The 1960's was a time of great social unrest. College students were objecting to young people dying in a far-off war in Viet Nam that seemed to make no sense. Martin Luther King was speaking eloquently against prejudice and for civil rights through nonviolence. And the City of Watts in Los Angeles was so angry it burned itself down.
In addition, the social message of rejecting money and materialism in exchange for simply loving and caring for one another (the message of every great spiritual leader the world has ever known) was being danced in the streets by hippies. It was a time of great unrest and upheaval.
It was during this time that the movie Billy Jack came on the scene. The character Billy Jack is a warrior, a mystic, and a martyr who captured the heart and soul of a generation. Tom Laughlin stars as Billy Jack, a half-breed Indian Hapkido Karate master and ex-Green Beret returning to live in solitude on an Arizona reservation. He's drawn to the progressive Freedom School -- and the idealistic woman who runs it.
But when tensions flare between the students and narrow-minded locals who fear what they cannot understand, Billy Jack becomes their protector. With the help of a socially tolerant sheriff, Billy Jack appears throughout the film to defend the weak when injustice appears on the scene.
As social commentary, the film had tremendous impact on those people trying to effect change in our country, since it seemed to embody the spirit of the yearning for social justice that was in the air -- the desire to break with the past, stop the prejudice that was crippling our people, and begin again anew.
It was a bold, daring wish. Today, churches are still filled with people struggling to love one another and the people in their world. Civil rights legislation has leveled the playing field somewhat -- for all minorities, including women -- but we still face daunting tasks when it comes to learning to live side-by-side peacefully with one another.
Billy Jack stands as a period piece of the 60's -- but its message is just as relevant today in our town of Santa Maria as it was when the movie was made.
The Santa Barbara News-Press ran a series of articles in 2004 on the Oaxacans. According to the quoted statistics, the population in the town of Santa Maria proper (excluding the Orcutt area), is 60 - 70 per cent Latino, with 28,000 of those coming from one small village on top of a mountain range in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The News-Press also stated that the Mixtec Indians represent 80 per cent of the Santa Maria Valley farmworkers, with 90 per cent working as strawberry pickers. These numbers are 10 times what they were in the mid-1990's.
The series went on to say that the Oaxacans have been unable to sell the corn that they have traditionally raised for decades in Mexico at a price that would afford them a living wage. The News-Press stated that the subsidies given by our federal government to corn-growing American farmers have allowed those same farmers to undercut the traditional price of corn in Mexico.
The Newspress states that America is now the primary supplier of corn to Mexico.
So the Oaxacans have fled their homeland -- coming to pick strawberries in Santa Maria, San Diego and Oceanside -- in an effort to earn a living. This large influx of people has presented challenges to our city regarding adequate housing, health care, crime prevention, etc.
The Legend of Billy Jack is the theme song of the movie Billy Jack. It offers challenges to the people of Santa Maria to question what it means to live as a human being -- what it means to live in peace with one's neighbors -- what the future of the town holds, when such a large portion of the population is Latino.
One Tin Soldier believes that the Sound Off Santa Maria weblog will allow a free forum within which the local citizens can voice their concerns, share information, require accountability from their elected officials, and come to agreement on the issues which so concern us all.
There are many other issues of concern besides how to assimilate the Oaxacans. How much growth do we want? What about our water quality? How many more big box stores are we willing to allow? Are our children graduating from school with the full knowledge that many of our American jobs have gone overseas? Just how will our children support themselves?
The future is now. The town we work on today is our town of the future. What will Santa Maria be like ten years from now? The choices are ours.
One Tin Soldier