Caminante: Arizona/Sonora c.2006

“Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar.” -Gloria E. Anzaldua 

Tucson, AZ – I could have gone with my instinct when Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez invited me to apply for her Women’s Studies program at the University of Arizona after finding out she no longer taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Instead my journey to that part of the world took the form of seeking a messenger that I came to love, who in the process brought me full circle just by being herself, allowing me close to her family and letting me walk with her through the desert of Sonora between Tucson and Sonoyta. I left my fear and emotional baggage at Tucson airport knowing that the love I felt in my heart went beyond her person to her family, her land, her culture, her antepasados all of whom are suffering because of a way of life I have come to know as a citizen of the United States.

I have with me in this story, pieces of a puzzle that have been brought closer together by breaking bread, listening and sharing with other people who also live here on this earth. (Esteva & Prakash 55-63) We don’t need the Zapatistas to tell us what our families have taught us from birth as the essential key to survival and to living, each other. However, they their contemporaries and many before them, have through their struggles joined a path that invites more than a few families to “walk together” (Flores 2005) since we as survivors share the capability, action and history of risking death in order to live, whether that means migration, taking up arms, living in resistance, communicating with each other, or asserting our dignity in the face of repression.

Had I gone directly to the University of Arizona for my graduate studies, I doubt that I would have met the extended family that has come to accept me even with my quirks and though most times I feel don’t understand me or misunderstand my twisted words have come to support me just the same. These relationships built from that action of “walking together”, talking with each other, sharing cultural production, struggling together, and living together in the same space, facing the same obstacles together, and sharing the “I don’t know” and willingness to act regardless is the foundation of an unconditional love, of dignity, balance and respect that create the emotional social environment needed to be alright and work collectively. No, I would have made a different extended family that maybe I have already started to walk with if not permanently in temporalities. These relationships that we build are what grounds the work that needs to be done, a slow arduous process, but necessary process in order to be accountable to each other.

My recent walk in Arizona brought me closer to the reality lived by the majority of the loves of my life. The effects of Neo-liberalism are extreme in a rural environment as people wthin their own lifetime have seen the waters of the rivers that once flowed through their communities dry up completely, have seen their local agricultural economy give way to NAFTA, have experienced death on a disproportionate basis, have suffered illnesses caused by environmental degradation, and have raised families with high rates of birth defects. Yet these communities survive, under increased repression by three different types of homeland security, police forces and private sector forces, on the border living is an act of resistance.

Without political baggage, these communities organize around the same principles that many times in our relations in the states struggle to live by. Survival requires communal and extended network care. While in the rest of the United States we dare believe we have the privilege of choosing who we work with, even those with the same goals and dreams but who work different than we do.

As scholars being trained in institutions that reinforce western constructions of knowledge and as people who have gone through the United States public education system that reinforces just that, and who watch Television, listen to commercial radio, read commercial newspapers, it is difficult to resist the temptation to provide an analysis from the outside of what exactly goes on in these communities. I quickly found out exactly how much I didn’t know by listening to the parents of my messenger and elders of the community who had a profound analysis of the situation and space that they lived in. I learned more from keeping my mouth shut than from processing the experiences which were many that I had while on that road.

Her father told me that years ago, waters flowed in the river of Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico. He didn’t have to tell me why the river had run dry because the same has been happening all over the world as big dams were commissioned in India and China after being rendered obsolete in the United States for the ecological damage they incur. (Roy 1999; Watts 2007; Olesen 2007) The people of the southern border are seeing the effects of the “SAVE OUR DAMS” efforts of subsidized farmers in the United States. The Cucapa encampment convened by La Comision Sexta in the spring of 2007 also made quite clear that the daming of the Colorado River also displaced indigenous people on the south of the border. Interestingly enough Menagers dam, the dam closest to Sonoyta has also become a major smuggling point for the traffic of narcotics. (Arizona Daily Star 2007) What the news article does not elaborate on, through the prosecution of a Mexican police chief is the amount of border patrol and state force agents who are involved in the traffic of narcotics who do not get prosecuted and are not even on the radar.

In another conversation Sonora’s apple industry was brought into play. As close as ten years ago one of the agricultural crops produced in Sonoyta, Sonora was apples. Farming techniques developed in Calexico were utilized to cultivate crops in the fierce desert heat, water rights even then were a major issue and cost for farming considering the effects of the dams to their water supply. The final blow to Sonoyta’s apple industry was struck by NAFTA as the cost to grow produce was too high to compete with subsidized United States (Washington State) apples, especially since part of the NAFTA accords required that Mexico not subsidize their farmer’s production nor charge tariffs on imported produce because it interfered with “free trade”. Having grown up on a Washington apple plantation, Broetje Orchards in Prescott, WA I knew first hand how NAFTA had catapulted a sole proprieter farming on the other side of a dam, Ice Harbor Dam, into a millionaire within my lifetime. Meanwhile the farms in Sonoyta were abandoned, and in their place other forms of commerce exponentially grew, narcotics and tourism. We, United States citizens are responsible for the traffic in narcotics and the destruction of the local sustainable economies through tourism.

Death is a familiar member of the community in the region known as the Gadsden purchase to us in the United States and to Mexicans as la Venta de la Mesilla. As thousands of forced economic migrants risk their lives to survive by crossing the rugged, beautiful terrain of Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, the desert, in the few days I walked it’s face, two women had died from the heat as a third had gone to the highway for help. (Quinn 2007) Teresa a bi-national community elder living in Tucson and Nogales shared the story one morning as she, her son Beto and I shared comida she had prepared Papas con Machaca. Through tears she recounted the story of the all too familiar tragedy of migrants dying in an effort to survive and provide for their families. The tragedy of these deaths would stop there if it was just the crossing of this fierce environment that has brought death so consistently to this region, but the profundity of this tragedy thickens when you add the murders comitted by vigilante white supremacist activist groups labeled as “bandits” in popular media and the murders comitted by the military, border patrol and other state forces on the border in order to control their drug trafficking interests. (Agence France Press 2007; Rotstein 2007; Riccardi 2007) More information on immigrant deaths in Arizona can be found at

Would it surprise you that the majority of the migrants these days are women and families, that an increasing number are indigenous yet the majority of the stories heard are about Spanish speaking men. These stories also fuel my beloved messenger’s academic and creative work, stories of single mothers crossing with their children through the desert, of their resilience having to attempt several times before finally arriving to an exploitative job, yet still a job they can support their family with. Stories of families dismembered. Teresa told of an indigenous family from Oaxaca, Father, daughter, son. The son had been separated during la cruzada and the father after having paid his life savings to cross and having made it to Arizona crossed back into Mexico saying that he had shown his son the road home and would wait for him there in Oaxaca. Another story told was that of a 15 year old girl who had been abandoned by her coyote who had made it to the highway, had tried desperately to flag down agents of the border patrol who did not stop to assist, who after contacting her family was called back by the coyote who offered a ransom, as kidnapping of migrants is common practice. Her family was in Florida. On the road back to Tucson a young man sought help at the side of the road, the love I have for my messenger kept me from stopping and putting her at risk again, after having been stopped by the Border Patrol shortly after crossing the Sonora/Arizona border. Beto had let me know just the night before that in the recent past aid workers had been arrested and charged as smugglers for aiding undocumented immigrants suffering of ailments associated with the fierce geography of the Sonoran desert. (Karkabi, 2007)

The situation would be much worse for people who are in the process of getting their citizenship who feel compelled to do something. It is here where I realized just what privileges one carries, whether it’s the privilege of being a man, a citizen, of class that renders some arrestable and others non in situations like these. Furthermore as Beto reminded regarding the thinking of the bureaucracy, that an increased presence of arrestable activists interfering in the ability of the Border patrol to do their job would mean an increased deployment of border patrol agents that would remain in the region after the arrestable activists were gone. This is something that organizers of the No Borders Camp scheduled for November 5-11th on the Mexicali/Calexico border need to address. As it stands the No Borders Camp’s mission statement reads,

“As long as the US/Mexico border has existed, people have been struggling against it. The border itself is a colonial war monument and it continues to be the site of a not-so-low intensity war. It is a boundary marking an internal space of fear, control and domination over people, while simultaneously allowing for the unrestricted movement of capital and wealth.

For years, around the world, people have been tearing down fences freeing detainees and fighting for self-determination. A global movement against borders and migration controls is rising. One of many tactics in this movement is the no borders camp – a space for direct action and building community. Join us for a transnational no borders camp on the Mexico/US border. Celebrate global days of action for freedom of movement on the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Monday and Tuesday 11.5 & 11.6 Convergence
Wednesday 11.7 Camp begins, Forums
Thursday 11.8 Day of Action Against Capitalism and for Mutual Aid and Respect
Friday 11.9 Day of Action Against Detention and for Freedom of Movement
Saturday 11.10 Day of Action Against the Wall and for a World Without Borders
Sunday 11.11 Solidarity Events and Day of

A study published this week by the University of Arizona showed that “Immigrants are a $222 million fiscal gain for Arizona and their departure would result in a $29 billion annual loss in economic output.” (McCombs 2007) Regardless the border patrol presence is being amped as we speak, how convenient that a Mexican Police Chief in Sonoyta was sacrificed during the timely release of this study to shift the purpose of the state forces presence from people to drugs. Death is omnipresent in this region in multiple forms.

The following was a flyer that was being distributed at the border as we crossed which was quickly squashed by forces on both sides of the border as the day progressed. My messengers father and I crossed the rental car in the morning to avoid a long wait, and our party crossed by foot at the end of the day. By the end of the day there was no one distributing flyers and the line was not so backed up:


We are currently trying to increase awareness of the Choya, a secret toxic waste dump proposed several miles south of the Lukeville Sonoyta border of Arizona and Sonora.

The Mexican federal government approved its shoddy impact statement with no public involvement and the only thing preventing construction is a municipal license.

This profit-motivated private venture threatens Puerto Peñasco’s water supply and Tohono O’odham sacred sites. The Mexican government broke the rules of the La Paz agreement by failing to notify the US EPA of the proposal until public opposition forced its hand. Now the investors want something unprecedented, taxpayer subsidies from the border Environmental Cooperation Commission.

This is the first time a hazardous waste confinement or a private business venture has applied for certification to get North America Development Bank Funds for its ends.

¡¡STOP THE DUMP!!” (Anonymous Flyer)

Upon research on La Choya it was found that the environmental struggles on the Sonora/Arizona border have to do with heavy metal contamination caused by the drilling and mining done for precious metals by corporations such as Sonora Gold Corporation, General Minerals Corporation, Colibri Research Corporation and Tumi Resources Limited. A recent gathering of Scientists at the University of Arizona addressed environmental impact issues of “groundwater sources; climate change; heavy metals in food webs; migrating-bird habitats; landscape change and biological response to urban growth; mapping vegetation, habitat and geology across national borders; ecosystem preservation and the San Pedro River watershed.” (US Fed News 2007) All of which were issues that are ongoing on the Arizona/Sonora border.

During my stay in Tucson, I was given the opportunity to spend some time with Margo Tamez and her family. Tamez is a Ph.D. student at Washington State University and has been involved in indigenous land rights and environmental justice movements along the Brownsville, Texas/Tamaulipas border. At that border as well she told stories of her family owning land on the border and of her family member jogging on the local dam every morning and constantly fighting with the department of homeland security over land use.

The struggle we face as was articulated by many of these border dwellers is that women are at the highest risk of death, either through environmentally related illnesses such as lupis, cancer, muscular sclerosis, birth defects and diabetes which is a direct result of loss of access to local produce and sustainable diet provisions. Johanna Galarte, a colleague of mine who grew up in the Calexico/Mexicali border area mentioned that within a block vicinity there were cases of related degenerative diseases including Lupis, Muscular Sclerosis that she believes were caused by the environmental degradation caused by the Maquiladoras in Mexicali.

Devon D.G. Peña confirmed this phenomenon along the border region on his study of Maquiladoras and environmental degradation titled, The Terror of the Machine (1997) where he quoted Juana Ortega who said the following, “…These factories are bad. They are bad for your health adn look around, this is really bad for the land and water and air. Everything in Juarez has changed. But it is all part of a bigger scheme. The entire world is dying from pollution and waste, and our children are like the first warning sign. When they get sick from the food and water they consume, you know something is terribly wrong.” (Peña p 11) Along with children, the elderly are also greatly at risk in these communities as elders continue to die at earlier than average ages, and children are poisoned by the water supply, air they breath, and food they eat. Women who are willing to organize within these spaces, such as Teresa who had in the past applied to work at the Maquiladoras of Nogales to help support her family was denied employment based on her past activist and labor organizing background.

Furthermore, as Tamez argued, the militarization of the border has created an effect similar to that experienced by native communities around the world in through the presence of military bases, whether that is through more directly linked auspices of the increase of rape and military related domestic violence, to more clandestine links of an increase of narcotics traffic caused by military presence and consumption, increase in the traffic in women for sex work, and the mass murder and mutilation of feminine bodies most illustrated in the case of Ciudad Juarez but rampant throughout the US/Mexico border region linked to the military presence on all fronts.

As S.I. Marcos articulated long ago in, “The Fourth World War” we indeed are in a war. I, as many of you, do not know what to do. I see hope in each other, in our relationships based on dignity and centered love, in breaking bread together, in walking together, and most of all living. I look forward to struggling together in whatever form that may take.


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