God help me to be human

From a moving and informative reflection on the Mexican-American farm labor activist César Chávez—and on the possibilities and complications of contemporary saintliness: “It is heartening to learn about private acts of goodness in notorious lives. It is discouraging to learn of the moral failures of famously good people. The former console. But to learn [the latter] is to be confronted with the knowledge that flesh is a complicated medium for grace.”

The speech Chavez had written during his hunger strike of 1968, wherein he compared the UFW to David fighting Goliath, announced the Mexican ­theme: “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally ­non-­violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be ­men.” (Nearly three decades later, in the program for Chavez’s funeral, the wording of his psalm was revised—“humanity” substituted for “manliness”: To be human is to suffer for others. God help me to be human.)

Nothing else Chavez would write during his life had such haunting power for me as this public prayer for a life of suffering; no utterance would sound so Mexican. Other cultures in the world assume the reality of suffering as something to be overcome. Mexico assumes the inevitability of suffering. That knowledge informs the folk music of Mexico, the bitter humor of its proverbs, the architecture of its stoicism. To be a man is to suffer for others. The code of machismo (which in American English translates too crudely to sexual bravado) in Mexico derives from a medieval chivalry whereby a man uses his strength to protect those less powerful. God help us to be men.


from “Saint Cesar of Delano,” by Richard Rodriguez, The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2010 :: via more than 95 theses

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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