We came to Arizona from the copper mines in Cananea. Recruiters came to Mexico trying to find people who would come work. We came in wagons, there was nothing here..nothing! They dropped people off from place to place. Our job was to clear the desert. And look at it now! – Antonia Franco
I remember a childhood of listening to the stories of my elders, sitting at a kitchen table with thick mugs filled with more milk than coffee. There was my Nana Tonia, who came in the early 1920’s with her family from Sonora, México. My Tata Emilio’s eyes would gleam as he spoke, describing the orchard trees along South Mountain and Baseline Road, the ranches, the farms all around. He loved to point out how much things used to cost in the early days, break down what it cost to feed his family and pay the rent and match that to the wages he made as a janitor, a musician and a groundskeeper.
Stories like theirs constitute the backbone of the history of the state of Arizona. Their labor helped build the foundation upon which the 5th largest city of the United States operates upon today. And I wonder, what would they think about what is happening in Arizona now, days after the passage of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law?
In the Arizona of today, you can get charged with smuggling – yourself.
In the Arizona of today, the chain gangs of the Jim Crow era are alive and well.
In the Arizona of today, undocumented students are forced to pay triple tuition for a college education.
And, after the signing of Senate Bill 1070, police can stop and question you because you look illegal.
Arizona – a state built by the hands of many people, of many colors and many languages – has taken another step in the wrong direction. Since 2005, almost 6,000 immigration-related bills have been introduced in the state legislature; many have passed with examples noted above. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made it his personal mission to hunt migrants in the community and humiliate inmates in county jails. Check points are scattered throughout the state. Others have begun to follow this example, as day laborers have been attacked as they wait for work on street corners. Last summer, nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father were shot and killed in their home; three members of the Minutemen Militia have been arrested and charged for the crime.
The state government has been converted into a legislative laboratory and thus represents an epicenter of the anti-immigrant movement. And as a result, a veil of fear and terror has been laid upon the population. Daily routines have become a risk. A child going to school has to wonder whether she will see her mother or father when she comes home. A quick trip to the store requires heavy good byes reserved for long journeys. I was in Arizona the week SB1070 was signed into law and I heard stories of pregnant women coming in to community centers to ask if it was safe to go to the hospital to give birth. The answer was, “No.”
The struggles around immigration are among the defining civil and human rights issues of our time, and Arizona has become the new Alabama. Governor Jan Brewer made the choice to stand on the wrong side of history last week. In exchange for votes she has solidified her place in history alongside segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace clung to the institution of racial segregation in the South, defending it by arguing for state’s rights over the federal government. Governor Brewer and Republican politicians in Arizona will echo this argument, a general strategy of the Right wing under an Obama Administration, which emerged in the health care debates this year.
In a state nearing bankruptcy, with exploding foreclosures and growing unemployment, elected officials have chosen to target the state’s most vulnerable population instead of develop serious solutions to the state’s problems. In this time of economic instability, people are increasingly fearful and uncertain of how things can get better. The rhetoric behind bills like SB1070 is reckless and irresponsible, as they paint a narrative that blames immigrants for all the nations ills. But there is a silver lining that comes from characters like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, legislation like SB1070 and politicians like State Senator Russell Pearce: they wake the people up. Because of SB 1070 the nation has turned its eyes upon Arizona. Now, the question becomes: Will the resistance multiply, or will the hate?
Ya Basta! Enough is Enough
Something tells me that if Antonia and Emilio were here to witness this, they would say: “Esto no se va quedar aqui!” Translation: It ain’t gonna go down like that!
On the Sunday after the passage of the bill, thousands of people gathered to demonstrate at the state capital. Long after the official program had ended and the media had left, hundreds of people stayed and continued to march. And there on the lawn of the capital, one man approached longtime organizer, Salvador Reza, and said: “The speeches are done. We need to talk for real now. What are we going to do?” A conversation unfolded, and the crowd grew to 200 people. In this spontaneous meeting, people gave testimony and made passionate calls to organize boycotts, to vote, to resist in any way possible. One man said: “What more can they do to us? I stand to lose everything, everything I’ve built here. We have nothing left but to fight.”
SB1070 and the reactionary politic it represents do not represent the sentiment of all Arizonans. And it’s showing. Outrage and fear is growing into resistance and organizing – on the streets, in the schools and in the neighborhoods. People don’t want another Jim Crow, or even a Juan Crow for that matter. Student walkouts are in motion united by the rally cry, ‘Don’t Hate! Educate!’, bullhorn caravans cruise through the barrios, people are donning new t-shirts branded with the slogan ‘Legalize Arizona!’ People who have never been active are finding ways to do something. DJs are organizing cultural events. Unity building across Latino and African American communities is happening. Even my sister in law has been inspired to organize the parents and children of my nephew’s little league. (yes!)
The battleground has emerged. The latest invention from the legislative laboratory of Arizona foreshadows immigration enforcement in the U.S. if we don’t turn the tide. This law must not only be stopped legally, it must be rejected in the court of public opinion. Compañ[email protected], we have a window of opportunity – NOW.
Millions of people across the country are outraged – it spans across color, age, religion, and income level. We have an opportunity to transcend the tangled web of legislations to ask ourselves the basic questions of what kind of communities we want to have, what kind of country this should be. Now is the time to tell our stories, to state the alternative solution and most importantly, to create the arena for action- action that will turn the tide on immigration enforcement, as well as immigration reform.
We cannot allow the Arizona legislature to lead immigration policy in the United States. The enforcement of immigration policy is the sole function of the federal government, not local police. Just as states cannot declare war or sign treaties, they are not to enforce federal immigration policy. The stories of people in Arizona are the same stories that can be heard across the country. Todos Somos Arizona. We are all Arizona.
SB1070 is set to be implemented in 90 days. In that time, we will defeat this law and advance the agenda of justice for civil and human rights. We are on the right side, now, we just have to make history.
Here’s how you can join the fight:
- Demand that Obama Administration take decisive action to defend civil rights in Arizona and assert that local police are not to enforce federal immigration policy.
- Donate to groups in Arizona who are on the frontlines of this battle!
- On May Day and beyond take the Todos Somos Arizona/We are all Arizona message and promote the demand for federal intervention in Arizona.
- Take action in your city: push for your local government to pass resolutions against 1070, to boycott Arizona, organize direct actions on the criminalization of immigrant communities.
- Come to Arizona on May 29th, for a mass direct action to “Stop the Hate.”
For more information and updates, please go to www.altoarizona.com
Marisa is the Lead Organizer with the Right to the City Alliance, a national alliance of grassroots organizations working for urban justice. Prior to working at Right to the City, Marisa worked as an organizer at POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in San Francisco where she focused on building the Women Worker’s Project. Marisa was one of the authors of Towards Land, Work and Power: Charting a Path of Resistance to U.S.-led Imperialism. Marisa also worked briefly with Domestic Workers United in New York City.