Photo courtesy of Cynthia T. Renteria
Yesterday I stood at the border fence that divides El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juárez watching the birds glide back and forth above it, drawn to the puddles of water in what once a raging Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. Against the backdrop of the desert sunset, they looked graceful as they flew effortlessly between the United States and Mexico, transcending the ugly man-made fence. The fence was built here in 2008 under the Obama administration. The Democrats agreed to build a taller border fence because the Republicans agreed to consider broader immigration reforms if the administration agreed to stricter border enforcement.... so the ugly fence was built between our cities that have been one community in myriad ways for most of our history. Our economies are tied together. Our culture. We have family members on both sides.
My former student, Gus, used to tell me that when the fence was being built, it sounded like it was crying as the desert winds blew through it. I've always remembered that image of the fence crying. Our current mayor, our local Trumpish millionaire, calls it a "freedom fence" and talks about immigrants as riff-raff.
These were my thoughts yesterday as Movimiento Cosecha and their supporters gathered to talk about the 11 million migrants in the United States without status in this country. As the border action got underway, with the backdrop of the fence and a Border Patrol car parked watching the river behind it, we heard the testimonies of the organizers who volunteer full-time to work for respect, dignity, and permanent protection for the millions of migrants living in the United States. The oldest organizer is 25. It is a movement led by young people fighting not just for themselves but for their parents, the original dreamers who came to this country with hopes for a better life. They fight for the 11 million who work in the fields, in construction, in meat packing, and kitchens.
The demand for respect and dignity was highlighted this week when The Albuquerque Journal published this racist cartoon portraying Dreamers as criminals. Under national public pressure they issued an apology.
Movimiento Cosecha emerged in 2015, choosing the word "Cosecha" (harvest) to honor "the long tradition of farmworker organizing and the present-day pain of the thousands of undocumented workers whose labor continues to feed the country." The Movimiento is non-violent and uses non-cooperation "to leverage the power of immigrant labor and consumption and force a meaningful shift in public opinion." You can read more about them here.
The testimonies yesterday included the story of Jose Luis and his family, Zapotecos from Oaxaca who migrated to Florida. The migration of Indigenous people has been growing in recent years but it is a movement of people across this continent that predates the fence and the border by millennia. We heard from Nancy whose family came from Chihuahua. We heard from Cat who grew up in New Jersey. Others shared their stories. Supporters included artists, community organizers, professors, students, and other community members who support the work of Movimiento Cosecha because we all want a more just nation and a more just world.
Mid-way through the action, organizers clipped three huge banners to the border fence. "Dream without walls-- Aquí los sueños no conocen fronteras" the message announced. I thought about my family who crossed the border without papers in 1914 and their dreams of finding work and a peaceful life. I thought about the Mr. Avila, a former Bracero who I interviewed recently. Now in his 80s, he talked about coming to the US, suffering as he worked under harsh conditions in the fields but the hopes he held for his family. "Me, I can be anywhere. But my family, here," he told me.
Through their fearlessness in the face of ever-growing threats, despite the efforts of politicians to use them as bargaining chips, and in spite of the racist rhetoric that has found a safe place within our country since the election of Trump, Movimiento Cosecha and the mostly young organizers nourish those dreams. Respect. Dignity, Permanent protection.
If you would like to support Movimiento Cosecha, go here.