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Dreams, Courage and Footsteps

(Photo: DEQ / Flickr)

How do you begin when there appears to be no beginning? My own memory goes back 7,000 years, symbolically and metaphorically, to the origins – to the creation – of maiz. But even that was not the beginning, although it is helpful in understanding the following stories.

Yet, how do you understand that which is often incomprehensible – the meaning of life, freedom, sovereignty, memory or dreams?

In March of 2006, Hopi runners went into Mexico from northern Arizona and ran all the way to Mexico City – Tenochtitlan to deliver a message regarding the importance and sacredness of water to the World Water Forum. They then continued on to Teotihuacan – dancing there for the first time in 500 years – then on to several other sacred sites, including the volcanoes in Puebla, where El Popo spewed while they danced. They then went on to Temoaya, the ceremonial grounds of the Otomie, where they also connected with Otomie and Incaica relatives.

When it was time to return to Hopi land, there was a problem. They had crossed into the land of Quetzalcoatl without passports or visas. Despite that, they boarded their plane and returned safely home.

Amid high tension, intense security and frequent terror alerts, how did they get through? Forget the details; the point is, in the end, they managed to board their flights and return across a militarized international border simply with their Hopi identification cards. Deep down, government officials of both countries understood that the sovereignty of the Hopi trumped and superseded the European-imposed borders of their modern nation-state sovereignties.

It is highly likely that US State Department officials are continuing to scratch their heads over that one.

Similarly, the world has just witnessed something that will take years for people to comprehend; the case of the Dream 9. After having lived virtually their entire lives in the United States, three Dream students (Lulu Martinez-Valdez, Marco Saavedra and Lizbeth Mateo Jimenez) went back into Mexico, picked up six more Dream students (Claudia Amaro, Adriana Gil Diaz, Mario Felix Garcia, Luis Leon-Lopez, Maria Peniche-Vargas and Ceferino Santiago) and walked back into the United States via Nogales, Arizona.

They had all originally been brought into this country without documents, as infants or small children. They crossed the border with the intention of proving that because they essentially knew no country other than the United States, they had the human right to cross back into the United States without penalty or criminalization. They walked in carrying a letter petitioning for humanitarian parole. They were quickly taken into custody and sent to a private detention center in Eloy, Arizona, where they remained for 17 days. After they were released on parole – not done – the very next evening, risking the revocation of their parole, they returned to Eloy and staged a vigil and protest in front of the very same detention facility.

That is the definition of, and embodiment of, undocumented and unafraid.

So what happened behind the closed doors in Eloy for those 17 days? The dreamers organized en masse. And many of the detainees joined the Dreamers in their protest. The protests inside included hunger strikes – which landed some of the Dream 9 in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, on the outside, a massive mobilization took place on a nationwide scale – pressuring law enforcement and government officials, including President Obama, to release the 9 Dreamers. They were finally released because it was determined that they had a “reasonable fear of persecution or torture” in Mexico. That’s legalese. The reality is that the administration found itself in a bind. Nine young students, all raised in this country, embodying the best this nation has to offer, could not remain locked up, nor could they be sent back. It was inconceivable that the administration would permit such a public human rights crisis on its watch, particularly if something were to happen to them inside a private detention facility. But what about the administration’s right-flank? Isn’t the president supposed to be showing the world that he’s tough on “undocumented” immigrants? To get right-wing support for his comprehensive immigration reform bill, he has deported close to 2 million people, earning him the nickname of “deporter-in-chief.” How would the right-wing feel if these Dreamers were released? The release, according to the right-wing, would mean the flaunting of US sovereignty. What was the administration to do?

The last thing the administration wanted was to create a precedent. The Dreamers are not out of the woods yet in a legal sense. They have to argue their case for asylum before an immigration court, which may take several years. By then, the political stance they took may become moot, depending on whatever law Congress passes and the president signs in the realm of immigration “reform.”

Regardless. What these brave nine individuals have done is challenge an inhumane and outdated policy that prevents them from working or studying in this country as a result of a decision that they themselves did not make. And yet, the decision by their parents to bring them into this country was heroic; it is not criminal to simply attempt to feed your children and seek a better life. Never has that been considered criminal in the history of humanity. That has been the norm, rather than the exception.

What precedent has been set here? The Dreamers managed to do something similar to the Hopi, crossing back into the United States without US papers. Not coincidentally, three of the dreamers themselves identify as indigenous (the others are likely indigenous also, but don’t necessarily identify as such). However their actions are interpreted, what they did was unthinkable; amid fierce anti-immigrant sentiments, they took this unprecedented action, but in the process, possibly turned the tide on this debate.

It is likely that their historic actions probably will not be fully understood or appreciated for years to come.

Independent of any law, they have demonstrated that the needs of human beings, particularly those individuals who have roots here for thousands of years, must take precedence over artificial imposed laws and borders. When these laws are inadequate or cease being relevant, they must change, as opposed to criminalizing people for simply wanting to eat.

Here’s another story: A 2005 documentary Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan – We Are One (Rodriguez-Gonzales), shows an elder, Maestra Angelbertha Cobb from the Sierra de Puebla, Mexico (south of Mexico City), speaking about a trip she made to Hopi land years before. During a ceremony, she became aware that she could understand the Hopi, apparently from her native Nahuatl language. At the time, I predicted it would take at least 10 years for scholars to figure out how they were able to speak to and comprehend each other. To this day, scholars have yet to figure it out.

This documentary was part of the highly acclaimed curriculum of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Department, the same one that was dismantled in 2012 for being “outside of Western Civilization.”

All these stories are connected. And all these stories are alive as they continue to be written, sometimes by brave youths and elders who often leave beautiful footsteps in our mountains, rivers and deserts. Sometimes, those footsteps stop dead in the middle of the desert.

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