- On Fernando Suárez del Solar
By Jorge Mariscal
February 28, 2005
In a few weeks, we will celebrate the life and achievements of the great
Mexican American leader Cesar Chavez. His struggle to bring equality to
farmworkers and their families, his non-violent method rooted in a deep
religious faith, and his example as a member of an exploited minority who
was willing to speak out are all reasons to rededicate ourselves to his
vision of social justice.
But during his life Chavez (like Martin Luther King, Jr.) was the target
of vicious attacks from conservatives and their lackeys in the media.
Radical right-wing organizations such as the John Birch Society funded
entire books denouncing Chavez as a communist, a union thug, and a dupe of
white leftists who hated America. The authors of these books distorted
and lied about Chavez's biography and beliefs. Many were hacks on the
payroll of conservative think tanks. Many were operatives in the
A generation later, a Mexican immigrant named Fernando Suárez del Solar
has gained international prominence as a peace activist and opponent of
the Bush administration's foreign policy. Suarez speaks eloquently about
the very real threats that face us. But he sincerely believes that the
invasion and occupation of Iraq were both morally indefensible and a
strategic error that will only increase dangers here and around the
From this principled position, Suarez opposes the war in Iraq as an act of
conscience. In fact, Suarez opposes the war in Iraq and supports
the troops because he believes the sacrifice and courage of the troops
ought not to be exploited and misused.
Although Mr. Suarez has been on the lecture circuit for over two years
since shortly after his U.S. Marine son died during the invasion of Iraq,
media attacks against him have heated up in recent weeks. The most recent
and most shameless attack was penned by Raoul Lowery Contreras.
In his HispanicVista column, Contreras paints a completely false picture
of Suarez's life and activities. Not unlike the media contract hits put
out on Cesar Chavez thirty years ago, Contreras's article is awash with
lies and distortions. It is one thing to disagree with someone on a
political matter. It is something else to invent another man's biography
so that it fits a set of racist stereotypes and preconceptions.
For example, Contreras tells his readers: "There is no proof Fernando ever
made a public utterance on any socio-economic or political subject other
than leaving Mexico for America." Of course Contreras cannot offer proof
since he knows nothing about Suarez. In fact, Suarez was a high-profile
community activist and advocate for poor people in Tijuana before he
Contreras says Suarez "regurgitates what he is told by his handlers from
the anti-war movement. They are not Mexican, nor immigrant; they are
typical Bush hating white people of the American Left." Right, and I'm
sure Contreras thinks Cesar Chavez was a communist.
In fact, Suarez is his own man with deeply held opinions that emerged out
of his personal experience. He is a brilliant orator in Spanish. Most of
the so-called "white people of the American left" cannot match Suarez's
analysis of why Bush's policies are immoral and ought to be challenged.
What seems to anger Contreras most is that Suarez receives compensation
for his public speeches. It is true that Suarez is paid for his travels
and lectures but only in order to be able to continue his campaign for
peace and equal opportunity for Latino youth. He and his family have not
used one dollar for their personal comfort. And Contreras has the
audacity in an e-mail response to readers to call Suarez a "whore." Does
Contreras perform his professional activities for free?
So what is Contreras up to? Given the recent flap about the Bush
administration's payments to media talking heads like Armstrong Williams,
readers ought to ask themselves whether or not Contreras is another
mercenary on the GOP's Rolodex. To use his term, who's the real whore
here, Mr. Contreras?
Contreras cannot escape his own contradictions. He claims to have been born
in Mexico. If it is true, one wonders what happened there that made him
develop a deep hatred for his native country. When readers informed him by
e-mail that far from being an "unsophisticated Mexican immigrant without a
firm educational base" Suarez attended elite religious and military schools
and the National University
in Mexico, Contreras mocked the
Mexican university system.
Contreras claims to have been a U.S. Marine. If it were true, he would not
attempt to pit Suarez's deceased son Jesús against his own father. Again,
Contreras is free to disagree with Suarez about the war but he is out of
bounds when he claims that he, not Suarez, is the true guardian of Jesús's
memory. I would suggest that Contreras join the groups of young Marines,
many of whom served with Jesús, who visit the Suarez home on a regular
basis. They are on the best of terms with Mr. Suarez and have urged him to
continue his peace activism.
Contreras claims to be an independent journalist. If it is true, why has he
waited two years before attacking Suarez, joining the fray only after a
series of canned letters to the editor appeared in a local San Diego
newspaper? Is Contreras the Hispanic Sean Hannity who regurgitates talking
points sent to him from Republican headquarters?
Contreras claims that he lives in the "real world" while peace activists
like Suarez do not. This is an ironic charge given that Contreras resides
in one of the wealthiest coastal suburbs of San Diego from where I suspect
very, very few (if any) young men and women are serving in Iraq. Suarez, on
the other hand, lives further north in the city of Escondido, a growing city
made up of immigrants and working families whose sons and daughters fill the
lowest ranks of the military. Could you explain to us again, Mr. Contreras,
why your world is more real?
Despite the malicious attacks against Cesar Chavez thirty years ago, all
Americans now know his true character. Future scholars will look back at
this time and try to sort out the contributions made by Mr. Suarez and Mr.
Contreras. Who lost his only son and then took up an ethical position
against a war planned and executed by a small band of ideologues? Who made a
career of being a media attack dog for the most privileged members of
society? Let history be the judge.
Jorge Mariscal can be