentration-type camps are being run against Latino members of the human family and legal asylum seekers are being treated worse than prisoners of war, we must register our discontent. Silence in the face of evil is evil,” Barber recently tweeted. I concur, and hope others will support Rev. Dr. Barber in this critically important work.
It certainly seems that America is at a turning point ... Now is our time.
But what will give protesters the hope and energy to keep on mobilizing in the face of great odds?
The legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger popularized Guantanamera into a song emblematic of peace and social justice. Seeger, in the introduction of “Where Have all the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir,” argued that he was feeling optimistic, because “little organizations” are creating good across the world, and songs are bringing people together.
As Iranzi finished singing Guantanamera, I felt a surge of love for my son, and sorrow for the suffering children of Clint, separated from their families. Iranzi lowered her guitar, the children of Boston stopped twirling, and I was brought back to the present moment. I looked back at my son, standing and laughing with the children, and their future seemed brighter than it had a few minutes before.
Philip Lederer is an infectious diseases physician in Boston, Massachusetts. During his medical training, he worked on the US-Mexico border in clinics in San Diego and Tijuana.