I first saw “Salt of the Earth” back in the 1970’s. For a number of us active in Civil Rights work and the Women’s Movement. “Salt of the Earth” became our touchstone. Thirty or 40 of us would gather in the basement of Mesa Vista Hall at UNM, or in different community sites, to watch “Salt of the Earth” together. Several times, Juan Chacon came up to talk to us about the strike in Bayard and the making the movie. To us “Salt of the Earth” was a living symbol of what can happen when people oppressed by racism, work conditions, or domestic problems, as in the case of the miners’ wives, band together to take on the people in power. The idea that these Hispanic mining families had been able to struggle successfully against tremendous obstacles gave us courage and hope that our work for social justice would see success.
That same spirit and drive for social justice is alive today. Last week in a class that I teach at UNM, one of my students, a young Navajo woman, gave a presentation about banning the National Anthem. She traced the origin of the Anthem from a poem by Francis Scott Key to its designation as our National Anthem by President Herbert Hoover. She then talked about how sports figures, like Colin Kaepernick, are resisting the Anthem to bring attention to the prejudice and injustice that affects so many of us. She closed by saying that, while when she started her research, she had wanted to ban the Anthem at sports events, she now sees the Anthem as a valuable symbol that we can use in speaking out about social injustice. That young Navajo woman’s spirit in raising the question of banning the Anthem in a university classroom is the same spirit that provoked the “Salt of the Earth” families to strike for better work conditions.
Symbols such as “Salt of the Earth,” and places such as the Bayard Local 890 Union Hall [real name?] where people can come to celebrate community and to realize the power we possess when we work together, are vital to the wellbeing of our country. People have asked what will happen to the Union Hall. When the people of Bayard meet to decide the future of the Union Hall, they will carry forth that same spirit of self-determination that sparked the actions of the mining families in Salt of the Earth, and students such as the young Navajo woman at UNM. That spirit crops up in different forms and places. It is alive and well in communities across New Mexico