Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)II

Here are photos from yesterday’s Border Angels desert water drop. “Since 1994, more than 11,000 sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died from dehydration in their attempt to across our increasingly militarized border. Our water helps reduce the 500+ deaths every year.”

These water drops save lives and bring attention to this humanitarian crisis.

Jesus

The back of the Border Angels’ shirt reads: Who would Jesus deport?

These experiences allow me to reaffirm my role and purpose in how I serve as well as provide deeper conviction for my solidarity and work in education and social justice. Each time I participate in a water drop, I have the opportunity to hear new stories of the courageous and tragic plight of so many immigrants. Each story is different, but they all represent the unwavering human spirit of survival, strength, hope, and the determination and perseverance to obtain a better life.

On this most recent experience I had the honor to meet a father and son who were experiencing the desert water drop for the first time. The father, Luis, crossed through difficult border terrain six times with his mother starting from the early age of six. Desperate for access to quality health care and for a second chance for her son’s life, his mother decided to make the treacherous journey with Luis and her 18 year old son suffering form leukemia. The doctors in Mexico had given her son a month to live. Under the care of a compassionate and determined doctor from the UCLA Medical Center, her 18 year old son went on to live 16 more years.

Luis recalls walking all night with his mother and brother in the silent, darkness of the night; the only sound was the crumbling of the earth under their feet and the sound of their breath puncturing the suffocating stillness. He wasn’t scared, his mother told him everything would be okay, and he felt safe with her. It isn’t until now that he can recognize the extraordinary feat his mother was leading and how vulnerable his safety was on those treks.

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, on of the most venomous creatures in the area. These creatures hid under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book, “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, head aches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown, “Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines – you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimsom.”

Maybe more difficult than the dangers faced in the desert, is the separation of family. Luis’ father was a migrant farmworker who left his homeland to work in the fields of the United States when Luis was too little to remember. Unlike his older siblings, Luis has very little memories of his father, who spent most of Luis’ life working in the fields. It was a beautiful sight to see the juxtaposition between Luis’ experience with his father and his relationship with his son, Ricardo. Luis told me he had been wanting to get involved in this type of volunteer work for a while now, but was hesitant because of the wounds it would open, so when his son told him he wanted to do this as part of his community service project for school, Luis realized that in order to support his son, he would have to confront his pain. In seeing their relationship, there was no doubt in my mind that when we listen and follow our hearts, our children come to help us heal and teach us profound lessons.

There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for my daughter. There is nothing immigrants are doing when they come through the desert and traverse that border that I wouldn’t do in their circumstances to give my daughter and family a better life. We have a humanitarian crisis in our backyard and we need to join in solidarity with our migrant brother and sisters.

The story of immigration doesn’t just start with the deemed illegal crossing of thousands of people looking for a better life. If you want to understand the problem of immigration, you need to understand who profits from it, not just who suffers. Forced immigration begins with trade agreements, demand for cheap labor, privatization of natural resources, land-grabbing, maquiladoras (sweatshops) run by multi-nationals, the war on drugs, and mafias like the IMF International Monetary Fund creating debt greater than the moral responsibility we have to people’s well-being. You see, this is the very definition of structural violence – the erasure of parts of history in order to criminalize the victims of exploitation and dehumanization. It is through the work of organizations like the Border Angels that we bring light to the narratives that are erased, and begin to humanize the people that have become invisible.

16waterdrop8:2016

Dehumanization creates hate. Vigilante groups and some border patrol agents have been known to slash the water jugs left for the migrants.  Nineteen slashed water jugs were counted between the volunteers yesterday.  For every slashed jug, five more were left in its place.  As Jonathan, one of the volunteer coordinators for Border Angels stated in similar words, we can only fight death by saving a life.  “Be a sweet melody in the great orchestration, instead of a discordant note. The medicine this sick world needs is love. Hatred must be replaced by love, and fear by faith that love will prevail.” – Peace Pilgrim.

 

 

Laboring for the American Dream

Daylaborer

Photo by Maria Cristina Malo

On Saturday I participated in the Day Laborer Outreach event that Border Angels coordinates once a month. We headed out around 10:30 with food, drinks, snacks, and several flyers with information varying from health services to legal services and general information about the workers’ rights.

Immigrant day laborers make up 0.2 percent of the workforce in the State of California, or 40,000 workers – 120,000 nationally. About 80 percent of day laborers are undocumented (California Economic Policy, 2007). They typically begin to gather at corners and sidewalks close to auto parts stores, home improvement stores, and gas stations at 5:00 am. They stand there waiting for hours hoping to be able to obtain a day’s worth of work. Many stand there for hours not having eaten, “ni si quiera un café o un pedaso de pan.” Not even a cup of coffee or a piece of bread. After noon, those still standing around hoping for a few hours of work begin to feel frustrated and anxious, even desperate for they cannot afford to go a day without work, especially if they’ve already missed out on several days of work.

Many of the workers live day-to-day and the job opportunities are unpredictable, leaving them to face extreme job insecurity and volatile monthly earnings, which means they can’t really plan for a stable future when they don’t even know if they’ll make enough money to pay their rent this month, or eat. A day laborer would have to work every day of the month to earn approximately $2,000 dollars, and of course this doesn’t account for wage theft and non-productive seasons. On average, day laborers work 2-3 days a week, with annual earnings that rarely exceed $15,000 a year.

As I talk to Manuel about his rights and organizations he can go to for support, he continues to scan the street and the Home Depot parking lot across the way for any potential solicits by contractors. He tries to be respectful and listen attentively to what I have to say, but there is an underlying restlessness that comes with hustling for work.

Imagine the anxiety of being taken to different work sites everyday, not sure what kind of people you will encounter; whether you’ll experience humiliation, harassment, or threats of being deported at the end of the day. You show up to unfamiliar places, again and again, in hopes of obtaining a day’s work, competing with 20 other men as you approach the next truck, begging for work and knowing that an opportunity for you is a day’s loss of work for your comrade. Imagine being at work sites where you don’t know anyone, and you don’t even speak the language to ask for a glass of water. You work through the day not knowing when the day’s work will end, not knowing when, if at all, you’ll be offered something to eat. These conditions can be emotionally traumatizing, causing degrading feelings of self-worth compiled by the anti-immigrant sentiments of this country.

Manuel has been working as a day laborer for almost twenty years. Statistics show that some 42% of day laborers have been living in the United States for more than 20 years. While they wish to find more stable employment, many are unable do to undocumented status, lack of jobs, and lack of English or job skills. For Manuel, it has been a dream to one day obtain his contractor license and build a small business. He is in the process of “legalizing” his status and is excited about improving his English; I could tell when I saw a glimmer in his eyes as he continued to scan the cars that passed by.

day-laborers

Photo from The Linesch Firm Article Archives

Don Victor talked about his hometown, Toluca, approximately two hours away from Mexico City, with nostalgia and longing. He described the snow-capped volcano, Nevado de Toluca or Xinantécatl, which sits as the backdrop of the city, thinking about not having seen his family in over 15 years.   I wondered what fueled his motivation to continue to do such arduous work, separated from those he loves, and isolated in a country where being an immigrant and not speaking English is considered a crime. I would have asked him, except, in the middle of our conversation, he took a phone call, which seemed to be a job lead.

Then I met Don Sergio, a spunky, feisty older gentleman. He’d been doing this day-laborer hustle for over 25 years. He talked about being able to travel back and forth to Mexico and described all the places he had visited, like a real connoisseur of his country. But mostly he talked about the importance of getting an education, making sure we were all learning a skill to get ahead and not have to do hard labor for the rest of our lives. “Especialmente las nuevas generaciones.” Especially the younger generations.

Moments before, one of the Border Angel volunteers had been harassed by a man who asked her why she was “out here helping these illegal aliens.” He was very aggressive and proceeded to say Trump would win before leaving. He also asked the coordinator, “Why are you helping them – you’re White?” The volunteer was quite shaken up, and Don Sergio, who had witnessed the interaction, began to tell her that she needed to stand up for herself and not let people take advantage of her or push her around. He then went on to entertain us by giving accounts of times when contractors tried to intimidate him with insults such as, “Facken Mexican,” or “Estuped Alien” and he’d respond by saying, “No, fack you gringo, I no facken Mexican.”

He reminded me so much of my grandmother who toiled the fields along the central valley of California for over 14 years, and by the time she became elderly, had resolved to not take crap from anyone.   She never learned to speak or write in English, but learning the fundamental cuss words like “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction, like it seemed to give Don Sergio as his chest and shoulders expanded and his spine erected tall.

Ninety-five percent of immigrant day laborers have reported suffering a violation. Seventy percent report their jobs to be unsafe or hazardous. They aren’t properly safety-trained, they don’t have any worker’s  compensation or even health insurance, so any accident at work will force them to run with the expenses, especially if they are undocumented, as they don’t have access to healthcare services. If thy die, there is no one to pay or to be held responsible. Day laborers and farmworkers are the folks that work under the harshest and most extreme conditions, but even then, they accept what they do in hopes of a better life.

Waiting_for_Work_Home_Depot6

Photo by Robin Rep

Wage abuse and theft is one of the biggest issues immigrant day laborers have to contend with. Often heard of are stories in which day laborers are not only not paid, but rather than being driven back to their pick-up location, the contractors will call ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to deport the workers.

These men are invisible and have very little to no recourse. They don’t know how to get services or who to turn to for advice and protection from predator contractors, and this is what makes this population so vulnerable. This is why the day laborer outreach work that Border Angels does is so imperative to protect the human rights of these workers.

The workers are financially insecure and because of their desperate need for money, will take almost any job at any wage. For many of them “something is better than nothing.” Workers are willing to toil doing the most undesirable jobs and rarely complain or argue, conditions under which most Americans would not work. The workers disappear at the end of the job; there is no HR hassle, no earned sick leave or vacation, no worker’s comp, no minimum wage to abide by or over-time regulations. Day laborers are easy to acquire, easy to get rid of, and easy to replace.

The laborer in the video below recounts of a time when a woman who took him to lay down a concrete slab offered him a job. He figured she’d pay him $100 for the day, which is a bargain for this type of work.

If you’ve ever laid down cement, you will know it is vary arduous work. If the area has not been prepped, this may entail clearing out grass, rocks, shrubs, and even old concrete, which takes a tremendous amount of physical strength and energy. Then there is evening out the area, filling in the area with stones as the subbase, laying down rebar, and preparing a wooden perimeter. As if all this work isn’t already taxing, mixing cement in itself is very physically demanding, even with a mixer, as you have to be able to lift the gravel, sand, and cement into the mixer, which can mean carrying anywhere from 50 to 100 pound loads, pouring the mix into a wheelbarrow, and wheeling it at a fast pace – all of this requires very heavy lifting.

He’d been working all morning and by mid-day he asked the woman if she had any water or food he could have, to which she asked him if he had any money to purchase those items. Forty-four percent of day laborers reported being denied food, water, and breaks while on the job (Center for the Study of Urban Poverty). At the end of the workday, she only paid him $40 dollars.

Ninety-five percent of migrant day laborers have suffered some kind of labor rights violation. Sporadic job opportunities, humiliating treatment, wage abuse and theft, and no one to turn to for protection, can leave many of these workers feeling lonely and like failures, many times going home feeling defeated and hopeless not knowing when they will rise above these oppressive circumstances.

At the day laborer soliciting spot we visited, I got the opportunity to meet a couple of guys from Cuba who had just arrived in San Diego three weeks before.  They have no family nor friends here, and they cited other workers as the source of information about day labor jobs.  One of the young men had a degree in psychology and was a therapist earning $30 a month back in Cuba.   This wasn’t even allowing him and his family to scrape by, so he made the difficult decision to leave his country.  He said he wasn’t sure how much better life would be here, but he owed it to his family to try.

Immigrants come here in hopes of finding a better life, one lived with dignity and pride. Those who make the perilous trek across hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles facing violence, hunger, and even death, do so because it is their last chance of survival. They don’t come here envisioning to stand on corners searching for job opportunities under precarious conditions and suffering through the type of domination and exploitation many of the day laborers experience.  But they do so because they have grit and an indomitable spirit of determination.

 

Sources and further readings:

http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/cep/EP_707AGEP.pdf

http://portlandvoz.org/wp-content/uploads/images/2009/04/national-study.pdf?phpMyAdmin=tYpXiWIhU6y6sfBbX4R7xljPl3e

https://nacla.org/article/immigrant-day-laborers-myths-and-realities

http://www.popcenter.org/problems/day_labor_sites/pdfs/valenzuela_1999.pdf

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2752800

 

 

Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)

The work of the Border Angels (Angeles de La Frontera) is driven by the following words: “When I was hungry, who gave me to eat? – When I was thirsty, who gave me to drink?” (Matthew 25:35). They operate from an uncompromising core spiritual belief that all people must be treated and received with humanity and compassion.  One of their missions is to reduce the number of deaths of the immigrants crossing into the United States through the dangerous and almost inhospitable desert terrain along the Californian border.

Over 11,000 immigrants have died since the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border began in 1994.  Every summer, more migrants die on this border than the entire history of the Berlin Wall.  Border Angels leads water drops in which volunteers hike into the desert to strategically place gallons of water for migrants making the treacherous journey into the United States. This water can be the difference between life and death for many adults and children crossing.  There are many vigilante groups that slash these water containers, but there are many more angels that continue to protect and fight for the most vulnerable.

Continue reading after photo mosaic.

 

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, one of the most venomous creatures in the area.  These creatures hide under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be a brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown,” Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines — you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: Blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimson.”

It’s a painful, horrific way to die, yet many immigrants understand it’s a necessary risk to escape the violence, poverty, and injustices back home.  One of the volunteers I walked with, I’ll call her Socorro, is a 23 year old woman whose mother crossed the border when she was eight months pregnant with her.  I asked her what had made her mom take such a risk, to which she responded, “The risk of dying with me in the desert was worth the life of misery we were escaping.”  Socorro said the first time her mother attempted to cross the border, a border patrol vehicle had been stocking the area in which her and another woman, who was approximately 5o feet away, were walking.  They’d prowl, sometimes turning the vehicle’s lights off and then unexpectedly turning them back on.  She serpentined between shrubs and gullies trying to avoid being caught.  The woman in front of her was detained and raped by border patrol officers.  She could hear her struggle as she swerved in the dirt and made groaning and whimpering sounds.  Socorro’s mom recalls this event as one of the most powerless moments she has experienced in her life.  She stood there still as the night with every cell in her body wanting to jump out and stop the rape, but there was another life in her she was more obligated to protect.

Another volunteer talked about her brother being lost in the desert for three days after the group he was crossing with had scattered to avoid being caught by border patrol agents.  I’ll call her Daniela.  Her brother was deported when he was 17 years old and wanting to reunite with his parents and siblings in the United States, made the perilous journey through the desert.  Approximately 2 days into the trek, Daniela’s brother and another migrant became separated from the group and went on to roam through the desert for three days without sufficient food or water.  After three days of fear and uncertainty, Daniela’s brother and the man he was with were picked up by border patrol in a state of confusion and exhaustion.  Relieved, they told one of the agents their biggest fear had been not finding their way out.  The agent smirked and told them it had only been three days.

In case you are wondering why people don’t just apply to come to United States legally and wait in line like “law abiding” citizens, here is a link you may want to read:  http://g92.org/find-answers/process/

“We can tell people to wait their turn in line, but, for example, for a Mexican (or a Guatemalan, a Filipino, a Pole, or any other country) who does not have a college degree and has no close relatives who are U.S. citizens or green card-holders, there is almost certainly no line for them to wait in: without reform to the legal system, they will not be able to migrate “the legal way” to the U.S., not if they wait ten years, not if they wait fifty years”

Immigration is a human right.  Humans have been migrating from the beginning of our existence.  Most people who make the trek to leave their homeland, family and friends do so because there is no other option for their survival.  Most do so with a broken heart and heavy spirit.  In their circumstances, escaping their conditions, there isn’t anything different those who have the fortune to have been born on this side of the border would do to give their families a better life.

 

 

 

La Linea (The Border)

“La Linea” they call it – bars of steel

built to disrupt the natural order of migration.

There are no borders for politicians,

corporations, or narcos. Not for the

grey whales migrating from the Beaufort Sea

to the warm waters of Baja California.

Not for the Monarch Butterfly’s 2,500 mile

journey from Michoacan over the Great Lakes.

Only for the poor, the people with

skin like dusty, sun-baked clay.

.

We are born with dreams in our hearts,

looking for a better life for our families.

We make the trek to the country of dreams,

where the opportunities are vast and possible.

With hearts as heavy as our hunger and

as fearful as the incessant violence, we

kiss our children goodbye, imprinting their

faces in the softest part of our memories,

recording their voices into the sounds of our breath,

the only sounds that will puncture the suffocating

stillness of the desert whose unforgiving peaks

and valleys we attempt to conquer.

..

We leave for the country where streets

are paved with gold, hard work leads to

success, and education is the pathway to freedom.

Our expectations are high: back home

they talked about steady, abundant work,

about being able to save money to build a house

and start a little business for our family.

Not long after we get to the land of dreams,

we find ourselves toiling the fields for three

dollars an hour, working as dishwashers in

fancy restaurants where we can’t afford

a meal, competing with each other on

a corner for a day’s work like hungry ants.

.

We pay our life savings to the coyote, and

sometimes we pay with our lives, lured by

naïve expectations to 2,000 border-miles

of decomposed aspirations and desires.

“La Linea” they call it, an infected gash,

ripping lineages apart, disregarding cultures,

traditions and stories once told in the mother tongue.

T-shirts and tennis-shoes strewn about like

wilted wild flowers are a reminder of the

forgotten ghosts still wandering the parched sea,

trying to find their way home one last time.

.

We come here to escape government corruption,

officials taking our land because we don’t have

the right deed; to escape trade agreements pricing

out our crops and our labor, where the cost

of a coke is cheaper than “un kilo de tortillas”;

to escape the blood-drenched streets from

a war on drugs with endless consumption.

But it’s no different here. Just more insidious.

We’re slaves of the land our ancestors once owned.

and our spirits fade like the promise of a better life.

.

We walk in silence through the desert, talking

makes our mouths dryer. The crumbling of the earth

under our feet alerts us to the bones left behind

as a fine for dreaming and desiring more. The sun

lacerates our neck, face and arms like whipping flares.

The moon stings with cold, numbing our bones deep

into our remembrance of a place once familiar.

There’s fear in our eyes, but we don’t acknowledge it.

We simply glance at each other with brooding eyes,

praying for ”them bones, them bones, them dry bones.”

.

Some of us will make it to the other side, “al otro lado,”

with grit in our hands and determination in our feet.

Some will die in this merciless landscape with

no last name, no history, no DNA, to show we were

once here. Some of us will go on living, but slowly

die of heartache and disappointment, drinking away

the bitterness, stagnant in our throats. Some of us will

have a new dream, to go back, just one more time,

it will be the only thing that keeps us alive in this new

world made of competition, acquisition, and status.

.

With the help of volunteers, Border Angels leaves dozens of gallon jugs of water in the desert along high-traffic migrant paths. Why? Since 1994, more than 10,000 sons and daughter, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died from dehydration in their attempt to across our increasingly militarized border. Our water helps reduce the 475 plus deaths every year, that is at least one death per day. This past Saturday I was honored to volunteer for a desert water drop. I got a more intimate view of the life and death struggles that my brothers and sisters must overcome to escape hunger, state, narco, and gang violence, and to reunite with loved ones.

One of the most poignant and heart-breaking stories told to me during our water drop was of a 5 year old boy traveling with 19 men including his dad.  The little boy kept asking the men for water, but he was only met with head shakes.  The boy was the last to die, taking his last breath next to his father, who along with the 18 other men had already died.  This trip was not only about saving lives, it was also a powerful opportunity to invigorate me to continue the fight against borders, against policies that put profit over people, and laws that criminalize people who are simply doing what we would do in their shoes.

 

For more information about border angels visit: www.borderangels.org/

For Further Reading:

http://prospect.org/article/ghosts-rio-grande

http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/02/10/3617896/dehydration-scorpions-vigilantes-really-like-cross-border/

 

 

 

Where I’m From (My Version)

Driving through the winding street lined with multi-story homes, tall pine trees, and manicured lawns, on my way to Point Loma High School, I am a bused-in student making my daily trek to a school worlds apart from the place I come from.  A feeling of alienation, of estrangement comes over me.   I don’t know if the students with skin the color of earth are wanted, or even noticed.  I wonder if, like me, they feel inferior as they are confronted by a world that knows nothing about them.  Not inferior because we are different, but inferior because the bridge to cross is only one-way.

IF YOU WANT TO BE SOMEBODY YOU MUST COME HERE.

Every day, the trek cuts deeper into my self worth.  Reminding me that where I’m from is not a desired place to visit.  I think about what we leave behind, hidden, when we cross that imaginary bridge.   A part of me, concealed like the basements in the multi-story homes.  Gaucamole, chipotle, burritos and sombreros.  Those are things you know about me, but they are not the whole me.  Why is it easier to acknowledge those things, and deny that I AM a part of you.

HOW CAN YOU SEE ME AS SOMEBODY WHEN I AM INCOMPLETE TO YOU?

Whose story is told?  Whose story is heard?  The danger of a single story, an incomplete story, is that it creates stereotypes – incomplete portrayals of a person’s living experience – and robs people of their dignity.

Where I’m from the grass is parched,

blades of dreams grow from earth

so scabbed it can’t feel its roots.

.

Where I’m from sowthistle and prickly lettuce

break through concrete to catch desire

in a ray of sunlight.

.

I am from café con leche

with buttered bolillo

so early in the morning

you can hear the silence of God.

.

I am from frijoles and tortillas

from long lines and waiting,

from oil-stained driveways

and broken down cars.

.

Where I’m from family extends

like the limbs of the majestic oak,

and songs arouse memories of

of cornfields and agave nectar.

.

I’m from Corridos and Boleros,

from Marimba and Jaranas,

from my grandmother’s wails

for a land whose syllables

she never relinquished.

.

I am from eyes that cautiously wait

for a day’s work at corners,

where hope for a better life

totters on the capitalist horizon.

.

Where I’m from the border is 2,000 miles

of decomposed aspirations and desires,

the precipice of human will

deceived by a mirage.

 

Where I’m from letters with serrated edges

embellish chipped painted walls,

proclaiming – I AM Somebody!

.

I am from hands stuccoed with masa,

the hustling  entrepreneur

who sells tamales from her van

or pushes his carrito de paletas

in an illusive street economy.

.

I’m from mi cielito lindo, mi vida, y

mi corazón.

From the Salinas circuit of

lung-filling pesticides,

the arthritis that seeped into

my grandmother’s bones like

the frosted dew in the toiled soil.

.

I AM from the warmth of the Temazcal,

The might of the limestone mountains

who guard the central deserts.

From vanilla dreams of copal awakening

jaguar spirit within.

.

I am from the moment of courage

my grandmothers had when they

left their abusive husbands.

From the 12 hour work shifts

followed by laundry loads and

piles of dishes yearning for attention.

From Ojalá and Si Dio Quiere.

.

I am from the little voice in my

ancestral  tree whispering,

Si Se Puede.

Inspired by conversations with youth, my experiences, and the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.