American Flag Belongs to Dissenters, Too: Tears Well as Pueblo's Love of Country Reminds Me That Necessary Anger Can Get Old. (Demetria Martinez)

By Martinez, Demetria | National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

American Flag Belongs to Dissenters, Too: Tears Well as Pueblo's Love of Country Reminds Me That Necessary Anger Can Get Old. (Demetria Martinez)


Martinez, Demetria, National Catholic Reporter


There were United States flags everywhere: on hatbands, hunting rifles, bows and arrows, slung over shoulders, flopping from waistbands, sewn into shirts. The colors of the U.S. flag were even painted on the face of a Zia Pueblo Indian man.

About 20 men, some in their military fatigues, chanted and drummed as they made their way to the dirt plaza of the small pueblo about 40 minutes northwest of Albuquerque, N.M. It was Christmas Day, the time of the traditional Buffalo dance -- the first held in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Another group, this one of younger men and boys, wore antlered headgear and white moccasins. They leaned forward on short white sticks and became deer. At the center, a young woman in traditional dress and a man with the head of a buffalo danced in a bitter cold wind beneath a blazing sun.

Pueblo dances, those open to the public, were a part of my growing up. My father took us to many of New Mexico's 19 pueblos for dances on such occasions as a pueblo's patron saint's day. Now I was back with friends, facing the strange spectacle of my own tears. Love of country was not an abstraction for these men, many of them veterans. "God bless America. I pray for you, America." The throaty chant swirled up amid the drumming as the men first appeared on the plaza, the lead dancer bearing a large American flag topped with feathers.

My relationship to this country has been defined by dissent. Disgust with U.S. foreign policy is the emotion that has oiled the wheels of my activism. I came of age not during Vietnam, but during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s. When, in 1987, the United States charged me with conspiracy to smuggle refugees into the country, I used the spotlight to talk about U.S support of Salvadoran death squads. Eight months later a jury found me not guilty on First Amendment grounds, determining I had acted within my rights as a reporter when I accompanied a minister to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he brought in two women from El Salvador. But by then the die was cast. Innocent? Guilty? I was angry.

When I got out of full-time journalism, I joined a group that documents Border Patrol abuses. I went to a zillion college campuses and read from a novel I wrote about the Sanctuary Movement, determined to educate a new generation about our foreign policy -- and the historical necessity of loyal opposition, particularly those acting out of faith traditions. You could say that I am a person who is deeply invested in having opinions.

In the wake of Sept. 11, I felt confused. My first reaction was knee-jerk left: The chickens have come home to roost. Then I took a wild swing to the right. …

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