<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Marcos in Tijuana Speaks a Little English: “So… Let’s Talk About Walls”

The Other Campaign Hits the US-Mexico Border, Where the Indigenous Are Called “Migrants” and Roots Run Deep


By Al Giordano
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Baja California

October 20, 2006

MEXICALI, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO: Everybody talks about how many millions of Mexicans made it into the United States. Baja California, on the Mexican side of the border, is where millions who were kicked out or turned back ended up.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Anna Mauri
Northbound along this peninsula, the terrain turns from desert scrub forest to populated zones. Along the roadside: shops and diners named for the places from which the people came… Restaurante El Poblano, no doubt opened by immigrants from the state of Puebla… Llantería El Michoacano, someone from Michoacán who fixes flat tires… the Acambáro General store, named for a town in Guanajuato… Indigenous women cross the highway wearing the huipil blouses that disclose their origins in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Jalisco… They come from every part of Mexico where “free trade” killed the family farm and other dignified work. The former farmer and worker had to move out and look for work elsewhere. Unable to enter (or after entering, expelled from) the United States, he and she settled here along the border, on the Mexican side.

They are called immigrants in their own country. They work the sixteen-hour shifts in maquila sweatshops for Sony, Samsung, Nabisco, Kodak and other foreign companies that pay them 60 to 100 pesos (six to ten bucks) a day and where, without a shred of regulatory protection, many have lost fingers or entire hands – some, their lives – handling dangerous assembly-line machinery. They work dawn to sundown, for even less, picking tomatoes and other crops for big agribusiness companies.

Outside the urban centers of San Quintin and Ensenada, they live in block housing and shacks up dirt streets lacking drainage and any other basic service. Particularly evident here are people from Mexico’s only majority indigenous state of Oaxaca, bastion of repression and poverty imposed by capitalism: entire colonies of Triquis, Mixtecos, Zapotecos, Mixes and other displaced peoples regrouped here, who found each other far from home much as Italians once regrouped in Little Italy and Chinese still land in Chinatown. They toil at the same hard labors that Mexicans in the United States do. Here, as well, they are met with mistreatment, discrimination, violence and racism at the hands of government, police, businessmen and criminals protected by them.

“Baja California,” concluded Subcomandante Marcos after listening to their testimonies, “treats the indigenous worse than any other state in the Mexican Republic.”

How do Mexicans in the United States endure the heaps of hardship and discrimination upon them? The truth is that many had plenty of practice before arriving: they were already treated badly before they crossed over.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Martina Morazzi
The perverted irony in which the native peoples of América are classified as outsiders has permeated the Other Campaign meetings of recent days here. Subcomandante Marcos, in his role as Delegate Zero, heard from Baja Californians on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, he held a euphoric meeting with Mexicans and Chicanos from “the Other Side” who traveled down from Los Angeles and other parts of the United States to take their place in the Other Campaign.

On Wednesday, he heard twice (because sweatshop workers slave in shifts) from maquila workers who staff the factories of US, Japanese and other foreign electronics, food product and other companies on the Mexican side of the border that exploit cheap labor and regulatory impunity (see Murielle Coppin’s upcoming story for more details on how more than two million sweatshop workers live and work a golf ball’s throw from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas).

Prior to Thursday’s meeting with those from the Other Side, none of the dozens of Other Media reporters or militants in political organizations that travel with the Other Campaign caravan knew what to expect. Would the vices of gringo-style “activism” where talkers talk, sectors compete in a hierarchy of victimization, and more energy is often devoted to telling others what they can’t do or say than helping each other do what they can, come to blows with the “listen first” doctrine of the Other Campaign in Mexico? Such fears turned out to be unfounded. The Raza from the Other Side, much like the adherents from Tijuana and the Mexican side of the border, turned out to be among the best organized, and better listeners to each others’ diverse testimonies, that have been seen and heard along most of the Other Campaign trail to date. The events in Tijuana, in fact, may mark a new model for local organizing of the struggle against the capitalist system that the Other Campaign foments. Other political movements in the United States have a lot to learn by listening to them, as occurred here on Thursday.


Photo: D.R. 2006 Enlace Zapatista
After a silent pit stop to leave his signature – in urine – along the fence that separates Tijuana from San Isidro, California, the military commander and spokesman of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN, in its Spanish initials) rolled into downtown Tijuana Wednesday morning for two days of events in the Multi-Kulti cinema (a theater without a roof) along Constitución Avenue downtown amidst the tourist bars, discos, discount pharmacies and topless joints of the neon lit downtown. Tijuana, the permanent Spring Break for gringos, where 300 very young and poorly treated prostitutes are put out at night like mannequins on a single city block and guys hawk tourists – “Hey guy! Tittie bar! What you want?” – in English. Welcome to Tijuana! Tequila! Sexo! Marijuana! But under the façade, here as elsewhere, it is the workers and parents, elders and children who do the cleaning and building and producing on both sides of the wall.

The Word No Wall Can Stop

The Seven Billion Dollar border wall approved last month by the US Congress, although yet to be constructed (inquiring minds want to know: who are they gonna get to build it?), already casts a shadow over both countries and all aspects of bi-national affairs. The reality is that “The Wall” exists already, layer upon layer: fences, high-technology surveillance equipment, an army of Border Patrol, Immigration, Customs and other agents, National Guardsmen and women, the new Ku Klux Klan that calls itself “Minutemen” (ignorant fucks who don’t seem to grasp that the original North American Minutemen of 1776 were guerrilla fighters more akin to the insurgents of the Zapatista army than with those weekend warriors who are an international disgrace), and the political and cultural rifts exacerbated by “The Wall” simply make it bigger than life even before it exists.

All this money and effort to stop descendants of the original Americans from walking where their ancestors freely traveled before others, who really were immigrants, decided to place a border here to keep the natives out.

When hundreds of Mexicans and Chicanos who live and work in the United States crossed back into Mexico this week to meet with the Other Campaign, they brought stories of other barriers.

Representatives of the Union del Barrio in Los Angeles testified that, “the US penal system maintains capitalism. We have many prisoners on the Other Side. They have to be part of a mass movement together with us.”


Photo: D.R. 2006 Enlace Zapatista
From Watsonville, California came a well-organized banda in attractive brown uniforms (their organization is called The Brown Berets) that conducts a “Migra Watch” in its neighborhoods, under siege by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) of the US Department of Homeland Security and its frequent raids hunting for “illegals.” Ramiro, of this organization, told the assembled, “La Pinche Migra detained 24,000 last year in the United States. 6,800 were deported. Where are the other 17,000 being imprisoned?”

There were voices of experience like Graciela García who provided an emotional historic memory of the battles by the United Farmworkers Union and its leader César Chávez in the sixties and seventies for better working conditions for the migrants who put food on North American tables. And ex-braceros testified as to the hardships and robbery they faced on the Other Side over the past seven decades. But the overwhelming majority of those who came south to Tijuana for this meeting were young people, hundreds that ardently believe in “another way of doing politics,” the Zapatista way.

Students from UCLA and California State University at Northridge (CSUN) among other schools came to Tijuana to say that since the higher education systems don’t tell their history well or at all, they’ve had to begin to do it themselves. “We promote culture and the true history,” said Juan Villalobos, who like various others delivered his statement in English. “The Community Colleges are merely a funnel to channel us into menial labor.”

Laura Palomares came from California to testify that students in the state higher education system of California who do not count with a Social Security number (that is, US citizenship) must pay three times the tuition as “out of state” students. She urged passage of a bill now before the State Assembly (AB540) to eliminate this discriminatory policy. “It is a given that money is the one thing we don’t have,” she said. “And still they want more of it from us.”

Maria Federico and Consuelo Aguilar came from Tuscon, Arizona where they work in the schools. “It is the only US school district that teaches Chicano studies,” noted Maria. And it was one of the many where students walked out of classes last May 1 during the Great American Boycott – the first General Strike in the US since the 1930s – in protest against repressive immigration laws.

Sandino Gómez, also of the Brown Berets, spoke of how the War in Iraq falls heavier upon Chicano youths. “There are more military recruiters than guidance counselors in our area,” he noted.


Patricia Nuño
Photo: D.R. 2006 Enlace Zapatista
Compañeros Nelson and Mario of the Instituto de Educación Popular explained the difficult lives of the jornaleros – day laborers, from California to New York Island – who wait on street corners each morning for contractors to hire them in a pinch to do construction, or pick crops, or other manual labors. “The jornaleros wait under very boring conditions,” said Patricia Nuño of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or the Wobblies, the “one big union” of the twenties and thirties born anew in 21st Century América). “They have no food, no water, the police harass them. They have to put up with everything.” She added, proudly, “I am the daughter of a jornalero.”

Many Walls, Seen and Unseen

A single mother from the Other Side spoke: “I have to be in the house caring for my children. Thank you very much: we don’t get paid. Here, at this meeting, it is also the women cooking. Please thank them.”

Other women spoke of confronting machismo and sexism within their communities and also in political movements. “Being a feminist is nothing against the men,” said a compañera, Rosalba. Another, Alicia, spoke of domestic violence. “The worst problem is that of the defenseless victims, the children, witnesses to the violence by their fathers against their mothers.”

Representatives of the growing sector of the Other Campaign that struggles under the banner of “Other Loves” testified about the discrimination they face. “The lesbians are called gringadas and the gay men joto-maricones… Enough already with the discrimination!” A straight Chicano man read a letter from Angel Cruz, a Oaxacan on the Other Side, saying “I am a gay queer… and I am a Zapatista.”

The farmers from South Central Farm in Los Angeles came and told their story of being evicted by police earlier this year. Later, via live video hook-up, others who could not cross back into Mexico without risking their lives and work up north spoke directly to Delegate Zero and the assembled: About how military recruiters threaten young Chicanos with deportation if they don’t enlist in the US Armed Forces; about the violent attacks by the ignorantly-named “Minutemen”; about the high suicide rate among gay Chicano teens and how the disrespect toward gays and lesbians extends to “movements that call themselves progressive”; about how immigrant communities often must live alongside garbage dumps or other areas of high contamination and danger, and how the anguish of “being illegal” adds stress upon other health problems; about the struggle to learn to work collectively in a society that doesn’t offer any reference for it; about proposed and actual laws to deny rental housing to anyone without a US Social Security number….


Photo: D.R. 2006 Anna Mauri
“The Wall” said Marcos, summarizing all these testimonies and more, “is not just along the border.” They are put up, he said, against Chicanos, against those who speak in “Spanglish,” against women, gays, lesbians, elders, children… “The Wall goes reproducing itself in each part of each home, in the street, and it is not just erected by those above. We build them ourselves.”

Speaking of the lessons learned by the indigenous Zapatistas of Chiapas from others persecuted for being different, he said: “It is not true that there are only men and women. There is something else, too. And it’s not true that there are only North Americans and Mexicans. There is something else, too.”

Recalling that various speakers during the day commented self-referentially “I’m short” when adjusting the microphone lower to be able to speak, he remembered Zapatista Comandanta Ramona, who passed away last January 6 as the Other Campaign had just begun. A Tzotzil-speaking indigenous woman from the Chiapas highlands, “she was so short that she had to stand on a seat to reach the microphone. But she was an indigenous military commander. What I am hearing here is about all the walls one faces if one is a woman, and also Chicano, and also a punk, maybe a ‘dark’ who dresses goth, and beyond that, a lesbian.”

The Other Campaign, he stressed, doesn’t recognize the wall along the international border. “The adherents here from the Other Side are not part of the Intergalactic sector (of foreigners with the Other Campaign),” he said. “They are part of the Other Campaign of Mexico.”

And so the Zapatista Other Campaign, organized in 31 states and in the Federal District of Mexico City, officially welcomed the adherents from the Other Side: not as visitors, but as part and parcel of the “something else” being built. The national rebellion against the capitalist economic system has crossed the border where it has cultivated its roots all along. It lives, works, and organizes on territory that official maps say is inside the United States. And judging from the energy, creativity, innovation, conscience and spirit of the Other Campaigners from the Other Side that took their place alongside all the Mexican adherent organizations and individuals on Thursday, the political horizon inside the United States has just made a paradigm shift as well. Zapatismo, as never before, has just crossed the border. The walls were powerless to stop it.

To be continued…

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