Guest Column

(Counterpoint to Raoul Lowery Contreras’ “A Father Lives Through His Dead Son”
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 Republican Party.

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 world. 

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 emigrated.

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 contacted at: