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What We Did This Summer: Endure A Hot Summer of Injustice

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By Sarah Gonzales,

“When our rights are under attack, what do we do? Fight Back!”

This slogan was a familiar chant at the many protests that took place this summer in Tucson, Arizona due in large part to the passing of SB 1070, the now infamous anti-immigrant law and HB 2281, which seeks to ban ethnic studies education. (1, 2) Tucson is located sixty miles north of the US/Mexico border and has a long history of activism protecting Indigenous rights including immigrant rights. While the history of oppression acted out on Tucson’s brown communities is nothing new, neither are the deep rooted seeds of activism; this summer saw new waves of youth activists taking to the streets.

The streets were filled day after day with hundreds and sometimes thousands of people who came together to protest. Roughly 90 percent of the activists at any given event were middle school and high school aged youth who were fighting for the right to a fair and balanced education and for their families’ rights to be on this land. I participated in several of the protests often led by young people, and witnessed as they marched in 100 plus degree weather, were spit on and flipped off by grown white men and women driving by and as some were even arrested. (3)

The immediate effects on the youth were some feelings of anger and sadness but we have yet to know what more long term effects will be. In comparison, many of our adults experiencing stress related illness was a common occurrence. Dr. Alberto A. Ramirez of Tucson is working to create a formal diagnosis labeled “Pre-Deportation Syndrome” or PDS which is similar in nature to post-traumatic stress disorder. (4) Dr. Ramirez began to see numerous patients with similar symptoms who shared a fear of being deported or experience fear that members of their families will be deported. One of the major symptoms of PDS most closely resembles agoraphobia; fear of being in public spaces. This symptom has been particularly devastating for women in domestic violence situations who stop seeking services for fear of being picked up and deported. (5)

Activists in the community are working hard to support our communities during this time of extreme duress. We have also experienced positive outcomes that serve to keep the community strong in the struggle. We have come together so many times this summer in protest that we became a family, looking forward to seeing each other and checking in on our well-being. The adults watched over and were arrested with young people to ensure their safety. Young people led most of the marches and gave us strength and hope when we felt defeated. Elders shared with us the struggles we have faced so many times before to remind us all we will continue to preserve as we always have.

During an anti-racism workshop for Latino/a middle school students who are part of the TRiO programs through Pima Community College, I noticed a significant change in the environment. Youth sat in small groups discussing how hate manifests itself in their schools and communities and when asked to find five common attributes among themselves, one group proudly announced, “We are all activists!” This response was a first for this age group and when I asked them more about their experience as activists they relayed their parents had taken them to the protests through the summer. Their participation gave them first hand experience of what it means to be an activist and gave them the opportunity to see other young people making real change in the community. In our discussion, they articulated how SB1070 is wrong for our community and how they intend on continuing to use their voice to create more awareness about the issues. They went on to address issues of racism in their own schools, seeing those issues with a new perspective and creating ideas of change with a depth that only comes when a group is so intensely challenged.

I walked away from the presentation knowing that young people have risen to the challenge, the likes of which most have not seen before but now that they know their voices cannot be ignored, there will be no stopping them. Policies similar in racist nature continue to abound like Ward Connerly’s Prop 107 aimed at eliminating Equal Opportunity programs for women and people of color. As we prepare for the continued struggle, I feel both sadness and hope. Sadness for the trauma our people are enduring for basic human rights and hope of a more positive future led by young people resilient enough to continue the fight, youth who will become adults still engaged in the community and making a difference.

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Sarah Gonzales is a youth educator and Chicana activist in Tucson, AZ. Crossposted from Race-Talk.  We're on Facebook and Twitter.

1. Archibold, Randal C. (April 23, 2010). Arizona Enacts Stringent Law On Immigration. The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html

2. Santa Cruz, Nicole. (May 12, 2010). Arizona Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies Signed Into Law. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://articles.latimes.com/2010/may/12/nation/la-na-ethnic-studies-20100512

3. Smith, Dylan. (May 12, 2010). 15 arrested after Tom Horne press conference on ethnic studies ban. The Tucson Sentinel. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/051210_horne_sitin

4. Dr. Alberto Ramirez. (personal communication, June 18, 2010)

5. Fernández, Valeria. (July 15, 2010). Domestic Violence Victims Silenced By SB 1070. New America Media. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://newamericamedia.org/2010/07/domestic-violence-victims-silenced-by-sb-1070.php