Running in the War Years

As a community, Tucson is readying to take part in scholarship run/walk for Consuelo Aguilar on April 3, 2011. It’s purpose: to bring about cancer awareness. When she passed on to spirit world in Feb. 2009, she was the heart and soul of our Arizona community, an integral part of Raza Studies-TUSD, both at the K-12 level and at the University of Arizona. She was also at the heart of defending Raza Studies and fighting for the dignity of all human beings.

To raise cancer awareness was her last wish. But the story about why we are running for her goes back several years.

Two summers ago, as a community, several hundred of us gathered at 5am in front of the Tucson Unified School District headquarters. From there, we walked across the city to Joaquin Murrieta Park, then about 50-60 of us ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115-degree heat. We did it in an incredibly hostile environment – not the desert, but the political climate – in defense of Ethnic Studies.

That run, led by three ceremonial staffs, was powerful and transformative. One of the staffs, is dedicated to Consuelo. The day we arrived at the capital, we won, though the sponsor of the anti-Ethnic Studies bill vowed to kill Ethnic Studies the following year. While we were able to jump in and out of support vehicles, we had the knowledge that it is the same desert that over the past several years has claimed thousands of migrants attempting to cross the border.

Despite that reality, that run brought us a victory and transformed our community. Jacob Robles, a Raza Studies alumni, comments: “To this day, the experience is very difficult to sum up in words. It all changed when I realized that us running was more of a prayer and an offering than a protest.”

Pricila Rodriguez, a Tucson High and Raza Studies alumni, who is featured in the forthcoming Precious Knowledge documentary that chronicles this struggle, also took part in the run. About the sensation she felt when she ran, she says: “It was as if my ancestors (Tarahumara) were running through me.”

Since that summer, we have come to understand the moral power of running. This we’ve done as a community under siege; we are often in court for students whose families are being separated by the migra. For those of us that aren’t being deported, we seem to be welcome to stay… as long as we shed our culture, history, language and identity.

Since that run, we’ve marched, rallied, have staged vigils and walked from one end of the city to the other (organized by high school students) to protest the continued frontal assaults against our communities. Most of our runs are ceremonial runs. They are not races. We run with staffs and the slowest runner sets the pace. Our runners range from pre-schoolers to elders. We run not against anyone, but to strengthen ourselves and our communities.

Also since that summer, we’ve had runs to create awareness regarding the devastating effects of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and domestic violence in our communities.

We’ve also had a series of runs to defend Ethnic Studies. The overall purpose of the runs is to uplift the physical and spiritual health of our communities. That is why as a community, we are now running for Consuelo.

Sean Arce, director of Tucson’s besieged Mexican American Studies program says that “the run is a way to collectively remember her. It is to remember her work of cultural affirmation, creation and social justice.”

Leilani Clark, a student at Pima Community College, who was told as a child that she would never run again, partakes in our ceremonial runs. She says: “Consuelo left a huge legacy behind in our community for the short time she was here on this earth in physical form. She left us countless waves of positive energy, inspiration and dreams.”

Clark adds: “For Indigenous peoples, running is prayer, it is motion and movement. It is energy channeled into the earth through our footsteps… We’ve always carried our prayers on our runs.”

Why do we run? Because we abhor injustice, but love humanity.

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, took part in the Tucson to Phoenix run in 2009 and runs regularly on the Teoxicalli barrio runs. He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com




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