|SAN ANTONIO, May 5 - As our nation’s First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a book called ‘It Takes a Village” in 1996.
The book sold well and was listed in the New Your Times best seller list. In her acclaimed work, she clearly identified and provided with ample supporting facts a community’s logical role as an extended family when it comes to raising children.
While the book was well received, it also proved to be divisive. A self-starter, possessing great leadership qualities and purpose as an agent of change, her political enemies quickly attacked the book. Using outdated Cold War rhetoric, they criticized her for basing her book on the idea of “community.” In short, they accused the First Lady of being a socialist communist. In particular, unable or unwilling to understand the extended family concept, her accusers falsely claimed she wanted to set up collective-style communes to raise our children. Likewise, only a few weeks ago, a popular TV news show host was verbally attacked by far-right politicos and news media commentators. Referring to one of her show’s TV ads, they objected to her theory that one’s community does have a role in the growth and wholesome development of a neighborhood’s children.
In truth, Hillary Rodham Clinton was not the first person to ever make a connection between the basic family unit and its surroundings. That idea is as old as the human race itself. After all, the human development experience would not have occurred was it not for our earliest ancestors relying on a strong sense of community (village). However, what is the origin of this natural familial cohesion?
To answer that question, the following summary is provided only as an overview of our ancestors’ strong will to survive. As soon as our earliest ancestors began to unite with other non-blood related families, the first settlements (clans, tribes, alliances, etc) began to emerge. The idea of extended family values was quickly initiated. Constant enhancements to make life better and easier soon followed. No longer did the basic family unit (father, mother, and children) have to fend for themselves. No longer did they have to stand guard all night to protect only their own family from wild beasts and aggressive, hostile neighbors. Now, they had strength in numbers. Clearly, they wished to protect their most valuable possessions -- their children.
It is at this time that the age of specialization begins. If a family was good at starting a communal camp fire, they became the keepers of the flame, crucial to the group’s survival. If another family was good at stone tool making (spears, arrowheads, etc), they became the camp security and defense providers. If yet another family was good at hunting, they became the main food providers. Those who were good at skin tanning became shelter and clothing makers. Thus, the first guilds and specialty shops were born.
Organizing into a community provided another critical benefit. Having the manpower to set up stakes at one location, they were able to raise their own crops, thereby strengthening their alliance. Realizing that other groups had likewise allied themselves, these large, affiliated communities found out that they had partners near and far with whom they could trade, exchange technological ideas in tool making, and most important socialize with during annual trade fairs hosted by one of the groups. This last aspect offered a most important benefit -- marriage opportunities. Soon, our ancestors’ initial camps dotted vast territories and regions, giving birth later to modern towns, cities, and system of roadways.
From a personal view, my own childhood experience proves how community members can help raise someone else’s children. Once, when I was about ten years old and a Central School student, a classmate asked me to walk with him to his home nearby. He said he’d forgotten his books. Not doubting his word, we left the school campus. We walked about one block when someone called out to me “Are you a López boy?” The question came from a man across the street from where we were walking. “Yes I am, sir”, I responded. “Well”, the stranger said, “You get back to the school playground. That boy is trouble and I don’t want to have to tell your dad that you’re keeping bad company.” Although my classmate pleaded with me to keep walking, I obeyed the man’s warning and went back to school. Sure enough, my friend’s intentions were to play hooky. Expectedly, a truant officer picked him up later that afternoon while he was wandering the streets. Sad to say, that boy got into deeper trouble with the law later on in life. Looking back, it seems every adult had a job in raising me and my siblings in El Barrio Azteca of Laredo, Texas.
In citing the example above, I wish to remind readers that my siblings and I had two loving, caring parents, but they could not be everywhere. Extended family, teachers, and adult members of the community gave our parents extra eyes and ears. The social services net at the time gave vital positive guidance, such as the Salvation Army, Boys Club, and American Legion Post 59 Boy Scout Leaders. Viewing it as their duty, they kept us on a straight path ensuring we avoided harm’s way.
The question remains -- why do conservatives find the English word “community” so terrifying? Why do they find this beautiful, family-oriented concept so threatening? The reason is they insist on playing a ridiculous “word association” game. That is, they believe the word community must be the same as communist because of their similar root sound. That is silly logic.
In summary, speaking from experience the community’s value in raising our children is crucial. That is especially true today, when social network programs are being reduced and eliminated. Thus, many of our poor Mexican-descent children throughout the Southwest from South Texas to California find only despair. They are easy targets in what is now a destructive culture of violence; and more apt to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug use/trafficking, gangs, teen pregnancy, and be more likely to drop out of school. For people who think those poor children already have a social services net, can they be sure that it is well-resourced? The answer is “No” due to budget cuts unfairly directed mainly at the bottom rung of the economic ladder.
Quite clearly, parents especially single parent households need all the help they can get. If we all pitch in and attentively guide the youngest in our poor communities, chances are they’ll take care of themselves as they become productive adults. What we are talking about here is the need for a fair and balanced tax system to help us make a wise investment in our country’s future. This is no time to tell the most vulnerable in our society that they’re on their own.
In closing, let me end with this thought. Far-right conservatives have no reason to fear the word community because it ends with “unity.” So, maybe just maybe, Hillary Rodham Clinton has had it right all along. It does take a village to raise a child.
José Antonio (Joe) López was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and is a USAF Veteran. He now lives in Universal City, Texas. He is the author of two books: “The Last Knight (Don Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe, A Texas Hero),” and “Nights of Wailing, Days of Pain (Life in 1920s South Texas).” Lopez is also the founder of the Tejano Learning Center, LLC, and www.tejanosunidos.org, a Web site dedicated to Spanish Mexican people and events in U.S. history that are mostly overlooked in mainstream history books.