This year I was really behind on writing out my goals for 2010. I normally don’t wait weeks into the new year to set my resolutions, but at the end of 2009 was chaotic for me. I was in Rome in December in crazy cold weather that made my bones hurt (I'm a Cali girl), I was down because of some wacky matters of the heart, the jet lag from traveling had me confused and delirious. Christmas was bleh and I was just having one of those unproductive periods. On December 26th, thanks to an odd turn of events, I adopted the task to go scope out the terrain for Presente's next campaign. Besides being an artist, I am also the co-founder of Presente.org, a national online organizing network dedicated to the political empowerment of Latinos. I have invested my time into Presente because I view the internet as a powerful tool of us to share our stories and to mobilize people, similar to what I believe art can do.
On Dec 28th, I hopped on a plane to Florida to meet four inspirational students who began a journey for justice, a walk of over 1,500 miles from Miami to DC they call the Trail of DREAMs. Each of them is committed to making the personal sacrifice required to demonstrate their deep desire and need for complete citizenship. Three of the four walkers are undocumented. While they helped elect a president in 2008 that appeared to be committed to immigration reform, neither Congress nor the Obama administration has done enough to ease the suffering of the millions of immigrants in this country who live in the shadows because of a failed immigration system. (Photo above: Carlos Roa, one of the walkers)
They explained, "The Trail of DREAMs demonstrates our willingness to make serious sacrifices and risk our future because our present- living in a state of oppression and exploitation - is unbearable."
These youth are starting a movement and are risking their well being walking through the often racist, Deep South to spark a national dialogue and force policy makers to act on behalf of immigrants and their families. I was so moved by their warmth and courage to take on this enormous task, but I was also blessed to be there as they prepared for their long journey. It really helped me understand why I do the work I do.In the week leading up their departure, I spent 24/7 with Gaby, Juan, Carlos, and Felipe plus their whole crew in Florida, including Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. During those 16 hour work days, we had the chance to share our politics and talk about how we organize in our communities. We enjoyed a great New Year dinner and I even got to watch them as they said goodbye to their loved ones and embarked on the 4 month journey. (Photo left to right: Juan, Carlos, Felipe & Gaby)
I shared with them about how I came into organizing. I came out of the Youth Organizing movement in the mid 90s and it completely changed my life and formed the activist I am today. Growing up in East Oakland, I was going down some self-destructive paths and I internalized much of the anger I felt at watching our people get mistreated by the system - would see my sisters get pregnant, my brothers fail out of school and go in and out of juvi. But I eventually found a way to address that anger when I was looped into Youth Organizing. In my teens, I developed a vocabulary and political consciousness to talk about immigrant rights and to speak out against the violence in my community. At 31, I am no longer at youth, but I try to be an ally to young people in my art, words, and actions. (Photo above: Carlos, myself, and Gaby)Youth have been marginalized and have placed the battle against interlocking systems of oppression at the center of their Movement. I still feel rooted in the Youth Movement because of my connection, but also because of its organizing principles that place women, queer folks, and people of color in positions of power. The Walkers on the Trail of Dreams also challenge patriarchy, heteronormativity, and xenophobia. They acknowledge their own privileges and support each other’s leadership.
I am now fully engrossed in the campaign and I think of my compañeros in Florida every day. I am not a mother, but I feel like my nourishing-nurturing-mama side comes out hardcore! I think about their well being every night, if they are warm, if their immune system is healthy, if their shoes are comfortable, if they are eating right.
I'm here and ready to stand with them. I will be in Florida next week to join them. WALK WITH US!