Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Florence Visit

Florence loomed in my mind as the hellhole of the inhospitable landscape of Arizona: a town that I had heard contained three prisons and no supermarket. Florence is a visual representation of the recent trajectory of Arizona’s economy, which is investing money and creating jobs through a federal and corporate prison network mostly detaining undocumented immigrants. Arizona has moved away from its 5 cs of a state economy. It used to be that Arizona survived as a state through the cattle, citrus, copper, climate, and cotton industries. We’ve skipped thirteen letters in the alphabet to arrive to the present day industry keeping Arizona afloat: prisons. The presentation that we were given as a group when we went to the I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Detention Center in Florence reflected this proliferation of prison jobs. The man who gave us our tour, told us that there were 122 I.C.E. employees at this detention center and that they contracted 457 general staff (13 in food service, 424 in security custody, 12 in maintenance, and 3 religious staff), and 29 medical staff. That is a total of 608 staff for a detention center that has 392 beds for detainees. Although this may not be a fair or totally grounded comparison, I keep thinking about the fact that if Arizona schools had as much staff or monetary investment as Arizona prisons, we could skip down a couple more letters in the alphabet and create a sustainable Arizonan economy that wasn’t reliant on the incarceration and dehumanization of non-criminals.

As of last week, 31% of the current population in the Florence I.C.E. Detention Center are criminals, meaning they have been previously convicted of a crime, while 69% of the general population are non-criminals. Non-criminals, meaning they have no criminal record, but have been apprehended by the local police, Border Patrol, or I.C.E. as people living in this country without papers. It is not a crime to be in violation of immigration laws; it is a strictly civil violation. Immigrants have to go through a civil legal process to see if they have the right to stay in the United States or not. Instead of letting people stay at home and work while they are going through this legal process, detention centers are making huge profits off of detaining immigrants. The Florence Project, a non-profit legal aid organization that provides assistance to detainees, reports that the average cost of detaining an immigrant is $99 per person a day, while alternatives to detention, including reporting and electronic monitoring, are effective, yielding a 93% court appearance rate, and cheaper, at an average of $12 a day. Only thirty percent of the people in this detention center have committed crimes deemed “dangerous to society”, but the rhetoric of the detention center is that everyone in the facility is dangerous and that their primary function is keeping our streets safe through detention. Our guide kept saying that detention centers are not punitive, meaning not for punishment; they are strictly for administrative purposes. However, he later said that he is proud of his job and that he sleeps better at night because he is protecting the community, his family, our families, from the criminal element of society. This rhetoric of security against the criminal enhances the idea of immigrants as “other”, as not worthy of basic human rights or of access to the benefits of living in America.

At the I.C.E. facility, detainees are paid a dollar a day to work a shift in the kitchen or the Laundromat or elsewhere within the facility. This work was phrased as beneficial to the detainees because it gives them additional job skills. Do we really think that someone is going to list wiping tables at a detention center while being incarcerated on an application for employment? This is one of the newer rungs in the horrible history of forced and enslaved labor in the United States. The detention center is receiving practically free labor from non-criminals who could be working minimum wage jobs while going through their civil, not criminal, proceedings. When we walked into the Laundromat, there was music playing. The security guard standing by the door casually joked to us that the music “makes them work faster”, attributing the allowance of music to an industrial praise of efficiency.

“Care, custody, and control” was the motto of the employees of the I.C.E. Detention Facility. They control detainees by color-coding them by criminal status. Lime-green uniforms mean that they are located in the staging facility and have not yet been processed, blue means non-criminal or low classification, orange indicates a medium-low or medium-high threat or degree of criminality, and red is high criminality. This color-coding occurs all over the country and is being taken to new heights. A recent article on NPR explained that “Officials at at least five state institutions have been using a color-coding system to keep track of their inmates by race: black inmates get blue signs placed above their cell doors, while white inmates get white signs, Latino inmates are designated by red, green or pink signs, and everyone else is yellow. Their logic works like this: if a group of Latino inmates fights with a white inmate, the prison would place all of the Latinos on lockdown.” Racism is ruling the functioning of our prison systems in the United States.

One thing that became clear to all of us was the bureaucratic distinction (albeit a blurry distinction in terms of treatment and intent) of the differences between a detention center, jail, and a prison. We were told that a detention center has a purely administrative, not punitive function, that a jail serves to hold people pending prosecution for a criminal charge, and that prisons house people once they are convicted of a crime. Florence alone houses the I.C.E. Detention Center, the CCA (Corporate Corrections of America) Detention Center, and the Pinal County Jail. Conteras mentioned that the function of the tour he was giving us was to dispel the ideas that the media sometimes exudes about prisons: that they are horrendous facilities in which torture and harassment lurks in every shadow. Our amiable tour guide’s goal was to show us that the detainees were being treated as humans, with top of the line food, recreation time, and access to legal rights. The treatment at the I.C.E. detention center did seem better than I had anticipated; however, we were later informed by a social worker with an organization that offers detained immigrants legal aid, that the Florence I.C.E. Detention Center is I.C.E.’s shining jewel in terms of treatment. In other words, when we toured the detention center, we saw the top-of-the line. Cindy told us that conditions are much, much worse at the Pinal County Jail. Regardless of the numerous amenities that the I.C.E. detention center is providing, the detainees at one of the supposed best facilities in the country are still being treated as animals, as the bottom tier in a human caste system.

The words that were used continually on our tour portrayed the detainees as animals to be taken care of and controlled. At one point, our tour guide announced that we were moving on to view the dining hall facilities and he warned, “They may be feeding right now.” Feeding? Really? Do you believe that you are the warden of animals whose only needs are nourishment by glucose and protein, sleep, and shelter? Humans, humans, have emotional, mental, and sentimental needs. Humans have survived through all kinds of impossible journeys because of the strength of their mind and their willpower. Humans thrive on ideas and creativity. Prisons treat humans like animals, and intentionally so, because their goal is not rehabilitation of people; their goal is detainment of people who exist outside of and challenge the normative sphere of US society. 

-Anna Daggett

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bill Odle @ Ladd Ranch

-Brielle Ervin

Ugly Bastard

-Emma Lewis

Border, Sovereignty, Life & Death

My view of borders, sovereignty, life and death was further complicated after meeting with a local human rights organization. The person we met with was from the Tohono O’Odham nation and has developed sharp criticisms of the tribal government’s response to the astonishing number of deaths within the nation’s boundaries. In the fiscal year of 2010, 253 undocumented migrant deaths were recorded by Border Patrol. An average of 50% of undocumented deaths in the Tucson sector occur within the limits of the Tohono O’odham Nation. I hope that this is illustrative of the atrocity happening in the Tohono O’odham Nation (and of course, greater Tucson sector).
Having presented that information, our speaker went on to argue that the Tohono O’odham nation has been complicit with these deaths. The nation is doing nothing to provide much needed water or other resources that are instrumental in saving lives. The speaker took a moralist stand on the issue. For him, God’s law is the highest law.  State, federal or any other governmental law should be considered only after a moralist interpretation of a situation such as migrant deaths. As a former Presbyterian Minister on the nation, he was dismayed by the inaction of those in his congregation. Asking his congregation to take action on behalf of this local disaster – as deaths had occurred as close to five miles of the church – the community responded that they did not wish to help criminals. He agrees these people are “criminals” by technically breaking government law. But again, he does not accept privileging government law over God’s law.
With this, he says deaths are becoming “naturalized” in the desert. Inaction on behalf of the migrants perpetuates the situation. The longer the Tohono O’odham nation remains inactive, the more “natural,” the more normal, these deaths look. This is hugely problematic.

However, the situation is less straight forward. Because the Tohono O’odham nation is still U.S. government property – what is called “trust land” – the U.S. still has the authority to dispense border patrol within its limits. Additionally, the Tohono O’odham nation receives federal funds from the U.S. government, on which it depends. This means that the Tohono O’odham government needs to remain in good relations with the U.S. government in order to continue receiving funds. The last thing the Tohono O’odham wish to do is assist “illegal immigration.”

The person we met with is very critical of organizations, such as No More Deaths, who will not provide water within the boundaries of the Tohono O’odham Nation. For No More Deaths, such a policy is in respect of the Tohono O’odham to prevent any further intervention or exploitation by U.S. citizens. For him, this sort of thought privileges Tohono O’odham nation law over God’s higher law. However, as fellow classmates brought up, intervening in other nations on the banner of human rights has been an alibi for military and economic intervention. Such a paradox seems difficult to address.

My first thoughts of how to address some of these problems were structural: Let’s create a situation in which the Tohono O’odham are no longer dependent and subordinate to the U.S. government. Let’s create economic situations in the Americas which migration becomes less needed. Let’s open borders.

Tackling such immense problems is clearly on the agenda. However, deaths will not wait for the abolition of structural violence. What do we do given today’s circumstance? I would offer beginning a network of communication between activists outside and inside the Tohono O’odham nation to begin addressing the myriad of issues that have caused the inaction. I would utilize activists such the person we spoke with who are both a part of the Tohono O’odham and greater Tucson sector community to express the need for action.

It is my own privileged circumstance as a student that allows me to consider such structural and abstract solutions. To those who continue to fight on-the-ground on behalf of the lives of migrants, I offer my admiration and respect.

-Greg Hagenbuch

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Moral or a Human Law? Should There be a Difference?

Today, we walked to a human rights organization in downtown Tucson that advocates for border and immigrant communities. Their Policy Director is a Tohono O´odham and activist who advocates that everyone can contribute to ending human suffering on the border. If people know that others are dying in their backyard, they have a moral obligation to prevent these deaths.

The person we spoke with became an activist after acknowledging that around 50% of immigrant deaths occurred on the Tohono Nation, according maps of migrant deaths in the Sonoran desert created by a local humanitarian aid group. He asserts that, sadly, the vast number of immigrants dying make immigrant death seem natural. When people start seeing migrant death as a natural process, people do not do anything to prevent it. Before working for the organization we visited, our host was a Presbyterian minister on the Tohono O’odham Nation. During this time, he became frustrated when people from the community´s Church were not doing anything to prevent deaths happening around 5 miles away from their community. When he tried to challenge them, they, especially the elders, replied asking “why would you help people who are doing illegal activities, people who are criminals?” Our host replied “yes, legally immigrants without documents are breaking the law and because of this, you can argue they are doing a criminal activity. However, we have to accept this even if we do not like it and move on, the point is that people are dying outside.” Then he asked the elders “what is more important? A migration law or a moral law?” He tried to convince them by saying that we should all try to meet the moral and the law arguments in the middle to prevent more human suffering. 

After this, the speaker learned that, the same as the Government of Tohono Nation and the U.S. government, the people in his Church wanted to stay in the “safe position.” Then, he became and an O´odham activist by leaving water for immigrants crossing through the Nation´s territory as well as working with local organizations to fight for immigrant´s rights. He argues that his job as an activist stays faithful to culture, roots and O´odham´s tradition of hospitality and moral code. Unfortunately, the Government of the Tohono Nation complains about his work since they argue that the numbers of people dying in O’odham territory are exaggerated in many reports and that leaving water encourages people to use the Nation’s territory as a migration route. He says that the Nation police often confiscate the gallons of water he leaves in this territory. He used to have 4 water stations, 100 gallons each and all of them were confiscated. 

In October 21, 2011, the newspaper of the Tohono Nation, The Runner, Volume 18, Number 20, published an article in which the Nation Police and Pima County Council proved the percentage of immigrants´ deaths occurring within the Nation Territory. In this edition Sargent May says that “sometimes we have four to five (deaths) a week. Last year in 2010 there were a total of 125 immigrant deaths, and 63 of those were recorded in July.” Our speaker currently uses this article to defend himself of being accused of defamation. 

Our speaker acknowledges that the construction of the border wall was intentionally to move migration patterns to the Western desert, in the mountains and harsher climate conditions thinking these will reduce migrants crossing. However, as a result of this, the number of deaths increased. Even though, the Tohono Nation obtains money from the US Government, our host thinks that the Nation Council is afraid of risking that money by resisting the Border Patrol policies. He asked “if we hold Border Patrol for the deaths of immigrants, shouldn´t we also hold people in the O´odham Nation Government for not doing anything?” He also expressed his anger at other local humanitarian aid organizations for refusing to put water inside the O´odham Nation claiming that they do not want to break the tribe´s laws. And he asked how it is possible that one group calls themselves humanitarians but they allow the Nation to break moral laws? He called this moral hypocrisy. He also spoke about how easy it is for people to talk about the number of deaths without acknowledging that they are talking about people, people with families, people suffering, trying to cross the desert. 

When one of our classmates asked him how different violations of the Tribe´s laws and territories is modern colonization, he replied that this kind of concerns is part of “White Society Burdens” when some people focus too much on the things that have passed in the past and they do not allow themselves to act in the present. He said that it is important to acknowledge how Tohono O’odham territory is being occupied and destroyed and it is still not respected by the US government, however, this gives us no reason to avoid preventing deaths. 

And so! Me, as María Ramos, Earlham College student, student at BSP 2013, Spring semester, would like to ask, taking into consideration how privileged we are that we can even consider this question, is it valid argument to do not do anything to prevent human suffering in order to respect the boundaries of religious/cultures/nations spaces?

Much love,

María Ramos

Monday, April 1, 2013


This week we were lucky enough to meet with two representatives of U.N.I.D.O.S., Denise Rebeil and Gabriel Schivone. This group, United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies, is comprised of current high school students, alumni, and invested community members here in Tucson. The group was formed in response to HB2281, a policy banning Ethnic Studies throughout the state of Arizona.

Mexican American Studies existed peacefully for almost a decade, and Denise shared with us the warm memories and crucial insights that she attributes to her time in MAS. MAS was a series of classes that gave teachers an opportunity to communicate diverse perspectives on history and literature, as well as engage students in the process and discourse of social change and community involvement. She explained that the classes themselves were formatted to be particularly inclusive and stimulating, with everyone sitting in family-style circles. Some of the MAS classes opened with a poem by Luis Valdez. The poem is called "In Lak’ech," a Mayan phrase that is best translated to “You are my other me”. Students read books such as…

·      Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
·      500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, by Elizabeth Martinez
·      Message to Aztlán, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
·      Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by F Arturo
·      Rosales Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña
·      Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire
·      Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelows
·      The Tempest, by William Shakespeare

Through these lessons, Denise explained that she began to develop an analysis of systemic inequality that was pivotal for her and still propels her organizing today. She recalled specifically the realization that low-income students of color were being set up to fail. While their career fair was an opportunity to enroll in the military, wealthier students’ fairs were full of recruiters from prestigious colleges, even Harvard. Segregation in Tucson became conspicuous and unacceptable for MAS students. In addition to the program being a catalyst for analysis, it was also an enormous success in narrowing the achievement gap for underserved Chicano youth. According to district’s records, students in the program had higher test scores and graduated at nearly 90 percent rates. Gabe, a Chicano-Jewish student organizer, was not a participant in MAS. He spoke to us about his own upbringing in a mixed household, and his learned distaste for speaking Spanish. He expressed that this self-loathing process, referred to as indigenization, is widespread and powerful in Chicano and Latino youth. Gabe wishes that he had learned the love and respect for his culture that MAS encouraged, and sees much merit in the program for this reason.

Gabe and Denise traced the attack on Ethnic Studies back to 2006 when United Farm Workers organizer, Dolores Huerta, visited Tucson High School as a guest lecturer and made a comment about republicans “hating Latinos”. Tom Horne, then the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, was outraged. He sent a Latina employee to the high school to correct this grave misrepresentation. The students, silenced and offended by his cheap rebuttal, objected. During her address a group of MAS students silently raised their fists in protest, and eventually walked out.

This interaction sparked widespread condemnation and fear of the program amongst various Arizona legislatures and social conservatives. The program was accused of inciting the overthrow of the United States government, and breeding hostile forms of ethnic solidarity. Out of this paranoia, HB2281 (officially signed as ARS 15-112) was born. The policy was crafted on a state level, signed by Jan Brewer, and prohibited any curriculum that was designed for a particular ethnic group or encouraged ethnic solidarity or resentment. John Huppenthal, the current Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, had the MAS program reviewed under this new legislature. He had run for office on a platform of "stopping La Raza", and had every intention of keeping this promise.  Unfortunately, after lengthy review, his auditors did not find MAS to be out of compliance with ARS 15-112. The program was outlawed regardless.

In April 2011, the school board, in an attempt to comply with RS 15-112, was planning to vote to relegate the MAS core curriculum into electives. Gabe and Denise describe this moment as pivotal in their organizing. Just before the meeting started, nine young people stormed the boardroom. Struggling with security guards, the students successfully chained themselves to the boardmembers’ chairs and began to chant, “Our education is under attack—what do wedo? We fight back!” A gathering of supporters filled the boardroom, thesidewalk and both traffic lanes of the street outside. Denise recalls that this was the first time the students were really listened to. They demanded attention and the right to defend the programs they loved.

Denise and Gabe were kind enough to share with us their “Declaration of Intellectual Warriors”, a proposal they fashioned in partnership with allying groups, and are submitting in response to the TUSD Unitary Status Plan. The Unitary Status Plan was proposed to bring an end to the longstanding school desegregation case, Fisher, et al., Mendoza, et al. v. TUSD, CV 74-90 TUC DCB. The plan strives to provide equal educational opportunities to African American and Latino students, without the direct reinstitution of MAS. Denise and Gabe expressed concern that while these reforms would establish curriculum covering a range of histories and struggles, it was staunchly standardized, and would not enliven students in the same manner as the MAS program. The pedagogy had been oppressed, they joked.

Their demands include:

·      Restoration of Mexican American Studies
·      Expansion of Ethnic Studies
·      All Ethnic Studies as core English and core Social Studies classes, as opposed to Elective credits
·      Women’s Studies and LGBTQ Studies
·      K-8 Expansion
·      Multiple Directors (i.e., one representing Latino and one representing African American Studies)
·      Public Hiring of Directors
·      Community Decision-making Power
·      Each program director must have the ability to name her/his corresponding program
·      Capacity for new classes
·      Limited segregation of ELL (English Language Learners)
·      Duel Language Programs
·      Humiliation and demeaning disciplinary tactics must be prohibited
·      TUSD must not resort to police, Border Patrol, or Juvenile Hall as means of disciplinary action
·      Transportation
·      Equal Time in Class
·      No School Closures
·      Supervising the Implementation of the Unitary Status Plan

UNIDOS is fighting constantly to protect and expand EthnicStudies. They envision education that promotes diversity, justice, and equity, and they choose to frame education as a human right. They believe that truly relevant curriculum sheds light on the pervasive inequities within education, and stimulates social change. As a participant in the Border Studies Program I am honored to speak and work with these devoted and powerful young people. 

-Abby Beatty

Education Justice in Tucson

The teachers we heard from are disgusted. They have been fighting for the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in the Tucson Unified School District since 2006 when then superintendent Tom Horne identified the program as unworthy and destructive. The program, which we learned was founded in the 1990’s through a grassroots movement to address the needs of the local community, was supposedly teaching students the “overthrow of the US government” and “ethnic solidarity.” Despite students in the program getting better test scores and having higher graduation rates, Horne and his cohorts were successful in getting the program and its books—books like The Tempest and A People’s History of the United States—banned. The teachers we spoke with, along with their younger counterparts in UNIDOS, are part of the larger movement in Tucson for education justice. 

Education in Tucson, explained by the teachers we heard from, is incredibly unequal. With the recent announcement that 11 schools will be closed, it is more and more difficult for Mexican American students to compete. The schools being closed are disproportionately attended by Mexican American students, meaning that their commutes and class sizes are both about to increase significantly. There is clear segregation within the Tucson public schools, which rarely address the needs of Mexican American students. The MAS program addressed some of the inequalities and isolation, giving students a critical lens through which to view their own experiences. No matter what the student’s race or ethnicity, the MAS program encouraged reflection on one’s identity and asking hard questions about how society functions.
Now, however, teachers can’t ask those hard questions. They are being censored. While never truly abandoning their principles—“I will always teach critical thinking”—many now feel they must stick to teaching things that are safe. Before the ban, one of the activities they did in class was to show a documentary about experiences of cultural genocide among Native Americans in the US, and then reflect with the class on culture and what it means to have ones culture taken away with force. Now TUSD teachers must be more subtle, because this “subversive” information is considered anti-American, and is given no place in the classroom.

When sharing their classroom experience their frustration was tangible to me. The two of them are clearly bubbling over with energy for education, with enthusiasm to work with young people and help them become the best that they can be. Yet their energy, yet undying, is not valued by those in control of Tucson’s system of education. They are tired. They are let down. They are sickened. 

            And yet. Despite being confronted with racism and a complete disregard for the futures of incredibly intelligent and creative young people, they are not cynical. As one said at the conclusion of their presentation: “I don’t lose hope in human beings. If I did I wouldn’t be teaching.” 

-Rachel Winsberg 

Something I am For

“So often we know exactly what we are against, but how often do we actually know what we are for?”

A woman named Juanita, who would be one of our guides for the trip, said this to us on our first day in Xela, Guatemala.  She was discussing the work of DESGUA, the organization that hosted us for the first half of our travel seminar in Guatemala, and her words really hit me hard. I came down to Tucson this semester firmly convinced, as I am now, that there is extreme injustice on the border and that it was my responsibility to inform members of my own communities in the Pacific Northwest about the horrible reality of immigration policies. But when someone would ask me “well then what do you propose differently?” My momentum and passion would slow a bit, and I would carefully say that I think there are a lot of alternatives to the current system, that I wasn’t an expert on any of them, and while they were complicated they had to be better than our current system. 

Even after spending several weeks on the border and learning about border politics in an intimate setting, I still was unable to articulate a complete or passionate defense of what I know that I am for, as much as I could for what I am against.

Even after the first day of presentations, I knew, with a wonderful feeling of certainty, that I was—and am—for DESGUA. It is an incredible organization that, in their own words, seeks to restore “el sueno guatemalteco”, or The Guatemalan Dream. This is meant as a direct alternative to the American Dream, as an attempt to restore dignity and purpose to life within Guatemala so that no one feels they have to travel North in search of a better life. 

We learned about some of the difficulties Guatemalans face upon their return to their home country. Many return with skills that they learned while working in the United States that they are unable to put to use in Guatemala, such as certain specialties like Thai cooking. They are also both familial and cultural reintegration problems with returned migrants who no longer identify with the community they emigrated from. Unfortunately, these conditions make it so that many migrants will decide to return to the U.S. after trying and failing to reintegrate. DESGUA seeks to restore in Guatemala opportunities for una vida digna through initiatives that provide alternative economies like Café Red, where returned migrants work and bring the knowledge and experience they had in the U.S. into an incredible culinary experience that our group was lucky enough to be treated to.

A lot of this program has been me unlearning and complicating everything I know. For example, African Palm is a tree that is grown in Guatemala and is used to make biofuel, a product that is being increasingly used in the US as "clean alternative" fuel. However, the production of African Palm (a non-native species) is actually wrecking havoc on the Guatemalan ecosystem because of how ecologically exhaustive the process is. The US, and other countries of the Global North pay countries like Guatemala to produce African Palm, but not enough to do it in a clean manner. The production of African Palm in Guatemala often ends up producing more greenhouse gases than coal or oil production. It all makes me think about the "greening" of the so-called "first world" at the expense of the "third world" and what actions we take to increase our own (imagined) quality of life without paying attention to who and how it affects. I find myself questioning more and more other practices that are thought to be a cure-all and who is excluded or harmed by it, even if I am seemingly benefited.

At the end of our time in Guatemala, we visited two small farming communities, La Florda and Santa Anita. In both places we were shown incredible generosity and hospitality. In La Florida, we split up into small groups and had dinner with families, and also had the opportunity to be part of a Mayan ceremony, an experience that I think I will never forget. During our “work day” all of us worked on different projects around the finca, from planting banana trees and harvesting cacao to helping build a house. 

We ended our time with DESGUA with a talk that discussed the difference between charity and solidarity. Charity is static, one-way and often one-time. While it may make the person who does a charitable act feel good about what they have done, it does little to enact lasting or significant change. In addressing symptoms instead of causes, it can actually cause dependence instead of independence, and fails to empower those who are receiving the charity. Solidarity is consensual (meaning that those on the receiving end have full awareness and agency in the process) and is also mutually beneficial. Instead of boosting our own self-image as a helper, acting in solidarity actually enacts positive change for the receiving community. Furthermore, it is long-term and requires commitment, instead of a one-time donation or volunteer stint. As such, it is more difficult. But it addresses the root causes of an issue and in doing so seeks to make a lasting impact. I was proud to witness the work of DESGUA because it acts as a wonderful model of solidarity and effective change within Guatemalan communities, and something I can definitely, finally, say that I am for.

-Keiler Beers

CIDECI and Zapatismo

After many lectures and charlas with DESGUA and Julio Cesar, we finally arrived at the last leg of our trip. Week three began for us in San Cristobal de Las Casas, a city located in central Chiapas and only a few hours away from San Caralampio. The transition between places was pretty extreme. Just that morning we had been talking with the ejido farm workers in San Caralampio and suddenly we were at a fancy hotel with cushy beds and Internet in the touristy city of San Cristobal. Of our experiences during our last week of traveling, I'd most like to talk about our visit to the Centro Indigena de Capacitacion Integral (CIDECI) and our visit to the Zapatista caracol of the Morelia buen gobierno. The rest of the week we had a lot of free time to explore and get giardia.

Centro Indigena de Capacitacion Integral (CIDECI)

CIDECI is a school with a philosophy of communal learning that is geared towards supporting community sustainability. Students come to CIDECI from all over Chiapas to study what they choose without financial cost. The different vocations are Health, Weaving, Painting, Ceramics, Music, Baking, Computer Science, Agriculture, Carpentry, Blacksmithing, Auto-Mechanics, and Printing. Students come to CIDECI from their various communities and the idea is that they bring the skills they learn back.

In solidarity with the Zapatista movement, CIDECI educates individuals not so that they can guard their skills as specialists but so that they can share their new skills with their home communities. I asked Julio Cesar to clarify the intention to not have specialists and he answered me with the example of the Zapatista health care system. Instead of training doctors to be financially dependent on their trained specialty, community doctors spread their knowledge to their patients. When we go to the doctor in the United States, we tell him or her our symptoms and they proscribe us medicine. When a student of CIDECI goes to health services, they describe their symptoms and the doctor teaches them how to collect or cultivate the medicine that they need to cure their ailment. 

It was not clear how much CIDECI depended on outside funding, but it was clear that the students' vocations did a lot to keep the place running. Each of their studies was put to use at the school (including construction of the buildings, welding of the window frames, cooking meals, growing food and decorating the campus). Visiting CIDECI was an amazing opportunity for us to see alternative forms of education and alternative economics at work.

Zapatista Caracol Morelia

Before visiting the caracol Morelia, we sat down with Julio Cesar to discuss the history of Zapatismo and the development of the caracols. For those who don't know or need a refresher, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) is a revolutionary group of mostly indigenous peoples centered in Chiapas that erupted in response the modern continuation of colonial exploitation and indigenous repression. The Zapatistas proclaim thirteen demands: land, labor, work, bread, education, health, shelter, communication, culture, independence, democracy, liberty, and peace. Their Struggle for the realization of indigenous rights has manifested in the creation of autonomous Zapatista communities within the state of Chiapas. Below is a map that roughly estimates the land under Zapatista control. The boundaries of these communities may be intentionally unclear but what is clear is that there are hundreds of thousands of people qho call themselves Zapatista in the state of Chiapas. 

The EZLN was formed in 1983 by three indigenas and three mestizos, including the well known Subcomandante Marcos. Throughout the first decade of the movement, the EZLN built a following in indigenous communities as well as an army 3,000 strong. On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement was put into action and in response the EZLN occupied six cities. The Mexican military reacted violently and fighting continued for twelve days. Amidst peace negotiations, the Zapatistas formed a base which they called "Aguascalientes" and later that year declared 38 autonomous indigenous municipalities. As the Zapatista movement continued to struggle and grow, four more Aguascalientes were built.

In 2003, the Aguascalientes were reformed into caracoles, meaning both spiral and snail in Spanish. The caracoles were created in order to make a formal distinction between Zapatista civilians, government, and army so that the communities might be more protected against military violence. The Mexican military cannot now justify the killing of innocent and nonviolent civilians under the claim that they are part of the armed rebel forces. Each of the five caracoles host the Zapatista buen gobierno during the time that they serve their terms. It was the caracol Morelia that we were able to visit.

We arrived at Morelia and gathered together to decide upon a handful of questions to submit to the Morelia buen gobierno before our meeting. It is standard that any questions for the government must be submitted in advance so that the members of the government can discuss and decide upon the most appropriate answers. After a half hour of discussing questions amongst ourselves, we entered a meeting room with the members of the Morelia buen gobierno. When we first walked in, the air was thick and partially because of the initial formality of the situation, we could all feel the tension. Very slowly, we went around and spelled our names for their records and answered where we were from and our organizational affiliation. It took a really long time and there was lots of writing in between each answer for each person. We were told that in other years, students had to pass in their passports for the time that they were at the caracol.

After we gave them  our questions we ate lunch and played basketball for what felt like many hours. It turned out that our questions weren't as clear as we had meant them to be so the buen gobierno didn't get to answer most of them. They did tell us about their systems of government, education, economy, and health. The government of the Morelia caracol represents three municipalities and within each municipality there are distinct pueblo communities. On these three levels (pueblo, municipal, and buen gobierno), there are representatives who serve in government positions for up to five years. The governments role is to carry out the projects proposed and demanded by the pueblo. The buen gobierno divides itself into three committees: education, health, and production.

 The Zapatista educational system is based on the idea of combining theory with practice and with a focus on development of communities rather than individuals. In each municipality, students attend school for a month and then return home to implement their new skills and knowledge in their pueblos for half a month. Once they are finished with their schooling, they will work in collectives, working together so that their communities may continue to be self sufficient and self sustaining.
By the time we left the office of the buen gobierno we were all very tired, especially after playing basketball for so long, so we slept very deeply (except those of us feeling the first effects of giardia...). The next day we took a tour to one of the municipal schools and had the opportunity to talk to the students there. The students stood in strict rows as we lined up sloppily in front of them. We told the students about the migrant experience that we've been learning about, particularly the challenging parts. Since, even in Zapatista communities, youth is exposed to a certain about of mainstream culture and propaganda, it seemed important (at least to the adults we were with) that the students understand the struggles and hardships that migrants face when they come to the United States. 

We then walked to the health facilities of the municipality which was also part of an ejido. There we learned about the system of free health care and spreading of health knowledge that is so lacking in the United States. Three promotoras de salud greeted us and told us about their own health care system as we told them about ours. After this exchange we headed back to the caracol, packed up our things and drove back to San Cristóbal. 

-Hendrix Berry

Julio Cesar

   “But every little difference may become a big one if it is insisted on “(Lenin,1904).

The Blog
One the most difficult parts for me since we got back from our travel seminar is to phrase and try to translate what meant the travel seminar and try to explain all the stories, the charlas, the people, the memories, the frustrations and what is next. Of course, as we were gone for 3 weeks so different people inquired about the trip: my boss, my mom, my hermanos, friends etc etc. Every single time I try to express and explain the trip I feel I do not justify at all the intensity and meanings that I want to transmit, to portray. Therefore, while asked to write to this blog I have been facing similar issues. Because I do defend the whole experience was made by different things and different people and leaving anything out is a crime and perhaps even disrespectful to the stories and to the people that took the time to talk to us. One should not choose parts of the experience, everyone should go and make up their meaning and not listen to folks like me but of course that is not that easy and then I must choose and must select parts of it. 

Thank you all
 I ask permission and apologize for not portraying all that I would like and I am solemnly speaking about what is my mind and heart. So first I would like thank you all the faces and stories that we encountered during the travel seminar. The travel seminar probably will be not forgotten easily. It were days of wonder, days of deep breath in order to look for strengths to persist, to move forward. To where? I am not sure but we got take this walk. A lot of what I learn from those folks is to stand straight, and keep your heads up without falling, perhaps shaking but never falling down. I am here to salute each of you individually for the courage and guts to stand for what you believe. I am proud to feel the militancy in the movements that we met during trip. I am honored to get a share of this passion for fighting to what we believe to be the right. I am astonished to have talked to some of the members of such different movements and see their desire for change, even in days of defeat. I am more than convinced that the struggle must persist. Therefore, I want to salute those faces that have the courage to be the voice that never silences, that have the guts to voice against the ruling normative, the ones that do not give up under any circumstance. I am here to say firmly with my heart and mind: persist and fight. You are on the right way. Your voice has been making noisy and has already promoted changes. Defeats today or tomorrow are just partial, it is just a sign that we must go further and try harder.

Compa Julio Cesar
I am a believer that all single pieces when they come together they make up the story . One may have preference for this or that but like poetry every single word matter and is the whole structure that make it meaningful. Even the parts that one may disagree or dislike are powerful part of the whole.
I would like to express my admiration to companero Julio Cesar. Which, I am pretty sure that he wouldn't be very content knowing that I am writing a post just about him. That is exactly where my interest in Julio Cesar lies. This “self-made” person where it is all about the group, the community the other, to serve and not be served. Even the simplest fact of using more “we” than “I”. For me, writing about him is about writing about someone that best define what I understand by a beautiful person.
Julio Cesar, as he introduced himself, is chauffeur by profession and that how his relation to our program started off some year ago. Apart from being an excellent driver, that does not make use of gps by the way, he is a powerful person that guided us magically throughout our experience in Chiapas, Mexico. Coincidentally, we drive exactly the same type of van. I am a fleet manager at Earlham College and shared that with him. This was how my bonding with this intriguing compa started off. 

I remember sitting in the lobby of our hotel and Julio introduced himself. He spoke so beautifully, in such way making us so comfortable. He said so many times “I am just a chauffeur” but a chauffeur that he was there to share some of  his world. And, what a world.
I cannot possible try summarize who I understand Julio is. But I do think he is a poet, his speaks with his heart and he taught us about Zapatismo, about time, about speaking with your heart and believe me also about life-whatever this means. 

With Zapatismo, I think he dismantled a lot of misconceptions about the movement. He truly remedied a lot of the questions in my mind about the struggle. I think he mainly made a powerful case in how the Zapatismo was an answer to years and years of structured and embodied physical, emotional, economical and social violence. His words illuminated for me why the necessity to take on guns. I cannot understand the desperation that companeros y companeros were in to do that, but now I deeply respect that courage and it is a little more clear for me what means an armed resistance.
About time, it is something that has been stuck in my mind. I have wondered hours and hours about the idea of time. As he told us the caracol(which is also the name for the Zapatista headquarters)  used to be the fasted animal in the world. He was so fast that his job was to delivery messages to different communities. But one day while in his way to delivery another message el mundo cambió, and suddenly the caracol was considered the slowest. But is the caracol too slow or is the world that is going too fast without control? 

Julio provided us a lot of charlas, many things to think about and also for me and hopefully to the whole group a lot of esperanza. He sounded very hopeful and he transmitted a lot of that. He is lucid and coherent that the roads ahead of us are not clear, sometimes dangerous, sometimes misleading. But the road is there as he said waiting para ser caminada. Si nosotros caminamos juntos, tomo como cierto, nosotros vamos lejos.

Well. that was Julio Cesar for me. A poet, inspiring, knowledgeable and I couldn’t forget to mention the most beautiful dad. I don't plan to be dad but you know, people change, life changes. I got tell you if I can be half of a father that he is my child will be a luck kid.

P.S. I forgot to mention Riley Merline our director and Julio Cesar have a great relationship. I can totally picture their kids playing together in San Caralampio while they are talking about life.

Here a extract from a letter written by Julio Cesar in November of 2012 that he gave me to guard and share with Border Studies. His own words will enlighten what I tried to express in this post.

Gracias Marcos
“ Para todos y todas las y los jovenes corazones que en estes dias nos permitieron  caminar a su lado. Gracias por mostrarnos el color de sus sorrisas!!”



Esperando que te encuentres bien, te compartimos un poco de nuestra realidad y pensamientos sobre Chiapas y sobre nuestro Mexico, como bien sabes hoy es muy dificil poder llegar a los sentimientos de las personas, todas y todos estamos viviendo este mundo que no elegimos, este mundo lleno de injusticias, cegueras y sorderas, este mundo que parece insensible, pero vien sabes que tambien no es asi, es mentira que no hay sentimientos en la gente, lo que pasa es que estamos vivendo un mundo lleno de mentiras y enganos y no cuadra porque no es el mundo que queremos, lo que vivimos no es, no coincide con los informes y con los datos oficiales, es decir, todas las noticias que escuchamos, hablando de cosas buenas, lo que dicen los medios oficiales, la Tv. La radio, loes Periodicos y los anuncios pagados en los menos peor, no pareciera que nadie se da cuenta, pero algo si es seguro, no importa a quien preguntes, a nadie nos gusta lo que estamos viviendo, es decir todas nos damos cuenta, pero no sabemos que hacer [...]

La gente parece cansada, creo que la energia se nos va en tratar de convencernos a nosostros mismos de que manana sera mejor, claro![...]

Mero bien lo sabes Compa, que cuando nos dirigimos a los corazones es para provocarlos, es para despertarlos, es porque sabemos que ahi mero vive la dignidad y ella mantiena la esperanza.

Es el Corazon que nos mantiene de pie, son los Corazones que empujan la rebeldia en contra de las injusticias y las mentiras.

Ya para terminar compa, me gustaria saber como esta tu Corazon?
Que siente? Esta contento? Esta conforme?

Piensalo bien Compa, ya lo sabes que aqui estamos y esperamos una tu respusta, pa saber si me escuchaste, solo tu decides que hacer y sera respetado! [...]" "Compa" by Julio Cesar Nov/2012.

-Marcos Ramos