Fearless and speaking for ourselves
Guest post by Gerardo Torres, cross-posted via No Papers No Fear
Yesterday was one of the most important days of my life. It gave me the opportunity to speak to the people who are directly hurting our community. I, and three of my fellow No Papers No Fear riders – Mari Cruz Jimenez, Maria Huerta, and Jose Mangandi – stood up during the testimony of Kris Kobach, the author of SB 1070, while he was addressing the United States Commission on Civil Rights, testifying on the effects of state immigration laws. He was sitting at the table like an expert, when we know there is no one who knows the effects of immigration laws in our communities better than undocumented immigrants. We had not been included as part of the group to testify, so we stood up, uninvited, and told our stories.
I remember sitting there and listening to Kobach speak about the importance of SB 1070, and how people who were not doing anything wrong should have nothing to fear. He said that the law did not lead to racial profiling, or to fear. Meanwhile, I remember thinking about the fear and anger that I have felt, and seeing my neighborhood change. Every day in Arizona, I see people leave their homes out of fear of the immigration laws in our state. There are abandoned homes, empty lots, closed stores, and people displaced. I see children with fear, mothers crying, and people without freedom to move around freely in their own neighborhoods.
I stood up and held up a sign that read “undocumented.” I told them my name, my age, that I am from Arizona, and that I am undocumented, and that I am not afraid. I told them about my community, and how I have experienced the effects of SB 1070. Everyone was looking at me, but I don’t remember. It was like tunnel vision, I couldn’t see anything around me. It was surreal and powerful. I remember feeling like I was taking away the power that they had taken from me, without me knowing that I had lost it. The power to defend myself and speak for myself.
After I got up, my fellow No Paper No Fears riders did the same thing. Maria Cruz told them that they had violated her rights, that she was standing up for her children. Jose told them that he loves this country, that we are human. Maria called them out on being corrupt, and told them her story, and how her children had suffered under immigration laws.
Security came for the three of them first, and I was left alone in the room for what seemed for ever, but was a few minutes. Kobach refused to continue talking while I was in the room, and the Commissioners and presenters discussed back and forth whether this was a peaceful protest. Someone called us hateful. But we knew we were speaking out for our rights.
I must admit that I did feel scared when I was standing there by myself. I didn’t know how the security officer was going to react. I though that if I was by myself, they would treat me worst than my friends. But I think when they realized that what I was doing was speaking for my rights, and that I was not scared. I think the moment we rise up in public, they realize that they no longer have power. The security officer escorted us out of the hotel, where all four of us then continued telling our side of the story to our media and the press.
I should also say that being part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community, and knowing our history, has been important. I have seen how as people who are queer, we have learned to speak from our experience, for ourselves. I think of people like Harvey Milk, who has taught us that we can be politicians, and come out, and demand to be accepted as who we are; Bayard Rustin, who shows us that we can be great organizers and part of amazing movements for change, to fight for our civil rights; Chavela Vargas, who never hid her love for other women in her song and art, and was never afraid to be herself; and Frida Kahlo, reminding me to have love for art, and to express ourselves through painting, to live without fear, without shame, and spread peace. They have left us a great legacy, that we have an obligation to carry on and pass on to new generations.
I am ready for a second round. This experience has prepared me to be more fearless. If I used to look at things through the window, I now know that I can open the door and walk out.
At the end of the hearing, I was able to walk back into the meeting with the rest of the No Papers No Fear riders. It was great to be able to witness the hearing, and even contribute, after being excluded and escorted out. One person from Alabama, and one person from Arizona were in the end given a space to testify in front of the panel. We at least got a corner at the table. I hope that very soon we can be at the center of that table, at the same level as the rest.