For several Sag Harborites we know, Oaxaca means a warm and wonderful winter vacation destination, a city rich in culture and history, a great getaway spot. For many others, though, it is a way station on the long, arduous and often life-threatening journey north.
For Dan Hartnett, a recent trip to Oaxaca was not about vacation but vocation. Dan traveled with a Long Island delegation of volunteers with Witness for Peace. Among the group of 15 were a health care professional, educators and entrepreneurs. They were invited to see with their own eyes, to talk with local people and to draw their own conclusions about what they witnessed.
A politically independent group, Witness for Peace was founded in 1983 based on principles of non-violence and led by people of faith. The group’s mission is to support peace and justice and sustainable economic systems in the Americas and to call attention to U.S. policies and corporate practices that perpetuate poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Dan met with people in the town of Matias Romero, a seven-hour bus ride south of Oaxaca City. They spoke about family members who have left or disappeared, forced to seek a better life in the United States. He learned of the burdens created by the North American Free Trade Agreement, how disincentives to local farming propelled migration, and how the newly militarized border traps people and destroys families. He came to understand what causes people to do things they would never do in their wildest dreams. He saw La Bestia, the freight train that people who are desperate enough strap themselves on to in hopes of making it closer to the border, closer to the promise of opportunity. One man he met lost part of his foot during his attempt. Others lost their lives. A grandmother held up pictures of grandchildren she’s never met. They speak by telephone on occasion.
Dan, himself a son of an illegal immigrant from Ireland, never met two of his grandparents. As a bilingual educator, he offered that grandmother hope as he shared his experience of working with young Spanish-speaking children who are succeeding in their studies.
Dan will share reflections of his experience in Oaxaca tonight, November 3, at Canio’s Books. He will be joined by migrant advocate Jaqueline Garcia of the Jesuit Migrant Center in Veracruz, Mexico. Ms. Garcia, herself once an undocumented immigrant, later earned a master’s degree in social sciences and returned to Mexico to help migrants and their families. She has been on a speaking tour in the United States. The program, “Witness for Peace and the Roots of Migration,” begins at 6:30 p.m. All interested are invited to attend.
For many years, Dan Harnett has worked to help those who find themselves thrust into a strange and sometimes hostile new culture. Since 2000, he’s been a bilingual school social worker in East Hampton. In the mid-1980s, when he was a Roman Catholic priest, Dan’s first assignment was in the Dominican Republic. The level of poverty he saw there was eye-opening, he said, but the faith of the people was strong.
Dan feels this trip to Oaxaca was a gift from God. It came at a crucial moment as he is about to begin a new position as assistant principal at John Marshall Elementary School. He wondered how he’d balance administrative work with his passion for people and community. On the trip, Dan stayed with an elementary school principal and saw up close how this man served not only as a school official but as a community mentor to the children. Dan saw a way to maintain his values, use the tools of his profession and faith, and take action that benefits his students. He plans more presentations on his experience as a delegate with Witness for Peace, and plans to deepen his work with the Latino community here.
Bring your holiday shopping list to Cormaria on Saturday, November 5. A yard sale of gift-quality items will be available for purchase from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Items have been donated from D.J. Hart and Wainscott Farms among others. More donations, but not books or used clothing, will be accepted. For information, call 725-4206.