Encuentro Report Back

Community power and resistance is converging in Arizona!

Hundreds of migrants, students, members of religious communities, veterans, and human rights activists gathered on Friday evening outside of the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona to call for the release of the incarcerated migrants, for an end to profiteering of human suffering, and for justice for all.

crowd of vigilers with candles outside Eloy Detention Center at night

outside Eloy Detention Center, photo by Steven Pavey

Speakers addressed the connection between US militarization in Latin America and forced migration to the United States, and described the horrors of living inside detention centers like private, for-profit CCA-run Eloy.

“To those of you who don’t vote, who don’t change these laws, you are allowing children to die here inside places like Eloy,” spoke Berta Avila, a woman who was detained while pregnant, denied medical care, and who lost her child in detention.

Following the moving speakers and songs of resistance, after the sun had set, the crowd processed closer to the detention center with candles and instruments. Inmates, who had organized on the inside, greeted those gathered on the outside by waving pieces of cloth and turning the lights in their cells on and off, while the crowd outside created a wall of sound, chanting, drumming and singing.

In the first day of activities in the Nogales, Sonora side of the border, people came together from all across the Americas. Deported Veterans, the dance group Abya Ayala, migrant aid workers Las Patronas, the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, Brothers on the Road, Border Patrol Victims Network and frontline communities in resistance demonstrated that the war has not been able to separate all our struggles.

Ana Enamorado holding a picture of her son, disappeared in Mexico

Ana Enamorado

The border is an open wound that we can only close with everyone’s help. Activities like this remind us that more than a region, we are a people injured but not defeated. We are a wounded but honorable people,” commented Ana Enamorado, member of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, who began her struggle after the disappearance of her son, Honduran national Óscar Antonio López Enamorado, in 2010 in Mexico.

The Encuentro continued on Saturday, October 8, with concurrent veteran-led marches on both sides of the border. In Arizona, the march began at the Hotel Americana, and Son del Centro were among the vibrant musicians to kick us off.  Each march led to the US/Mexico border wall, and a group of marchers crossed from the US to Mexico, denouncing borders, racist deportations, and the School of the Americas. Together, on each side of the border wall, we held a rally with many speakers and musicians.

Shena Gutierrez spoke from the stage about the struggle to hold Customs and Border Protection agents accountable. In 2011, Shena’s husband, José Gutierrez, was brutally beaten by CBP agents near a port of entry in Southern Arizona. Since this tragedy, which her husband survived, Shena has become a spokesperson for border communities and victims of border patrol abuse, and inspires and educates border communities about their rights.

Also on Saturday, all day in Tucson, Frente X held a plenary, workshops and breakout groups for people of color (POC), re-imagining mutual solidarity against state-sanctioned violence, upholding racial and gender justice. The Encuentro provides a unique opportunity for those most directly impacted by state sanctioned violence in the US, Latin America, and other parts of the world to learn from one another, and begin building inter-racial, transnational solidarity networks. The moral necessity to make the Encuentro accessible to our undocumented family led us to create the POC Space in Tucson, AZ, where people are not forced to traverse a Border Patrol checkpoint in order to arrive.

a room packed with participants in a convergence workshop

packed workshops at the convergence

After the rally at the border wall, dozens of workshops and talks were also held in Mexico and in the US in nearby convergence spaces. Partner organization Puente leader Carlos Garcia held a powerful talk on Arizona’s War of Attrition on Migrants and Brown People, giving valuable context on how the crisis in Arizona came about. “When you talk about the territories we’re in, they’re O’odham territories, they are Yaqui territories,” said Garcia. “This was, is, and always will be indigenous land.”

Garcia led us through the rise of anti-immigrant legislation and policies since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994, and the concurrent rise of community struggle and resistance that birthed the Puente movement into a force to be reckoned with, which recently was able to defeat 12 out of the 13 new anti-immigrant laws proposed since Trump’s rise to notoriety re-infused the racist far-right.

We raise our fist and fight back, but we also have this open hand where we’re trying to counter-balance that attrition. When the state is trying to make your life so miserable that you self-deport, what is it that we need to do so that we’re there for each other, we’re supporting each other. We have our programs, we try to have health programs, community programs, know your rights workshops, anything that helps people feel like they don’t have to self-deport. So we’re stopping our people from being grabbed, put in cages, we’re trying to get them out of cages, and we’re also making them stronger and organised and making sure that they don’t leave.

Carlos Garcia, Puente

by Steve Pavey

by Steve Pavey

Saturday afternoon we also held an Anniversary Vigil for José Antonio Elena Rodríguez in Nogales, Sonora: starting with a march from the Plaza de las Palomas in Nogales, Sonora to the site where Jose Antonio was killed.

US Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz shot Elena Rodríguez, a Mexican 16-year-old, through the border fence, four years ago, and in February will face a second degree murder trial. After the march we held a mass presided over by the bishop of Nogales.

An interfaith ceremony at the border wall & candlelight vigil was held later that evening, and followed by a cross-border concert featuring Charlie King, Colleen Kattau, emma’s revolution, Natalia Serna La Muna, Olmeca, Pablo Peregrina, the Peace Poets, and Son Jarocho.

2016-soa-checkpoint-lineup-roy-1smThe Encuentro continued Sunday morning with the traditional SOA Watch ¡No Más! No More! litanies & Presentes at the stage at the border wall, commemorating those whose lives were lost to state violence. In the afternoon, a group of 200 people from different parts of the United States converged at the US Border Patrol checkpoint in the I-19, 20 miles north of Nogales, to challenge human rights violations and demand an end to militarized borderlands.

The activists marched to demand the permanent closure of all checkpoints throughout the US. At their arrival, a group of 20 people linked arms, staged a vigil and refused to leave the checkpoint for more than five hours, even after threats of the use of tear gas, arrest and federal felony charges.

Carlota Wrey, a founder member of People Helping People, an organization based in Arivaca, Arizona that provides humanitarian aid to those crossing the desert and dealing with Border Patrol, says “we believe that freedom of movement is a human right. Our communities must unite and lift up our voices to demand a halt of human rights abuses against immigrants and people of color, and an end of the militarization of the borders.”

On Monday we wrapped up a transformational weekend with a Block Party for Indigenous Peoples Day at the Global Justice Center in Tucson, Arizona.

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