Another theological theme that became apparent in this struggle was immigration, or more specifically, non-documented immigrants. Though I did not find much evidence that it was discussed often in the Taco Bell boycott, it can still be heavily tied into both slavery and racism and was part of the campaign. It was briefly mentioned in the beginning of the struggle that many workers did not make a stand against their bosses for fear of being deported, among other things. Though Christians are hotly divided on this topic, the Scriptures reveal that God wanted the Hebrews to be kind and welcoming to those who were alien to the land. God reminded the people that they, too, were once aliens in a foreign land (Egypt) and should remember that for future generations (Deut. 10:18-19). In all honesty, we who are white Americans were also “illegal immigrants” at one time. Just because an immigrant does not have the proper paperwork that allows them to be “legal” in our country, it does not mean that they are to be considered less of a human being or less deserving of rights. We were all created as part of God’s creation and though there is a need for governments and order, we should always remember that the land we live upon is not truly ours and the borders of countries are man made.
The fight for justice, dignity and equality is something that, whether we realize it or not, invades and effects all of our lives. While researching this labor campaign, my brain made a very unexpected, ironic, and more than likely, a very unrelated connection between the Taco Bell boycott and the movie industry. In 1998, at the beginning of the Immokalee struggle, a movie by Disney/Pixar was released - A Bug’s Life. In this movie, a colony of ants is being terrorized by a group of large, oppressive grasshoppers. The grasshoppers, as a show of domination, enslave and force the colony to gather large portions of food for the grasshoppers to eat off of during the winter. This “system” works year after year with no real complaints from the ants, until one fateful day when an imaginative ant called Flick accidently dumps the offering into a nearby stream. The grasshoppers, causing fear by threatening violence and death, tell them to replace it, even though it will leave the ants nothing to live on for the winter season. Sound familiar thus far?
Here is where the connection became even stronger. Realizing that they will have no food left for the winter, they decide to fight back against the giants. Flick, who seems like a nobody, ends up organizing the colony against the grasshoppers. The movement started with a few, but when the fear of individuals subsided, and the strength in numbers was realized, they forced the oppressive grasshoppers to leave, which liberated them and restored their dignity.
So, what was the irony in this? The company of the movie is based out of two states: Florida and California. The production studios for the movie are located just forty miles from the headquarters of Taco Bell in Irvine, CA. The other headquarters of Disney just one hundred and sixty miles from the workers of Immokalee, FL. There is probably no connection at all between the movie and the CIW’s struggle. However, I find that the plot of this movie, so eerily similar to the plot of the Immokalee workers lives, cannot be merely a coincidence. If nothing else, it showed that this fight for civil and economic justice is instilled deep within our souls. How easy was it for us to watch a movie and understand the plight of the ants (ants!) and see the need for their liberation, but so easily overlook the plight of the farm workers and miss the need for their liberation?!
The workers did not miss it. They saw the need, organized together, and with the growing support of the community (as well as students and religious organizations from all over the country) were finally liberated from the tyranny of their modern day Goliath. Just like their struggle is now spreading to other giants and for other farm workers, the struggle to open the eyes and hearts of more people to their plight continues as well. For Lucas Benitez, this can be the hardest step, because it sometimes gives the impression that he lives in two different worlds. At a 2003 speech in Washington D.C. (where he was receiving the RFK Human Rights Award), he told of being confused because, just the day before, he attended a march for human rights in Miami, and it looked like something out of an action movie, with of the presence of police in riot gear; the next day he was honored for his work toward human rights.
“Truth is, my compañeros and I are confused. It's hard for us to understand in which of the two worlds we actually live-in the world where the voice of the poor is feared and protest in defense of human rights is considered the gravest of threats to public security? Or in the world where the defense of human rights is celebrated and encouraged in the pursuit of a more just and equitable society?" (Asbed).
It is up to us to help clear up the confusion as to which world we live in. May we never forget that we worship a God who is for the oppressed, downtrodden and those cast away by society. May we never forget that God calls us to do the same.