Although I have never lived in South Africa, I have witnessed apartheid firsthand. I was born and raised in Chile. I remember as if it were yesterday, when I was 10 years old, that Salvador Allende became the first elected Marxist president in the world. At that age I could not have defined “proletariat” or “dialectical materialism,” but almost daily, walking home from school, I had to dodge rocks and tear gas canisters being lobbed by warring factions. And three years later, I will never ever forget Augusto Pinochet taking power and attempting to “stabilize” and bring “peace” through torture, desaparecidos and other brutal human rights abuses.
When my wife Kathryn and I moved to Lima, it was at the height of the Maoist revolution and anything but peaceful. We lived through daily bombings, assassinations and brutal terrorist acts. But what stunned us most was how the Shining Path claimed it was fighting for the peasants and native population of Peru but had no compunction in brutalizing any campesino or Amazonian who did not support its tactics.
Kathryn and I also remember, as if it were yesterday, the day in 1992 when President Alberto Fujimori, with military backing, carried out a “self-coup” by closing congress and the judiciary. Our neighbors cheered, claiming “por fin un líder se pone los pantalones!” – at last a leader put his pants on. And they were even happier a few months later when Fujimori captured Abimael Guzmán, thus decapitating the Shining Path. But Fujimori is now spending his last decades in prison as he was convicted of horrendous human rights abuses in his efforts to “stabilize” and bring “peace” to Peru.
It was clear the pendulum easily swings from one form of dehumanization to another, to another. It was most providential that Kathryn and I, and our three boys, moved to Albuquerque and I began taking many of the classes John “Jack” Condon and other world-renowned interculturalists at UNM offered. And it was even more providential when Karen Foss agreed to chair my thesis committee as I carried out a rhetorical analysis of Desmond Tutu’s book, “No Future Without Forgiveness.”
I regret never meeting Desmond Tutu face to face, but I feel my thesis process allowed me to be “at his feet” for many months. With Foss’ wise help, I was able to uncover it wasn’t mere forgiveness Tutu was extolling. He was actually pointing to a humanizing ubuntu worldview that needed to replace a dehumanizing apartheid system that had been in place for decades. Since his death I have heard some describe Tutu as a moral compass and the conscience of a nation/the world. I believe a compass not only points us where we are to go, but it also clarifies what we are leaving behind. And a conscience helps us determine what we are to embrace and perpetuate, as well as what we are to be repulsed by and reject.
The last 20 years since earning my MA from UNM, I have had the profound honor of teaching in close to 20 countries and have heard myself channeling my inner Tutu, repeating over and over again: Run from, be repulsed by, leave behind apartheid arrogance, the conviction that human worth is determined extrinsically, that the universe revolves around “me/us,” that security and survival come through independence, self-focus, alienation and revenge. And I have heard myself repeating over and over again: Run toward, embrace, perpetuate ubuntu humility, the conviction we need others, including those who disagree with us, to contribute to healing, that security and survival come through interdependence, other-focus, magnanimity and by respecting and upholding the human rights of all. In writing I simply want to honor and thank Desmond Tutu for what he has meant to me, and Foss as well as the communication department at UNM for all they have contributed to my life.