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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 7, 2000. All rights reserved.
Truth in the Barbed Wire
A widely popular Texas singer-songwriter who is also
known for speaking out on human rights issues headlines a benefit
for the Mercer County Group of Amnesty International. Tish Hinojosa,
on tour with her band in support of her latest album, "Sign of
Truth" from Rounder Records, will sing out at the Unitarian Church
at Washington Crossing in Titusville on Saturday, June 10, at 8 p.m.
Now based in Austin, the Texas music hub, the bilingual, multi-cultural
musician grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the youngest of 13 children.
"There was always music in my house," she recalls. "My
mother listened to Mexican radio in the kitchen, and she loved the
finer, romantic side of Mexican culture. My dad was a mechanic in
a cemetery, and he loved the fun accordion music on the jukebox."
Hinojosa’s traditional Mexican influences embraced the topical corridos
(ballads that recount events from community history to the latest
news), solemn, romantic love songs, and the catchy rhythms of the
accordion-driven conjunto tunes. With the Beatles, the Byrds,
Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez equally influential in her formative years,
she began writing and performing her own songs while still a teen.
Today her eclectic repertoire ranges from Spanish songs with English
verses to Buddy Holly covers, Texas swing, and traditional Mexican
waltzes and polkas.
"Sign of Truth" is Hinojosa’s first new recording in four
years and includes the steel guitar of Lloyd Maines, with fiddle,
Hammond organ, and electric guitar. Working in a style that fuses
her Mexican roots, Texas upbringing, and years spent as a Nashville
tunesmith, the album has a warm, rich flavor
Sponsoring Hinojosa’s Titusville appearance is Amnesty International,
a group that works on behalf of prisoners of conscience around the
world. Founded in England in 1961, the organization has focused attention
on such issues as human rights violations against women, and more
recently on the forced conscription of children into soldiers. The
Mercer County chapter is led by Allan Smith, a member who helped found
the chapter in 1974, with 16-year member Robert Fleming as secretary
and treasurer. The group meets the first Thursday of every month at
Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Walt Miziuk, a business recruiter who has volunteered with the chapter
since 1988, has been instrumental in organizing the benefit. "Tish
Hinojosa as a performer has wide appeal and, as an individual, she
also has a social conscience," says Miziuk, who was first taken
with Hinojosa’s "Dreaming from the Labyrinth" album. Hinojosa
is known for her work on behalf of the United Farmworkers of America,
the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the National Association
of Bilingual Education, with literacy and children’s issues high on
her list of priorities. The Los Angeles Times published her editorial
in defense of the education of the offspring of California’s immigrants,
legal or otherwise, "inocentes," whose dual language should
be regarded as a national asset. She has recorded a bilingual children’s
album titled "Cada Nino/Every Child."
"Our motto is `the light in the darkness,’ — traditionally
the best tool we have," says Miziuk. The group’s trademark logo
is a candle shining amidst a tangle of barbed wire. "Groups that
imprison and torture don’t want other people to know about it,"
he explains. "We let people know that they are not alone, that
there are outsiders who remember them. We write to the prisoners as
well as to the organization that is responsible."
AI’s Mercer County group focuses on several key trouble spots —
China, Tibet, Kosovo, Indonesia, East Timor, Chad, and Algeria —
influencing issues through letter writing, educational activities,
and programs. Amnesty International also works to oppose the death
penalty in the United States.
One prisoner the Mercer group is working to release
is Abdulhelil Abdumijit, a 30-year-old street trader, husband, and
father of three, imprisoned since 1997 by the People’s Republic of
China where the death penalty is also used to silence dissidents.
Abdumijit was arrested in Gulja City, Xuar, during a demonstration
to protest the banning of a traditional type of gathering by Xuar’s
indigenous peoples known as a "Meshrep." A "Meshrep"
is a social gathering that provides a forum for music, song, and poetry,
as well as discussion of moral and social issues facing its youth.
China’s Xuar minority in general are suffering as victims of discrimination,
unemployment, political trials, imprisonment, torture, and execution.
Amnesty International believes that Abdumijite has been arbitrarily
imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of opinion
and association, in violation of international standards. The Mercer
group is one of five or six groups around the world focusing their
efforts on obtaining the immediate and unconditional release of this
"Unfortunately there’s more than enough business to go around,"
says Miziuk, noting that AI has chapters on every continent. A prisoner
of conscience is someone who has never used violence or committed
any crime. AI conducts extensive research, including traveling to
the place where the prisoner is held, to determine whether the prisoner
is a prisoner of conscience. If he or she is, AI will become active
in publicizing their plight.
"Research and action are tied together," says Miziuk. "It
is the accurate research that leads us to pinpoint specific action
to be taken. These are situations that are not being publicized. AI
finds out about them through its networks — and confidentiality
and secrecy are crucial in gathering information. There are a lot
of governments and organizations that would like to get into AI’s
Mercer group member Sofi Bounds, who has volunteered for AI for 20
years in France and the U.S., says she has seen results of AI actions
around the world. "Once a government realizes that the world is
watching, often the prisoner’s condition is alleviated," she says.
In 1999 three prisoners in Chad and Indonesia who had been adopted
by the Mercer group were released from prison.
The Tish Hinojosa concert proceeds go toward the group’s expenses
(which totaled $4,200 in 1999) for postage, stationery, publicity,
public education, and direct aid to prisoners of conscience. In early
December, during Human Rights Week, the AI group plans to sponsor
a lecture by the former Chinese dissident Harry Wu, who will talk
about his first-hand knowledge of continuing human rights violations
— Nicole Plett
Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, 215-862-1917. The Texas
singer headlines a benefit for Amnesty International of Mercer County.
Mark Erelli opens. $20. Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m.
first Thursday of every month, at 8 p.m., at Nassau Presbyterian Church,
Room 204. Next meeting is Thursday, July 6. Call for information.
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