Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juarez, contemporary presidents of their respective nations, faced the same threats and perils of civil war and foreign invasion. The two chiefs of state were aware of their common plights and offered mutual support in staving off their foreign enemies and defeating the rebel forces inside their sovereign lands.
Lincoln’s legacy is well known: A restored Union, abolition of slavery, and a spirit of generosity. His legacy to the nation was summed up in the statement, “With malice towards none, and with charity for all.”
A lawyer, minister of justice, and vice-president before assuming the presidency of Mexico in 1858, Juarez was also victorious in winning Mexico’s civil war and the expulsion of the invading pretenders to the throne of Mexico – Napoleon III of France and Archduke Maximilian of Austria.
The legacy of Juarez is less well known than that of Lincoln, but he embodied the same spirit of generosity that Lincoln had, and he sought to put his country on a permanent course of peace and prosperity.
Juarez is best remembered for his concept of peace presented to the nation after they won a final victory in 1867.
“Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace,” he said at the time.
His idea of respect for the rights of others still rings true for many people around the world.
Just as Lincoln’s gems of wisdom have survived to the present in the hearts and minds of most Americans, so have the truisms of Benito Juarez continued to be a part of the ethical and moral life of the people of Mexico.
Nataly Camacho, an organizer for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA), says Juarez’ line defining “peace” as “respect for the rights of others” has a special application in today’s world.
“This quote is a correct indication of what we lack in today’s world – respect,” says Camacho.
“Since the beginning,” she added, “Mississippi has implemented certain unethical laws to make sure people of color do not thrive.
“The people in power here in Mississippi have done a masterful job at making sure no other race is able to thrive here besides white Mississippians. And many people of color here have blindly experienced these setbacks. But, in reality, the problem is that those in power in Mississippi have made certain communities believe they are at fault.”
R. W. Akile, president of KwanZaa People of Color, lives in Los Angeles and is lead organizer of the community-based annual Kwanzaa parade and celebration. He advocates the mutual respect for the rights of others among the many ethnic communities of Los Angeles – by all for all.
More than 80 ethnic and linguistic communities make up the Los Angeles metropolis, and the city has had some major conflicts across racial lines since the aggressive, expansionist white Americans seized the western lands from Mexico in 1848.
Akile viewed Karen Bass’ winning of the Los Angeles mayor’s race just days ago as a potentially good outcome for the people of LA.
A cabal of three Hispanics on the LA City Council and a labor leader brought the city and the nation to the brink of turmoil in mid-October when an audio tape leaked with the four demeaning and racially denouncing the adopted Black child of a fellow councilmember.
Coming only weeks before the mayoral elections, with a distinct Hispanic majority in Los Angeles, the election of Black Congresswoman Bass over her billionaire white developer opponent demonstrated the sanity and the kind of respect for the rights of others that Juarez called for in 1867.
Bass’s competitor for the mayor’s office spent more than $90 million of his own money, Akile said. “And he did not succeed.”
Akile says Bass has the potential of bringing the long-desired changes to Los Angeles that have been absent in recent years.
“Karen Bass’s tenure is going to depend on how well we engage with her,” he said. “That’s very important. We must stay engaged with her so that she doesn’t slip away like some other people have.”
Akile did not point out any specific cases of political betrayal. But in addition to the recent incident of four Hispanic leaders sitting in council chambers poking fun at a Black child in Spanish, political corruption in L. A. city government has been an Equal Opportunity provider over the years. In the last three years, three council members have either been indicted or convicted of bribery charges and in what was called a “pay-for-play” scheme for awarding city contracts. One of the convicted was Hispanic, one a Caucasian, and the ex-council member under indictment is Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Black male.
The people who have been assigned the underdog role in Mississippi will have to gain enough confidence and self-reliance to command the respect of those who perceive themselves to be the powers that be in the Magnolia state, says Dr. Eldridge Henderson, a business adviser and a WMPR-FM Radio talk show host in Jackson.
“If you are fighters and defend your rights, then you’ll gain respect,” Henderson said. “But if you are seen as pushovers, then you’re going to get beaten all the time.
“When you respect the rights of others, you’ll have a tendency to be more lenient than you will if you don’t have any respect for them. Because if you feel that they are human beings then you’ll be able to give them respect.
“And that’s what happened to Black people in America,” he said. “They never had respect for us, and they killed us. We never did rebel in numbers of any significance. And that’s why we don’t have any respect today from the people who rule in America. That’s why we are outcasts and members of the underclass, or no-class in America.”
Henderson said that Juarez was a great Indian fighter and a great Indian thinker. And he was confident enough to promote his philosophy of respecting the rights of others.
By way of contrast, Henderson said, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has failed at his job of setting an example for the people of his state. He especially resents Reeves’ continued attempt to hold the City of Jackson and its mayor up to ridicule at every opportunity he gets via press conferences and other media presentations.
“I believe that Tate Reeves will have some unexpected future political plans or ideas,” Henderson said. “I don’t think his political future is going to be in Mississippi after he loses at the end of this term. He’s not loved, not even by the Republican members of the legislature. They’d rather not have him for governor. And there are others who want it, and now Philip Gunn says he won’t run again for the House chair. And a lot of people are saying he’s preparing to run for governor.”
Racism is a given, Henderson said. “But you waste your time calling a racist a racist to his face. He enjoys knowing he got to you and that you understand who he is.”
When people from one ethnic group have complaints about those of a different group, Henderson advises settling such disputes in a civil and reasonable manner. He spoke of the ongoing issues surrounding Kanye West and his great reversal of fortune in the music and fashion industries.
“I don’t think there should be a public discourse if you have a disagreement about something that some people from a different ethnic group have done to you,” he says. “You need to talk to those people directly and make an effort to assert your position and try to work out the problems you have with them instead of lambasting them all in public. It makes you look little, and it lets them win in the long run.”
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Henderson wants to see a new effort at bringing all the people of the state together under one big tent.
“I want Mississippi to look at the ‘thanks’ in Thanksgiving and give the different factions in this state an opportunity to get together,” he advised.
“Abide by the law, give the people what they deserve, cause we’re all citizens. Some of us are in a position of need and if the money is available, then we need to get what we deserve as citizens: good health care, mental wellness, and equity in education, equity in economic development, and fairness and democracy in all local, state, and federal institutions.”
Another part of the Juarez legacy that continues to play a vibrant role in the ceremonial life of Mexico was the surprising victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, where an army of untrained Mexican youths successfully fought off the combined forces of France and Austria.
That victory is celebrated today in many parts of the world as El Cinco de Mayo.