The following articles, written in 1997 and 2000, are a tribute to Demetria Martinez and her life craft. Martinez book, Mother Tongue, documented the reasons at the foundation of the Sanctuary Movement, founded in Tucson.
They Hang Poets Don't They
"Silencing the Mother Tongue"
By Brenda Norrell
When Demetria Martinez was on trial, charged with administering illegal assistance to El Salvadoran women at the United States border, her poetry was used against her in court. The trauma silenced the voice of the writer.
Acquitted on first amendment grounds, Martinez later attended a poetry reading which unleashed a new voice within. It was El Salvadoran refugee Jose Luis, fleeing torture in his homeland. The book became the award-winning "Mother Tongue."
When ten women were hanged in Iran for refusing to recant their belief in the Baha'i Faith, to deny their belief in the oneness of God, religion and humanity, Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards hoped to silence their voices. Instead, the noose that brought an end to their lives, served to magnify the voices of these poets, writers, singers and professionals.
Olya Roohizadegan, author of "Olya's Story," shared prison cells with the women hanged in 1983. Mona Mahmudnizhad, a lover of writing and singing, was only 17 years old. Her crime was teaching Baha'i childrens classes.
Speaking during July to gatherings at the Hopi Cultural Center, Navajo Nation and in Albuquerque, Roohizadegan recalled the torture of Baha'is in prison and the severance of human rights for Baha'is in Iran.
She brought the voices and dreams of ten women, college students, mothers and grandmothers, voices the government of Iran believed would never be heard. These are the voices of young Mona and women in their twenties, Shirin, Mitra, Roya and Mashid. In a country where it is forbidden for women to allow men to hear their footsteps, they believed in the equality of men and women. They were charged with the additional crime of not being married.
"In prison, the most important thing in the world was to be free," said Roohizadegan, who escaped overland to Pakistan. Now living in England, she remains under a death sentence in Iran.
"The ten women passed the test of their faith and they are free. But I am not free until the truth is known."
Nigeria hoped to silence another voice when it hanged poet Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow human rights activists in 1995. Saro-Wiwa campaigned against pollution and exploitation by multinational oil companies in his homeland.
Favoring humor and satire, Saro-Wiwa said, "The satirist holds up a distorting mirror before the people who get scared when they see their reflection. There are many scared people in Nigeria."
Fear and torture are the enemies of truth and freedom. Martinez wrote about the disappeared, the vanished, and El Salvadorans whose tongues were cut out and limbs severed. Martinez named and honored the disappeared. It left her with a personal understanding of post traumatic stress syndrome. She persevered, however, and the voices grew stronger within.
"You just hear the voices and you go with it," Martinez said at the Las Cruces Book Festival.
When Roohizadegan spoke, the voices of ten hanged women transcended the distant, cold and dirty prison cell and the hangman in Iran.
Saro-Wiwa's voice called out from Nigeria and joined the voices of fighters for freedom and justice everywhere, "They hang poets don't they?"
In the year 2000, Demetria Martinez and Jose Matus were among those speaking out at a border summit in Tucson.
"The immigration policies are racist in themselves," said Jose Matus, Pascua Yaqui documenting abuses for Coalicion de Derechos Humanos (human rights)organization.
"Immigration policies are made to keep out the poor people. And who are the poor people? The people of color."
Yaqui and other Indian nations whose families and Aboriginal lands are divided by the internationalborder, gathered for the summit, "From Border to Border: Building a Human Rights Movement," Dec. 8-10.Demetria Martinez, poet, award-winning author and
member of Derechos Humanos, said the summit turnout of more than 600 people was a welcome surprise.
"Something is in the air. People want change and they are willing to work for it. They are becoming fluent in the vocabulary of globalization."
Martinez said young people, including those protesting the World Trade Organization in Seattle, are aware of the globalization, the effect that huge corporations
and corporate dollars have on the economies of the world.
Martinez' work of fiction, "Mother Tongue," reveals the underground railroad which brought refugees to the United States fleeing torture from the Americas. While
a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, Martinez was arrested and acquitted on federal charges of aiding El Salvadoran women crossing the U.S. border.
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About Censored News
Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008: www.earthcycles.net/
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