Writing is an Itch. This is a place to scratch.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

...the whole reason they existed at all...

By Rattus Scribus@ 20 January 2010

"Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the least considered and ignored persons in society, you did it to me." Matthew 25:40

One of the most powerful movies I have ever seen is Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, a true, albeit made-for-Hollywood saga about illegally kidnapped Africans who revolted on the Spanish slave-ship la Amistad. Recaptured by Americans, justice for the Africans was circumvented time and again by greedy Spaniards and Americans, as well as Southern slave-holders who threatened to embroil the young nation in a war over the issue. The Amistad case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1841.

Lower court trial at which Pedro Montes identified
Cinque as leader of the Amistad mutiny.

At this point, Cinque, leader of the embattled Africans, utters one of the most profound statements I have ever heard. Although he knew that the upcoming court hearing would be extremely difficult to win (as all previous cases were won and then subsequently set aside), Cinque said he was nevertheless prepared because he had called upon the help of all of his ancestors. For it was his ancestors' lives and labors that made Cinque's tribe the people they had come to be, and "right now," he said, "I am the whole reason they have existed at all."

Cinque, Portrait by Nathaniel Jocelyn, c. 1840

This astounding statement was not lost on Cinque's aged lawyer, John Quincy Adams, who like his father John Adams was a former U.S. president and a "father" of the nation.

As some of you may know (and as I state on my sidebar profile), I see human history as a struggle in closing the gaps:

"The struggle to close the gaps between what is believed and what is done, what is and what could be, is the greatest human drama of every culture in every age. The heights of human imagination and achievement, as well as depravity, dwell in the gaps. The former escape to brighten the world. The latter remain forever imprisoned, and constantly seeks company."

The case of the Amistad Africans is one of many examples of North America's long struggle to close the gap between its much vaunted ideals of inalienable rights and liberties on the one hand and actions too often motivated by selfishness, greed, prejudice and fear on the other.

John Quincy Adams

Miraculously, Adams argued the case successfully before the Supreme Court. Surprised and elated, Cinque asked him what words he could have said to persuade the judges (some of whom were from Southern slave states) to free them when all previous words and court cases had failed. Adams replied: "Yours." He referred of course to Cinque’s words that at that moment, he was the whole reason his ancestors had existed at all.

Think how the greatness of American or even Christian ideals are to be measured. Not by the rights, wealth and deference enjoyed by the powerful, but by the rights, dignity and opportunity enjoyed by the powerless.

Scene in Louisville, Kentucky. Life Magazine, Feb
1937. What is wrong with this picture?

A believer in American ideals of liberty cannot escape the truth of the statement that "any nation is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members" (Cardinal Roger Mahony).

A believer in the Christian ideal of love of God evidenced by love of neighbor cannot escape the truth of Jesus' statement that the way we treat those least in our society is a reflection of how we treat him. In other words, to claim to love a God we've never seen, but not love people we can see everyday, is not a religion that Jesus had any part of.

If our American and Christian ideals (and I am not necessarily equating the two) mean nothing for the Cinque's of the world (for women, the poor, people of color, the discarded laborer, the disabled, in a word, the "other"), then do we not dishonor those ideals and the people who sacrificed so much to make them a reality? That is to say, do we not dishonor those we claim so much to honor?

After all, the very least regarded individuals among us, are “the whole reason they existed at all.”


Debbie said...

Ruben, as always, very moving and thought provoking. When I think about the founding fathers and what they wanted for this country, and HOW BEAUTIFUL the Declaration of Independence is, it is amazing to me that men who could come up with a new form of government that espoused life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, could then enslave human beings. But it has been so since the beginning of time ... the haves and have nots. I loved your words: ... but by the dignity, value and opportunity enjoyed by the powerless ... so true.

I would really like to get together with you and Anita when you come to L.A. - I think it would be fun to actually converse in person lol! And I know Marie will hold you to this! As always, thanks for your comments on my blog and give my love to Anita.

Also - wanted to say that you are one of the NICE ones ... husband's that is! The kind the helps around the house and was raised right by your mother. I had to laugh when you said you were never the type of single guy to wake up with stale Doritos in your hair!

Take care,

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh mon cher, a great post as usual. Your words are so eloquent, but most of all, they are not empty words. You think long and hard about this and I pray that one day, your words and hard work will reach an even broader audience resulting in CHANGE, one life at a time.

Bisous, Moi

Jim Cooke said...

Dear Rattus,

Thanks for your thoughtful and well-chosen words about my man -- John Quincy Adams. I present Mr. Adams in a solo history play focused on the last decade of his extraordinary life -- "John Quincy Adams: A Spirit Unconquerable!"

He was a remarkable man and it is my good fortune to portray him.


Fete et Fleur said...

I'm left without words. Thank you for sharing this.


Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Your comments are so special....you do have a way with words mon cher chou chou!!!

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Anita is right.. You are brilliant! What a great post..
I will stop in often.

Debbie said...

Hi Ruben ... Thank you for your comments on my pity post blog. I TRULY appreciate your encouragement and your advice, and I agree that I do use the F-word way too much. I will be more attentive to that. When I spoke of not having an identity anymore, I meant that being unemployed for almost two years, the me I used to be is no longer. Staying at home full-time with no little children to raise or any real schedule to keep other than maintaining my home is beyond depressing. At first I LOVED it because I'd never had the opportunity to be HOME. But my world has become very small and isolated. I'not part of the working world ... therefore, I don't have the social network I had when I worked ... since all my friends are working they don't have time during the day to hang with me and I don't have the extra cash to do things like lunch/drinks/dinner on the weekend.

I hope that 2010 will bring employment and a new outlook. I don't think I will ever complain about work again! And I would love to get together with you and Anita, Marie and JC.

Thank you for your kind, kind words. A big hug to Anita as well.


karina content said...

Very inspiring!!!!!!!!!!

synnøve said...

Truly a lot of wisdom at many levels in your blog!
I will be back for more.
Thank you for sharing :)