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“Nosotros No Tenemos Armas Para Echar A Pique Sus Fuerzas Navales,
Pero Tenemos el Arma de Echar a Pique Su Prestigio en El Mundo.” Albizu 1930

HomeOscar's JourneyOscar Freedom Campaign in the News6th Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: "To Be Who We Are"

6th Letter by Oscar Lopez Rivera: “To Be Who We Are”

Dear Karina,

I am sure that sometimes you will ask yourself why your grandfather chose a different path. Why he never picked you up from school, and isn’t in your photos of birthdays or Christmastimes, seated in front of the Christmas tree.

Now, looking back through my memory, I think I can answer that it is the path that chooses us; the struggle captures you if your heart and will are open to combat injustice.

At the end of the sixties, there were many complaints of discrimination against Hispanics at a phone company in Chicago, which was called Illinois Bell. A group of latinos organized ourselves to protest at the company’s main office downtown.

The then president of Illinois Bell was Mr. Charles Brown, but they only let us talk with one of his assistants who was also a latino, a Peruvian with no authority to help us.

One day they told us that Mr. Brown attended a Presbyterian church in Lake Forest, the most exclusive suburb in Illinois.

We presented ourselves there one Sunday, held an ecumenical service in front of the church, and then went inside. The parishioners were frightened to see this invasion of latinos, advancing through the aisles and passing out flyers. There was just one problem: Mr. Brown had not gone to church that Sunday. Nonetheless, we stood in front of the pulpit and explained to the congregation that all we wanted was to talk with Mr. Brown and present him with our labor demands, since his company was trampling on the Hispanics. After saying this, we thanked them and left.

Soon afterwards, when we had returned home, we received a call from one of the people who had been in the church, who wanted to give us Mr. Brown’s address.

Some compañeros returned to Lake Forest to identify the place. Several weeks later, we rented buses and went in them with our families to renew the protest, this time in front of his house. We had told the children that we were going on a picnic and each one was carrying a little lunchbox with candy.

In those years, the luxury subdivisions did not have controlled access, or even gates on the property. We sat around the swimming pool and it was impossible to keep the kids from jumping into the water. Immediately we saw a door of the mansion open and Mr. Brown personally invited us in.

Ten of us approached the mansion to talk with him, and the meeting was in the kitchen. At one point he excused himself to call his son, who knew Spanish, and whom he wanted to serve as an interpreter. We told him it wasn’t necessary, because we were all bilingual.

Then he made an appointment with us for the next morning at his company, and we returned there to meet with him. He agreed to add 125 latino workers immediately to various departments at Illinois Bell, and to open two offices in each Hispanic community, one for Mexicans and one for Puerto Ricans, in order to provide services in Spanish.

He also agreed to contract for a set number of latinos every year.

That agreement with Mr. Brown was a great victory for us, who almost without planning it, had founded the Hispanic Workers Coalition. From then on, we defended the right of workers in other companies, especially in the construction industry.

We demanded that they give jobs to Hispanic workers and we were very successful in having them accede to our demands. There was no violence in any of this, just work and more work, a great ethnic mobilization planned down to the smallest detail.

Finally, the doors of the companies and workers unions that had been closed to latinos began to open for us.

Later, all this work focused on the schools and universities. I think that, to be who we truly are, we have to make all kinds of sacrifices. Maybe I never helped you blow out your birthday candles like so many grandfathers do with their grandchildren, but it consoles me to think that I have placed my grain of sand to construct a more just and enlightened world for you.

In resistance and struggle, a kiss from

Oscar López Rivera

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