A poet becomes an activist - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

A poet becomes an activist

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Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. Email him at joseisla3@yahoo.com

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 11:29 pm

MEXICO CITY - Javier Sicilia caught the world's attention after his son and six others were murdered in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, by elements connected with a drug cartel. Sicilia was a poet, writer and author who took up the cause of justice. I say "was" a poet because following the murders five months ago, he gave up writing poetry. This, for an acclaimed writer, is like a vow of chastity. And that was among the topics in a revealing interview that goes deep into what motivates a victim to become a seeker of dignity. The interview was published Aug. 14 by Thelma Gomez Duran of El Universal, the large major daily here.

Sicilia's revelations have a lot to tell us about a new kind of governmental accountability to the public and possibly the unfolding of a new kind of social consciousness. The morality of it is much more fundamental than a policy analyst anywhere in North America is talking about. In a sense, Sicilia's argument is that politics is now beheading society from leadership, just as clearly as drug gangsters who cut off the heads of victims --- to terrorize.

Sicilia says he is still a poet; he's just not writing it. And his politics come from his poetry.

Poetry is the use of symbols, he says, and the symbols are everywhere in the movement he leads. Among them is putting a scapular -- a Catholic symbol of promises to keep -- on the shoulders of President Felipe Calderon after a recent meeting.

Sicilia heads the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity that has mobilized families of the victims of violence, along with some civic and political voices. He turns to activism as an expression of his grief and pragmatism for solutions.

He has led a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City (57 miles) and from Cuernavaca to Ciudad Juarez on the border (1,100 miles). He and followers have held public negotiations with Calderon over public-security reforms and with leaders from Mexico's Senate. They denounced and went back into negotiations when the leadership backed off reforming certain policies.

Pragmatically, a political system has been exposed that protects the public defensively by first protecting the privileges of the political system itself. The politics of the day responds to parties and hardly to people, no matter how many victims die from lawlessness.

Sicilia now directs the literary opinion journal Conspiratio, the successor of Ixtus, which was published from 1994 to 2007. The name comes from the earliest liturgical celebration in Christian communities. Congregants would kiss on the mouth, the act of a common environment, a co-respiration, a conspiracy. The kiss represents the congregation and the conspiracy as one and the same. It is poetic. It is symbolic. It is about us. And Sicilia sees it as the way out of a common miasma befalling "a society enclosed in its own excesses and wanting moderation."

In the small view, Mexico's problems are encased by "issues." But in the larger picture, the poet is telling us that the institution of government, as in many places around the world, draws its legitimacy from the people but in its institutional forms has distanced away from the security and well-being of its people. Now society is reasserting itself, reclaiming its sovereignty and deinstitutionalizing corruption, ineptitude and injustice.

He explains that in his tradition, God creates through the word. The world was created through the word. Jesus was an incarnation of the word. Sicilia's son was the word incarnated. "In the moment he is murdered, they asphyxiate my word. The world ceases being worthy of that sacred word," he said.

It is as if Javier Sicilia has stopped writing poetry. But Javier Sicilia's poetry has not ceased. In every other way, he is the incarnation of the poet-prophet of the 21st century because he is also an activist.

Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail him at joseisla3@yahoo.com

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