Freedom Ride Journal: Day Two
September 27, 2003
Most of the riders are at the buses before our departure time. I asked Abelardo why he gets up so early. It's routine, he says, getting up at five in the morning everyday for work.
It's Sunday, and we go to Mass. A special ceremony is planned for the Freedom Ride, and it's all in Spanish. I can't understand a word except "Washington," but I notice the white faces on the angels, on Mary and Joseph, on Jesus, that stare down on the dark congregation. I wonder if anyone else notices this irony, "Washington" and the white faces so blatant. I vow to learn Spanish when I get home.
We march in the streets of Toledo, Ohio. Local unions and immigrant laborers join us. It's chilly, but we dance under a wide tent in the park as a band plays La Bamba. An old man, at least 80 years old and still a threat on the dance floor, pulls his wife close. She can barely shuffle her feet. But they dance, she shuffling and he stepping. The woman standing next to me puts her hand over her heart as she watches.
That's the way it should be, she says, but not anymore; families are being torn apart. We form a ring around them and dance. Ring around the rosy, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
I interview Isidro Munoz on the bus. Six years ago, he was crushed under a forklift for 15 minutes. When he woke up in the hospital, his wife told him he had been in a coma for 14 days. He had four fractured vertebrae, two possible herniated disks, a separated AC joint, a rotated and cracked shoulder, pinched muscles, and a ruined sex life. He had lost the ability to move 65 percent of his body and he was 28 years old.
When he went back to work at the auto factory in Chicago, where the accident happened, his doctors told him he could only lift up to 15 pounds. Most engines weigh well past 65 pounds. He was fired two weeks later.
He's suing, of course, for compensation for the last six years he has been unable to work; for the seven doses of Vicodin he has to take everyday; for the three hours of sleep he gets every night; for the depression that gripped him and the marriage that ended two years after the accident; for the injustice. He's the poster child for workers' rights, one of the key goals for the Freedom Ride.
Yet, Isidro yells the loudest at rallies and is the first to pull someone from the chair, onto the dance floor. He has amazing resilience. He went back to school to become a systems abuse and domestic violence counselor. He teaches a Sunday school class to children with Down syndrome. He'll stay in the United States, he says, because he's needed here.
He doesn't cry when he tells his story. But when he tells me he was 16 when he left his parents' Mexico to come to the United States, I think of my brother, not yet driving, and I turn my face to the window.
We drive to Cleveland for another rally. Our buses are met by immigrant laborers waving and grinning, as if they have been waiting anxiously on the corner for hours. Their excitement is remarkable, and grown men can't seem to contain themselves. It's the children that remain silent and wide-eyed, watching their parents jumping for joy in a game called Hope they hadn't seen played before.
Daniel Thompson, self-professed borderless poet and original Freedom Rider, reads poems after dinner. Cane in hand and words in mouth, he defends the new goals of the Freedom Rides. The movement is still alive, he says. It has always been alive.
We're tired when we get back on the buses to drive to our hotel. There are groans when we're told the buses are leaving at seven in the morning. We're staying at the Sheraton by the airport and as we get closer, someone asks if we should be concerned about the immigration officers at the airport.
We erupt with laughter, a sound never far behind from a bus filled with sorrow.
Read more journal entries and coverage of the Ride.
Megan Tady is riding the bus from Chicago to Washington DC.