Red Nation members in Tornillo
by Hope Alvarado
This is the second part of a two-part series. Read part one here.
Day 3: Border Patrol Museum and “In honor of Therese Patricia Okoumou” Mural
The last day of demonstrations for The Red Nation during the Weekend of Migrant Justice actions took place at the National Border Patrol Museum on Rarámuri Territory on February 16. A gathering of people from across Turtle Island drew attention to the institutions like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) who have played a key role in the displacement, violence, mass incarceration and death of many asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. Tornillo: the Occupation Coalition wanted to challenge revisionist history commemorated in the museum that seeks to erase the struggles for liberation of our undocumented relatives. We also aimed to share and center the stories of those who have been most directly impacted by ICE and CBP. These institutions have directly contributed to the malnutrition, lack of medical care, punishment, and torture of already vulnerable people simply for being “undocumented.”
We believe that our communities need to play an active role in learning about how the U.S. government is criminalizing and incarcerating undocumented people for simply wanting a better life. The lands across what is known as the United States are stolen, taken from Indigenous nations from all across the United States. Indigenous peoples from various tribal communities have made it a point to welcome migrants and refugees into their communities as the border. The violence that CBP has perpetrated on tribal communities whose lands are severed by the border experience violence and discrimination while on their ancestral homelands. (For example, last year border patrol agents ran over a Tohono O’odham Native man in his own homelands.) The Rarámuri Nation, also known as the Tarahumara Nation is an indigenous community whose community is divided by the U.S./Mexico border wall and extends to what is currently known as Chihuahua, Mexico. The Rarámuri have been challenging the construction of a border for decades due to the criminalization, incarceration and brutalization they have experienced from Customs and Border Patrol on their tribal homelands. Many other neighboring tribal communities echo similar experiences of violence and have voiced their concerns about ICE and CBP, especially as both federal agencies continue to violate the basic human rights of migrants and refugees as well as the rights and sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples whose lands they are currently occupying. This can be reflected through the widespread of hashtags #NoDeportationsOnStolenLand, #NoBanOnStolenLand, and #NoOneIsIllegal slogans that have been widely shared across Indigenous media platforms.
Immigration structures have been terrorizing tribal and migrant communities since their inception, they have enacted the structural conditions in which migrants are dying. Since the creation of ICE, attacks and violence against migrants has increased through the rhetoric of xenophobia and racist practices known as the war on terror that began, after September 11, 2001. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began in 1789 as a tariffs and collection agency, initially being grounded in accumulating capital for the settler state. The name “Border Patrol” was given to the agency in 1924 and then in 1952, the U.S. officially began searching for and policing immigrants for deportation. Mexican workers whom had originally been persuaded by the U.S. to work in the agricultural fields due to a labor shortage, were later exploited, brutalized and deported back to Mexico in 1955. This is historically known as the United States’ largest mass deportation, where the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service claims they deported over 1.3 million undocumented labor workers. This CBP campaign was violent, militant and reflects the history of racism as it was given the the name “Operation Wetback”. These same Immigration agencies have used relentless violence against indigenous people and migrants, and both have spoken out against detention facilities and the role of the prison industrial complex in the incarceration of undocumented bodies. This violence is not new, but rather we have been conditioned and taught a revisionist history in our communities. The U.S. exploits our lack of access to history and uses xenophobic rhetoric to further criminalize undocumented and migrant communities.
The Christmas in Tornillo and Tornillo: The Occupation campaign Facebook pages shared video footage and personal testimonies of why we do not support ICE, CBP, Trump, or any colonial government system on stolen land. Tornillo: The Occupation coalition successfully mobilized over 50 people across different communities and states to take action because the violence is obvious and people everywhere are rising up against these colonial systems. U.S. Military funded structures like the Border Patrol museum celebrate ethnic cleansing and concentration camps. The outcry, protests, and rallies centering the constant incoming grievances from our mixed status communities who are directly impacted by the violence upon undocumented communities, immigration, and deportation, should be centered first and foremost. Undocumented communities make up much of our local communities and we need to rise in solidarity with them. National Media platforms described the Border Patrol Museum as having been “Vandalized”, which was not the case, butterfly stickers can be peeled off or washed off but we cannot bring back the lives that have been lost due to ignorance, racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism. Atrocities that have been perpetrated by the U.S. government towards undocumented communities across the U.S. continue to evade our media platforms. The Red Nation supports our comrades in highlighting a narrative that uplifts and commemorates the resilience and strength of our undocumented communities. As our communities continue to challenge Immigration agencies, I strongly urge everyone to get involved in local efforts to defund and abolish ICE but most of all the abolition of all borders. The stickers of the faces of children lost at the hands of ICE and CBP is not vandalism nor is it defacement as news platforms have claimed. There is no vandalism like the video footage of CBP destroying humanitarian aid through slicing several hundreds of water jugs left empty for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers struggling for access to citizenship, water and freedom.
Afterwards, we caravanned to a mural called “In honor of Therese Patricia Okoumou”, created by comrades Juan Ortiz and Francisco Delgado. Juan Ortiz had created the mural in honor of Therese Patricia Okoumou who had climbed the Statue of Liberty earlier this year in protest of the violence at the border. Juan Ortiz describes the meaning and process behind the mural as a “collaboration with community members that were directly affected by the issues of mass incarceration and lack of documentation”. The mural is filled with images that speak both to the pain of separated families but also of the pain of detention and mass incarceration. The mural depicts a bronzed mother and child, seeing themselves reflected in one another. In the mural, a child is reaching out for comfort from a fellow woman, a fellow migrant, the comfort of a brown mother. The visual reflects the sanctity of that moment. The other corner depicts an ICE Police helmet turned into a spider whose webbing engulfs youth in a web of incarceration. At its center is a sacred heart made of nopales and railroad spikes. “En recuerdo,” in remembrance of not only of the migrants who have perished in the desert but also the ones who perished on La Bestia, the trains in Central America and Mexico that migrants board on their journey to the United States. The symbols are meant to resemble a retablo (decorated panels) or ex-voto (objects placed on altars)—all meant to respectfully memorialize in ways that resonate with border and immigrant communities. Many of the mural’s collaborators were community members who passed by and became involved including residents of a halfway house across the street from the location of the mural. So the process and creation of the mural itself became cathartic for the community. The mural was created as the SB4 Immigration Enforcement law that was set to take into effect in the state of Texas. In a dedication ceremony artist Juan Ortiz shared: “I propose in honor of Therese Patricia Okoumou, and in honor of the sacrifices she has made to the immigrant community, that this mural be renamed- Our Brown Mother of Exiles Therese Patricia.”
As the day came to an end for us, the Tornillo: The Occupation Coalition continued to plan for two more days of actions from February 18th-19th 2019.
Days 4 and 5: Relationality and SouthWest Key Facility
Our relative Szu-Han shared details of what happened on Sunday, February 17th, 2019. The coalition had set aside time for a coalition dinner called, “The Revolution is Relationship,” which described that any revolution includes and depends on radical relationality. To be in solidarity, means to be a good relative. In El Paso, there were urgent needs at the local emergency shelters for migrants who had just been released from detention that week. Many people in the group volunteered to help with preparing and serving meals, assisting with translation, and driving families to the bus station and airport. Many of these migrants were on their way to reunite with their relatives and sponsors that are spread across the U.S. This direct service allowed for organizers to interact and dialogue with people who are directly impacted by the immigration detention system.
On Monday February 18th, 2019, the coalition organized a protest march starting at San Jacinto Plaza, moving to the Southwest Key facility in downtown El Paso. The group brought giant puppets, banners, and signs with written testimonies of people inside the detention system. Speakers read the heartbreaking testimonies aloud, including one who said, “Guards stripped us naked and strapped us to chairs with bags over our heads. We just want to know [what happened to] our parents.” El Paso City Police officers arrived at the SW Key facility and tried to intimidate and harass folks participating in the event.
There were intense emotions during many of our actions together from several different older and new members of this coalition. We were all humbled and grateful to have occupied and challenged spaces where immense violence was being inflicted on our communities together. We continued to talk about the intersections of our many struggles throughout the entire weekend and even made plans to furthering our political education and organizing with according to anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and anti-racist politics that would provide the foundation of radical revolutionary change.
That weekend was wholesome., Despite the violence, people from all over Turtle Island came together to disrupt, resist, and demand justice for our relatives impacted by border imperialism. We all plan to continue organizing with the Tornillo: The Occupation Coalition and look forward to the continuation of The Red Nation beyond borders organizing efforts and resistance caravans across the U.S.
Here are the demands that the Tornillo: The Occupation had collectively created to contextualize all the demonstrations planned throughout the weekend:
While we believe that the abolishment of ICE, Customs and Border Patrol and Homeland Security is essential to the liberation of all people, we also recognize that thousands of human beings are currently being directly impacted by these systems. For this reason, with regard to the kidnapping and detention of our people WE DEMAND:
> That all forms of incarceration as “solutions” to processing migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees end immediately.
> That families who present for asylum at the border not be held in Border Patrol jails ever and be released to their sponsors immediately. If they do have to await processing, that it is not in a jail but rather in alternatives that provide adequate nutrition, water, medical care and compassionate support provided by the US government, which is responsible for the destabilization of their countries.
> The immediate return of ALL of the 10,000+ children still separated from their parents because of Trump administration policies and that all unification expenses INCLUDING travel be funded by the US government who separated these families.
> The humane release of all migrants currently in detention and a stop to the cruel practices of mass releases of refugees on the street without proper support or resources to find their way to their sponsors or tend to their families. We believe that it is the US government’s responsibility to give them basic humane support upon release.
> That the demands of the refugees who are currently on a hunger strike protesting the cruel treatment of asylum seekers in processing centers be met, an immediate end to the retaliatory and violent force feeding they are currently being subjected to and that their acts of courage not be used as an excuse for their deportation.
> That charges are immediately dropped on the nine No More Death volunteers and we call for an end to the criminalization and destruction of humanitarian aid across the country.
> No jail time for Patricia Okoumou who climbed the Statue of Liberty to highlight the cruel practice of family separation. Immediate pardon for her act of courage.
> The recognition that Water is Life and that this be implemented at all levels of government policies impacting humans and the environment.
> That the United States Government take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025, because by 2050 the UN anticipates there to be upwards of 250 million climate refugees. We demand our government to provide resources for developing countries to fund a just transition, and a robust public infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of climate-fueled disasters.
> With regard to the femicides of over 2,559 women across Latin America and in solidarity with the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman across Turtle Island we demand that all women live free without fear.
We recognize the inherent interconnectedness of all of our struggles. We recognize that without freedom for us all there will be no freedom for any of us. Our fight will continue until all of our demands are met. We are a community united, there will be no peace for the government until there is liberation for the people.
#RevoLove #FreeThem #LibérenLos #HungerStrike #AbolishICE #WaterIsLife #HumanitarianAidIsNeverACrime #Liberty4Patricia #NiUnaMas #FreeElPaso9 #NoDeportationsOnStolenLand #NoBanOnStolenLand #NoOneIsIllegalOnStolenLand #NOII #FreePalestine #EndColonialism #AbolishBorders #AbolishPrisons #MMIW