“We Want This Border To Disappear”
The Other Campaign in the Sonora Desert, Where the U.S.-Mexico Border Cuts an Indigenous Nation in Two
By Mary Ann Tenuto Sánchez
Chiapas Support Committee
October 26, 2006
As the hot desert sun began fading into a cool desert evening, the Other Campaign’s Karavana arrived in Rancho el Peñasco (Big Rock Ranch), Sonora, Mexico, between the towns of Santa Ana and Magdalena de Kino. The Quiché Biodiversity Center is located on the ranch and contains a hostel, a kitchen, an outdoor eating area and enough room to create a meeting space. A large bus contained the Karavana traveling with the Other Campaign on its tour of Northern Mexico. Subcomandante Marcos arrived in a van. He was accompanied by a personal security guard, indigenous leaders from the region and the National Indigenous Congress, as well as a survivor of the police terrorism in San Salvador Atenco.
The Karavana was immediately whisked into the hostel for dinner and emerged an hour later to participate in a sacred fire ceremony. The meeting with indigenous peoples of the Tohono-O’odham nation began around 7:00 in an outdoor manger for lambs, which are bred commercially on the ranch. One by one, traditional authorities and representatives of the different tribes, many of them were women, went to the head table, sat down next to Marcos, and talked about the problems they faced as indigenous peoples. The animals were either quite excited by the crowd of approximately 250 people or very upset for having their space taken over. Their “baas” were heard throughout the evening.
The US/Mexico border runs through the Tohono-O’odham lands and divides the people while border patrols damage the fragile desert ecology. Tribal members live on both sides and have different perspectives on immigration and solutions to the problems arising from this unnatural division. They asked Marcos to help them unite and, as each speaker finished, Marcos rose to shake hands with them, contributing to an atmosphere of warmth and friendship.
After two hours of indigenous speakers, the coordinators surprised the crowd by requesting the participation of those folks who were present from organizations in the United States. The majority were from the US side of the border: a mix of border activists (we were meeting just sixty miles south of the border), some indigenous people and many Chicanos. A friend of mine had met with an indigenous coordinator of a meeting by the Border Summit of Indigenous Peoples, where he had urged her to attend this meeting near Magdalena, asking her also to extend the invitations to some of her friends. I was one of those friends whom she invited. The coordinator, Gregorio, guaranteed that all would be welcome. Now he was calling the different organizations to the front table to share their words.
In addition to the Chiapas Support Committee, there were representatives from Just Coffee and No More Deaths, as well as several student groups. Cecile Lumer represented Citizens for Border Solutions. Marcos listened attentively to another two hours of presentations. Again, each speaker was seated next to Marcos and he rose to shake hands with them as each one concluded his or her presentation. When I was called to the front table to meet Marcos and say a few words, I noticed that his eyes twinkled with warmth and good humor.
I presented the subcomandante some tobacco and a little money for gasoline from the Chiapas Support Committee.
The compañero from San Salvador Atenco spoke about the political prisoners still being held, and a representative of the National Indigenous Congress denounced the betrayal of the San Andrés Accords by the three political parties. He also denounced the creation of a so-called National Indigenous Convention to support Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Finally, at 11:00 at night, Marcos began his talk, sprinkled with a little bit of English. He acknowledged those of us from the US with lighter skin by telling the following story:
“Our elders, our chiefs, say that the gods made the world, that they made the men and women of corn first. And they specifically put the heart of corn in them. But the corn ran out and some men and women didn’t get a heart. The color of the earth ran out, and they began to look for other colors. Then, the heart of corn touched people who are white, red or yellow. So there are people here who don’t have the dark color of indigenous people, but they have the heart of corn, so they are here with us.”
The subcomandante then began to talk about the impending destruction of indigenous lands throughout Sonora and Northern Mexico by tourist projects and hotels. He specifically mentioned the Escalera Nautica (Nautical Stairway), a series of marinas for pleasure boats on the coasts of the two Bajas, Sonora and Sinaloa. He also mentioned plans to place garbage and toxic waste dumps, with their poisons, on indigenous Sonora land.
Marcos’ message urged indigenous peoples to unite and struggle against these threats to their land. He spoke about the war of annihilation against the undocumented and said that they had crossed the border for a little while on their way to Magdalena. At one point during that time he told the crowd, “We want this border to disappear.”
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