Early in the summer, I met a local mango salesman named Juan Manuel. Inspired by our work, he joined our team.
In another life, he worked construction in the U.S. to support his family. However, they didn’t always appreciate his sacrifices, and he battled alcoholism and depression before eventually leaving his family and returning to the U.S.
He told me tales of crossing the border with the help of coyotes. Back then, it was easy he used to say.
I learned about life in Mexico. When we smoked cigarettes, he explained how the drug cartels infiltrated communities and forced locals to cooperate. He had been held at gunpoint, shot at numerous times, and saw friends die due to cartel violence. The penalty for disobedience was death.
At the beginning of my fall semester, I set out to write an article about Confederate statues in Oxford, Mississippi. I learned from the Southern Poverty Law Center the influence of the Lost Cause Ideology to help whitewash the justification of the Civil War.
There is no coincidence during the Jim Crow Era and the Civil Rights Movement, two of the most racially-charged time periods in our country’s history, more monuments were constructed. I didn’t realize until I read General Robert E. Lee’s letters he opposed Confederate monuments, believing it would be best not to leave open the wounds of the Civil War.
The plaque reads: "As confederate veterans were dying in increasing numbers, memorial associations across the South built monuments in their memory. These monuments were often used to promote an ideology known as the "Lost Cause," which claimed the Confederacy had been established to defend states' rights and that slavery was not the principal cause of the Civil War. Residents of Oxford and Lafayette County dedicated this statue, approved by the university, in 1906. Although the monument was created to honor the sacrifice of local Confederate soldiers, it must also remind us that the defeat of the Confedreacy actually meant freedom for millions of people. On the evening of September 30, 1962, this statue was a rallying point for opponent of integration.
This historic statue is a reminder of the university's divisive past.Today, the University of Mississippi draws from that past a continuing commitment to open its hallowed halls to all who seek truth, knowledge, and wisdom."
Whenever I got mad, frustrated, or simply exhausted, Juan Manuel was there to put his arm around me to dish out his wisdom. Nothing is hard Johnny, everything is easy if you put your mind to it. You just got to find a way. Make it simple.
My friendship with Juan Manuel was a life lesson in listening. I wanted to learn more about him and how he saw the world. In return, I would tell him about my life in America. He never attacked me for identity but always encouraged me to stay in school, finish my education, and follow my dreams.
Because I am the product of the American dream.