Encuentro con Rosalva Fuentes y Fortin de las Flores, Pt 2

Thursday we met with a familiar face, Rosalva Fuentes. This week, however, our group learned just how powerful and layered her presence is outside of the Border Studies Program.

At around 5pm we walked into a conference room in the Historic Y to find several members of Rosalva’s organization, Fortin de las Flores. We started off with a game of soccer on the patio, which we found out was to demonstrate the dynamics of a community in which one person has a whistle, the power, and one group is favored more than the other. Rosalva split us into two teams, the Brown people and the White people. She sent me to the Brown team, which was a pleasant surprise since my Mexican background does not always come across on my Russian face. As someone whose family emigrated from Mexico, it brought up some interesting questions for me. When I am home in Oregon, a very Anglo population, I am Mexican. When I am at school in Connecticut, I am Jewish. When I am in Tucson, I am most often White. I think this question of context will become a theme throughout the program. Are you only what people see you to be? This seems to be true in the borderlands, where anyone with dark skin can be pegged as an undocumented immigrant, even if you are a citizen.

Rosalva touched on this point when we went back into the conference room. She had Gerardo, a man from Fortin de las Flores, act as a border patrol agent. Three of our students pretended to be Canadians in Arizona. Their car was being pulled over by the border patrol agent. In Spanish, he interrogated the students about where they were coming from and why they were in Arizona. He spoke so fast that even our advanced Spanish speakers had a hard time understanding. The officer asked for their IDs but refused to accept any documentation from out of state. Canadian identification was irrelevant. He went back to his car and told the students to wait. There were giggles in the room, however silence quickly ensued when we realized we had no idea what would come next. Nothing was happening. We waited. It seemed like it took ten minutes, when in reality, about three minutes later Rosalva walked in. She was in a full border patrol uniform. I barely recognized her in her hat and sunglasses. She whispered to the other officer and then went up to the car. She asked the same questions as the officer before, again in Spanish. She was surprisingly cordial and explained that because their documentation was not legal in the US they would be taken to the detention center. To be honest, I didn’t understand much more than that. Rosalva ended the demonstration there.

She asked us how we felt. Some of us mentioned how strange it was to watch something that often happened to people of color in the borderlands, but would probably never happen to us. It made me realize that the issue of immigration is not just about politics or a wall. It’s about people being attacked, harassed, and demeaned in your own home. It’s being told that a life you think is your own can be taken away from you by a stranger.

Then Rosalva went through a timeline of laws that have been produced in the last ten or more years, such as SB 1070. It became increasingly clear how the issue of immigration, that is most often presented as an economic issue, is very much motivated by hate and racism. Perhaps change won’t come from policy but rather from a shift in our culture.

– Natalie Ancona


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