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Running for Justice

In Arizona, we know that the eyes of the world are upon us.

Perhaps this is why many of us hold vigils and forums, why we march, protest, rally, get arrested… and run.

In the past several years, the Sonora desert has become a super magnet for the forces of hate, bigotry, ignorance, false patriotism, censorship demagoguery and especially, scapegoatery – or the art of blaming Mexicans for everything. So too has it become a magnet for those who struggle for peace, dignity, justice and human rights.

I am a newcomer to the desert and as such, I marvel at the amount of activism all around me, especially by youths. Actually, activism is not the right word for what I have been witnessing here for the past 3 years. Commitment is a better word. The level of commitment to social justice and for the right to a relevant education has been affirming. What is daily affirmed is the belief that all human beings are created equal and all are entitled to full human rights, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, citizenship or migration status.

All this has occurred as a result of a relentless campaign against the red-brown peoples of this state – whether they have been here for many thousands of years or if they just got here today. The racial profiling that everyone fears has always existed all along the U.S.-Mexico border, so much so that Cesar Chavez used to refer to the migra or the U.S. Border Patrol as the “Gestapo of the Mexican people.”

That’s the reason for the relentless pushback against the state’s SB 1070 law. It seeks to federalize local police – giving them the “rights” that the migra has long exercised against the red-brown peoples they have always illegally and inhumanely profiled. In Tucson where I live, the pushback has been against both SB 1070, and HB 2281, the effort to ban ethnic studies.

What’s most impressive about the resistance is that it has been waged largely by K-16 students. That’s not too minimize the role of community organizers and community elders; quite the contrary. It is precisely this sector, led by groups such as Derechos Humanos, that has trained and essentially grown these young activists and organizers.

One group that rarely is recognized by the media – and the group likes it this way – is Calpolli Teoxicalli – a family of families that live Indigenous ways and who live by a sacred calendar. The Calpolli in Tucson or Tlamanalco as they refer to the Old Pueblo – has been present the past several years at virtually all the events and/or actions in regards to these assaults, albeit with a different role.

A passerby might see them as either simply those that lead the opening or closing prayers at events or those that provide the cultural expression (Aztec Dancing). But that would be to fundamentally misunderstand their role. While I am not a member of this Calpolli, I do take part in their runs – ceremonial runs and barrio runs. All the runs are spiritual and are not done in response to the actions of others, though they are indeed done with an awareness of all the negative forces – external and internal – that continually beset our communities.

We run for ourselves and those closest to us. We do the runs to help heal our communities – whether it is from diseases such as drugs and alcohol or gang and domestic violence – or from the diseases of hate and bigotry. A summer run last year included one from Tucson to Phoenix to defeat an attempt to eliminate Raza Studies statewide while another one was done as an effort to bring consciousness to our communities regarding the sky-high high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The barrio/ceremonial runs are connected to the Peace and Dignity Journeys that take place every four years from Alaska and Chile to Central America. They are part of an Indigenous prophecy that seeks to unite Pacha Mama – Abya Yalla or North and South America.

The early morning barrio runs have a powerful effect, especially upon onlookers when they see the ceremonial staffs we run with. Onlookers might think that this is how we protest in Tucson, but we run not for the media nor for or against politicians. As the youngsters say, we speak with our feet and our feet do leave huellas or footprints.

In a few months, there will be a run to bring about cancer awareness – part of a dream of one of our young leaders – Consuelo Aguilar – who passed away a year-and a half ago in the heat of battle at the age of 27. That run will mark the second anniversary of her death in February and we expect our entire community to be there. She too will be there. Presente!

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com.

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