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Quaker Organization Marks 100 Years Of ‘Waging Peace’

August 9, 2018 1:35 p.m.

Quaker Organization Marks 100 Years Of ‘Waging Peace’


Pedro Rios, director, American Friends Service Committee U.S.-Mexico Border Program in San Diego

Linda Caballero Sotelo, executive director, New Americans Museum

Related Story: Quaker Organization Marks 100 Years Of ‘Waging Peace’


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is Kate PBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanagh. The American Friends Service Committee is best known in San Diego as an immigrant rights organization. It's worked to promote the cause of migrants who say their rights and lives have been endangered by U.S. government policies. But the group has a wider agenda and a longer background than most people might be aware of. The name American friends refers to the organizations Quaker roots and it's been working for peace and non-violence for just over a century. The group is marking the milestone with a traveling exhibit called waging peace one hundred years of the action. The exhibit is now on display at the New Americans museum at Liberty Station. Joining me is Pedro Rios. He is director of American Friends Service Committee U.S. Mexico border program in San Diego. Pedro welcome to the program. Thank you it's a pleasure. And Linda Caballero Sotelo. She is executive director of the new Americans museum. And Linda welcome. Thank you very much for having us. Pedro you have been on the show talking about immigrant rights and your work on border issues. But we've talked less about the American Friends Service Committee's actual history. How did it get started.

The American Friends Service Committee was started in 1917 by a group of 14 Quakers who at the brink of World War One decided that they wanted to support those individuals who did not believe conscientiously and joining the battlefield. And so they got together a month after the war was declared and they started offering people alternatives to that war.

And that went through World War II as well give us kind of an idea of the various social justice movements the committee has been a part of and how that's reflected in this exhibit.

Yeah and thank you for the introduction. So though we are known primarily as an immigrant based or immigrant rights based organization in San Diego around the world were known more for the work that we do in promoting peace. And during the course of that history the American Friends Service Committee has worked with providing that those alternatives to war primarily World War One and World War II. And in fact in 1947 the American Friends Service Committee together with the British Quakers also won the Nobel Peace Prize for the work in supporting that and feeding starving children during the first two world wars.

It went through the civil rights movement as well. The American Friends Service Committee was also involved in that. And do we see that in the exhibit.

We do. There's a rich history of the American Friends Service Committee whose involvement in the civil rights struggle supporting Martin Luther King in various ways of funding his trip to India where he met Mahatma Gandhi and supporting says Tavis during the grape strike in fact the sort of Chavez was employed briefly by the American Friends Service Committee.

Linda why did you want to bring this exhibit to the new new Americans museum. It was important for us to really shine a light on the work that this organization has been doing over 100 years to in fact wage peace right to build communities and to really espouse the principles and the alignment that they have with our mission to really highlight the contributions of immigrants in the participatory nature of our communities to be able to have a role in civil rights movement in immigration reform and immigration rights and economic justice issues. And certainly in prison reform what else will visitors be able to experience if they go to the new Americans museum to see this exhibit. One of the reasons that we've thought this exhibition was very important in relation to the work that the American Friends Service Committee does is because it provides an opportunity when it travels for us to augment at the local levels with other elements that matter in our communities. In our case we were able to add to the exhibition photographs and timeline and images things like our founding documents facsimiles which I think are important to contextualize the importance of these issues overall. So we have facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence the Constitution the amounts of Emancipation Proclamation and then the recreation of a cell. So folks feel the confinement the space when we're talking about the prison pipeline reform that individuals deal with under those circumstances. The other element that we added which is an important one for this subject matter that's very charged is a public square which is our Community Gallery where folks can walk through the exhibit process the information to add to the level that they

can and then walk into the other space and have an opportunity to Phyu to view other materials for example. We commissioned several films from local film critics and filmmakers like Bryan who says Esparza and Quanto yes from both the media art center that produced Latino Film Festival and from Pacific Arts movement that produced the film festival. I wanted them to really think about four topics explored in the exhibition voyaging piece and to add another dimension. So they selected short films that deal with those specific subject matter and then the public can have a public square not only to view the process but also to reflect some of the issues that we're dealing with as an institution have been just like the American Friends Service Committee which is being targeted you know with hate crime incidents in the past. So we wanted that space.

The exhibit also has some interpretive possibilities so for instance those who visit can play a game of chance which is a citizenship game and so there's a game where you roll a dice and depending on the number that you get you advance to a certain position and so on this game of chance you either are on track to become a U.S. citizen or you get denied pretty quickly and I think it develops and it shows how precarious and how arbitrary oftentimes our broken immigration system is. And it's an opportunity for visitors to experience that. Pedro How did you become part of the Service Committee. Well you know I first became aware of the Service Committee in the mid 90s I was a student activist and I met Roberto Martinez who was the director during that time and he really became a trailblazer for human rights advocacy and border communities and it wasn't until 2003 when I became employed by the American Friends Service Committee that I started working with them and my values for social justice for promoting human rights aligned with the Quaker values that AFSC promotes is it that is at that core Quaker value that you think distinguishes this organization from other social justice organizations. I think so. And I think that we've been able to get that from other organizations when we do advocacy in D.C. for instance where there's an expectation that if we provide a moral standard for how we make decisions based on our principles and values when we're dealing with upcoming legislation where there might be other organizations who might sway with certain political tendencies and we stick to our values and I think that's what really grounds us.

The exhibit waging peace has been up for a while and what kind of reaction have you gotten from it.

You know it's been really interesting because we have different types of audiences that visit the museum and from young children we have many tours have come through and you know just to witness them for the first time learning things that gosh you know we take for granted. It's really amazing. But we have different kinds of audiences I said including some are retired folks just general community members and friends it's important for them to learn about local and national organizations that are committed to social change and how there's interplay and connection between the work that we do from our space which is really to advance social justice through the vehicle of arts and culture storytelling narratives and really to begin to think about the narrative shift to talk about how we get folks involved in thinking about each other as Americans not just the others but how we're all interconnected.

The exhibit Waging Peace One Hundred Years of action will be on display at the New Americans museum at Liberty Station through September 30th. And I've been speaking with Pedro Rios he's director of American Friends Service Committee U.S. Mexico border program and Linda Caballero said Tayloe. She is executive director of the new Americans museum. And I want to thank you both so much.

Thank you. Thank you.