Viejo Cara de Hacha


I was in 8th grade, roughly 14 years old.  I lived in San Ysidro, a border town on the U.S./Mexican border.  We moved a lot, but the one thing that had stayed constant in my life was the school I attended.  So when my grandmother, Tita Carmen, finally received approval for low-income housing, we found ourselves in a little apartment in San Ysidro, about 13 miles away, and an hour-and-a-half on public transportation from my school. Every morning, I woke up before the morning star cast its arms across the sky and boarded the trolley no later than 4:45  in order to arrive to school before the bell rang at 7:30.

There were many men that rode the trolley during that time, mostly construction workers and day laborers or men who worked at the naval shipyard. There were also students who woke up earlier than me, who came from Tijuana and went to school on this side of the border, chasing the American dream. Most morning, my Tita walked me to the trolley station, but some morning, the cold made her bones swell up. I got lots of stares, a few cat calls and whistles here and there, but most of the time, I didn’t pay attention and focused on finishing my school work.  Until one day, an older man, whom I perceived to be around fifty or sixty years old, started to harass me.  He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I was like a birthday gift that he couldn’t wait to unwrap.  His eyes glazed over with lustful craving, he’d lurk around the trolley station making sure he was always a few feet away from me.  He’d make noises like psst, psst to catch my attention, and when he’d catch my eye, he’d lick his lips or make some kind of nod with his head.

He started to creep me out enough that I told my Tita about him.  So the very next day, my grandmother accompanied me, but told me to stay a few feet in front of her and to pretend that we weren’t together.  As we anticipated, the old man was waiting for me and began his perverse behavior toward me.  When the trolley arrived, I got on as I always did, but I wasn’t sure where my Tita had gone.  I sat down and as soon as the doors closed, I heard a loud commotion a few seats behind me.  That’s when I saw my grandmother with her cane whacking the shit out of the old man! People all around watched as if frozen onto their seats.  At first I turned back around and pretended not to know what was happening.  I could hear my Tita screaming profanities in spanish. “Pinche viejo cara de Hacha!  Porque no se mete con viejas come yo?  O que, estoy muy vieja, por eso le gustan las muchachitas!  Pinche limon chupado! I was scared for my Tita, but more scared for the man.  He had his hands up in the air, trying to block every blow, screaming, “Ya, senora! No mas!”

A passenger stood up and tried to stop my grandmother, telling her to calm down because she could hyperventilate.  But he was no match for her fierce anger and strength.  So a couple more passengers pulled her off from the old man, and with commanding, sweet language helped her to have a seat, as she loudly justified why the old man deserved to get the shit beat out of him.

He got off at the next stop. So did my Tita.  I don’t know what else happened, and she never talked about it, except to ask me once in a while if I had seen him again.  But I never saw that man, and no one at that station or on the trolley, not so much as looked at me.  That day, my Tita taught me that all women have a roaring tiger inside.  And that it was okay to let him out.


*Viejo Cara de Hacha – old man with a face shaped like an ax

I. Am. Afraid. of Cities.


I am afraid of cities,

all jagged and hard,

blades of concrete

leaving dreams

mutilated and scarred.


Where concrete legos scrape

the sky

only to show us

our place is where

the asphalt lies.


I am afraid of cities

where trees turn into

light posts and

sky into peep holes

reminding us God

once existed.


Where walls turn

into labyrinths,

keeping us confused

and distorted,

and silence is drowned

by sounds that rumble,

and honk and pierce, 

unnaturally persistent.


I am afraid of cities where

street lights distract us from


from the stars,

and the stem

of a crack pipe

is more familiar than

the stem of a rose.


Where women are asphyxiated

by back alley blow jobs,

and the earth

cracks the sidewalks open

for some air.


I am afraid of cities,

with their paper work 

and forms, long lines

and waiting rooms,

cubicles and punch-in 

clocks, rubber stamps

and guards that loom.


I am afraid of cities,

financial corrals

where humanity lives for

paychecks, and money

is always scarce. 


Where life is erased

by calculated numbers,

law and order is more sacred

than people,

and time rubs us



But I am more afraid

of living afraid, 

so I plant my bare feet,

solid, on the ground,

let the sun rays shine

sturdy, on my face and

catch the wind as it whispers,

“You matter.”







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.


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.


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.



To Know Forgiveness

I have had the wonderful opportunity to facilitate forgiveness and restorative practice workshops through the Tariq Khamisa Foundation and learn from various groups of middle school students for a year now.  While I am greatly impacted by all the students I get to work with, this past session, a young man who I will refer to as Omar, had a very profound impact on my work and me.  From the onset of the workshops, Omar was resistant to the idea of non-violence and using restorative practices.  He pushed me to analyze and think more deeply about what it means to be committed to non-violence, not just in the ideological sense, but in the everyday world filled with violences, oppression, and injustice that we live in.  He said his father taught him that if someone came at him, he was not only to defend himself, but give the person a “beat down”; it would teach that person not to ever mess with Omar again.

“Effective non-violence is not about putting the right person in power, but awakening the right kind of power in people.” -Metta Center for Non-Violence 

I remembered my grandmother telling me about a group of girls who bullied my mom when she was in upper elementary school.  These girls were always ambushing my  mom in the bathroom taking her lunch money, her lunch or whatever they could take from her.  My grandmother brought the issue up in school to no avail.  Finally after weeks of attending school in fear, my grandmother had my mother meet up with the girls who were bullying her, and in very forward terms told my mother she either had to kick their ass or my grandmother would kick my mother’s ass.   So, against a fence near the school, my mother, as terrifying as it might have been, fought those girls with my grandmother cheering her on.  Those girls never bullied my mother again.  My grandmother had survived two abusive marriages, and fighting back was one of the ways she learned to defend herself when she was the target of violence, especially during a time and culture in which police very seldomly protected a woman from an abusive husband.

Omar was speaking a philosophy that had been spoken and taught in my family.  I also understood that in neighborhoods ridden with poverty, gangs, drugs, and all sorts of other violence there was a different code for survival, especially in the streets.  Who was I to dismiss his father; to dismiss what Omar had learned from his father and his own experiences to survive.  I grew up in neighborhoods where understanding and abiding by the law of the streets was what kept me safe.  I didn’t know what Omar’s environment was like nor what he had to do to ensure his safety and survival.  Restorative practice takes community effort and while an individual can commit to this kind of work, it is only within a committed community that the work can sustainably change behavior and thought patterns entrenched in violence.  Omar was being guided by his father’s own experiences of safety and survival and whether I agreed with his perspective or not, I had to tread lightly for I wasn’t their to diminish the bond that existed between Omar and his father; the minute it sounded like I was saying his father was wrong, that is exactly what Omar would perceive.

My approach with Omar wasn’t to tell him that the only option was non-violent action, so instead it was about looking at consequences and ripple effects of violence.  It was about teaching him problem-solving skills and what it meant to be intentional and mindful about his actions.  In this context, whatever action he chose to take in the future, he would do so understanding the potential consequences, stand with conviction, and take responsibility rather than feel ashamed or dishonored.  In other words, I was teaching him how to act and behave with dignity.  Our decisions should be made with conviction rather than simply from a place of reaction, which allows us to have ownership over the decisions we make in our lives, leaving us feeling empowered rather than helpless.

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim-letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
―C.R. Strahan 

Toward the second half of the workshop series, I started to notice a shift in Omar.  He began to describe scenarios and ask what would restorative practices look like in those situations.  On one particular day, when we were discussing forgiveness, he asked what would happen if he forgave someone who kept doing the same harm over and over again? I responded that forgiveness was a process for him to let go of the pain and anger that enslaved him to the person that caused the violence & harm, but it did not mean he was accepting the person’s behavior, and it certainly didn’t mean he had to have a relationship with the person nor accept him/her in his life.  We can forgive someone and still choose to never engage that person ever again.  He also stated in a questioning manner, “But if you don’t stand up for yourself, people will think they can keep messing with you.” I told him that he was absolutely right.  I went on to give him examples of people around the world that had and were using non-violent resistance to fight for their rights and dignity.  The reality is we aren’t always going to engage with people who are interested in restorative practices or justice, though that doesn’t mean we have to necessarily revert to violence. I also explained that we weren’t always going to engage with people who were sorry for the harm they caused us, but in order to be liberated from our pain we would have to find a way to forgive.

It takes a greater commitment to resist and fight back without violence.  I also exposed very complex historical examples of folks like Martin Luther King whose work was based on a philosophy of non-violence, but who had body guards who carried guns for protection. Dr. King was a nonviolent man, but even he understood the realities of self-defense and protecting his home and his family in the face of life-threatening violence, especially after his home was bombed, though many experts say that by the 1960s he abandoned the idea of weapons for self-defense.  I also talked about Harriet Tubman who carried a gun for protection and told the very slaves she was helping to escape that she would kill them before allowing them to go back.  She knew if they went back, they would be tortured and would compromise the work of the Underground Railroad.

Another students then responded, “yeah, but how are we supposed to be non-violent when everyone around us is violent,” to which Omar nodded his head.  In a world in which achievement, performance, competition and acquisition take precedence over integrity, honesty, compassion, collaboration and community the worst is brought out in all of us, unless we are taught to intentionally approach life in a different way. When all around us exploitation and dominance of our labor, bodies and minds is occurring, we grow up angry, and we grow up thinking “I’m going to get you before you get me.” The how becomes one of the most important questions to ask and continue to ask  ourselves as we embark on and commit to non-violence as a way of life.

“So how do I fix myself,” Omar asked hesitantly.  I knew how difficult and courageous this moment was for him; he was breaking away from the philosophy his father, the man he looked up to and admired,  had instilled in him and taken the first step to explore what forgiveness and restorative practice might look like in his life.  Of course, the first thing I told him was how important it was not to see himself as needing to be fixed, for he wasn’t broken, and there were so many beautiful things to celebrate about him.  When we feel better, we do better, and this is why we use our strengths to overcome our challenges.  I ultimately wanted him and the rest of the students to understand that none of this is easy, and that we are all bound to make mistakes and be backed into circumstances where violence might feel like the only choice. However, learning alternative ways to violence through skills and strategies and working with a community of people committed to non-violence empowers us to continue to explore and discover restorative practices that lead to forgiveness and healing.  And so, the second half of the workshop series we spent a lot of time focusing on skills, tools, and strategies.

Forgiveness can be a very difficult and complicated process, especially when the violence and harm are connected to deep systemic trajectories of dehumanization. Forgiveness is a process, and though there is so much I have learned about this process, I know, within the broader spectrum of society’s ills, I have so much more to learn. The students, though young, had some very profound discussions and never ceased to move me and challenge me to go deeper into my understanding of it, especially as I embark in understanding how to embrace forgiveness and restorative, non-violent practices in the work of resisting and confronting destructive power.

Watching these students discuss, reflect on, and own the process of forgiveness within the context of their own lives and experiences was a beautiful opportunity. While concepts of compassion, nonviolence, and restorative practice and justice become messy when the violence that is perpetrated is so horrific and generational, and when the perpetrators do not acknowledge the violence and harm, it is my hope that the strategies and skills the students have learned will allow them to be more aware of how to deal with conflict, navigate the pain, and ultimate take ownership of their healing.

“We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of non-violence. ”  -Mahatma Gandhi 

The students will continue to do work both in their school and community as peacemakers and facilitators of restorative practices. If they engage in the work now, they will be prepared for the difficult work when they become adults. Practicing forgiveness not only changes the karmic path of one’s life, but it also has tremendous neurological and biological benefits for those who are able to release the emotional and psychological trauma associated with the violence. If we engage our children at an early age to practice forgiveness and restorative processes, we are giving them a greater chance of peace.

“Giving and forgiving are matters of the heart. The more magnanimity we evolve in our hearts, the easier it is for us to give and forgive. The more we give and forgive, the more enriched our lives become, widening our circles to include not only those who we give, but also those who we forgive

Giving includes not just charitable gifts or material objects, or donating food and clothing. It is giving when we give of ourselves, our time, our service, our knowledge, even our organs; expanding our love and friendship in the spirit of advancing our humanity. Giving need not be a response of pity or sympathy, of helping the “poor” or the “needy.” It can be an exercise in building empathy and gratitude, opening our hearts, supporting a cause – a journey toward self-fulfilment and joy.

Forgiving or seeking forgiveness, though related to giving, is a much more challenging task than giving. It requires giving of one’s anger and ego so as to accept and embrace those we think have harmed us in some way. It is an exercise in utmost humility that enables us to seek forgiveness of any intended or unintended mistakes in any form. It is a process not based on forgetting the wrong or the harm done, but rather on remembering it so as to learn from it to not repeat it. Like giving, forgiveness too is ultimately good for the self.”

From the Ahimsa Center, Non-Violence in Thought and Action.



Laboring for the American Dream


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.


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.


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:



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:

“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.


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