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‘We deserve to be able to live, to love, to walk freely’


Guest Blogger • Sep 03, 2010
The following article is one of a series of accounts from students who recently returned  from Arizona. They were part of a delegation that spent a week touring the state amid  the enactment of controversial law SB 1070. The Center for New Community, a national civil rights organization based in Chicago, sponsored the trip, which included nine students from Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Colorado.

By Jecika Merzius

Coming here I had no idea what to expect or who I was going to encounter.

The first person from this trip that stands out to me is Ofelia, an elder from the indigenous community Tohono O’odham.  The Tohono O’odham know that they have a right to survive on their tribal lands, but with an increasingly militarized border cutting through that has become more difficult.

Ofelia told us stories of living on both sides of what is now the US/Mexico border. Since 9/11 she has seen her community become more and more impacted by militarization. One night as she was returning to her tribe, a border patrol officer stopped her at the check point (they have three set up outside of her village).  He asked her a question and she responded in her native tongue.  He said “do you know where you are?”

Again she responded in her native tongue. He put a gun to her head and said, “Speak English! You are in the United States.”

She finally broke and responded, “This is our land.  I speak the language spoken by the people of this land for many generations.”

Her people will keep fighting. They have hope that their children will live better than they do.  She told us that the majority of youth in her village are in gangs. Most recently they were being recruited by neo-Nazi groups that patrol the border.

Coming into this trip I was angry about white supremacists on the border. The fact that white supremacists even still exist!

The part that disturbs me the most is that they are spreading hate and advertising it using modern techniques and tools. I oppose hate in any form. Being black and from Haiti, I have experienced it so many times. Is it ever going to end? Or will it continue as an unbreakable cycle?

We went to the border between Arizona and Mexico. It pained me when a car with two female Latina passed us as we were approaching the border. It struck me when the border patrol came to check their car with a huge gun.  They just want the opportunity to live and be happy.

As we were walking through the desert, we came across a memorial to a man who died of dehydration like hundreds of others who cross the desert. The desert is so harsh. People go out there and don’t come out.  If you make it through, you are blessed. They go through these great strides. Then once they get here, they are ridiculed and live in fear.

I want this trip to be a wake-up call to remind us that we are all humans. We represent moral people that want to live in a world where we feel comfortable raising our children. We all deserve to be able to live, to be able to love, to be able to walk freely.

For those of us that are fighting, we have been through this fight in some form ourselves and that’s why we can relate. I will do the utmost in my power, to not only help the people of Arizona, but to create a better future so that we are not targeted because of the color of our skin or the tone of our eyes or the people we chose to love.

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