“They need medics in Tijuana” a friend called to tell me. I’d already decided that the long drive was too much for my body when thinking of going to the border solidarity actions. But, somehow, I decided to go ahead anyway and show up. I was so impressed I could get out of the car and walk a few steps when we arrived in Tijuana that I was excited to see what help I could offer.
It is true that a lot of solidarity help is needed in Tijuana. Most helpful are people who speak Spanish, have a vehicle, and can stay for 5-7 days to integrate into the work. Flexibility is key. One nurse I met was a specialized, experienced wound care person and ended up happily doing translation. We met at a press conference for the hunger strikers. Every day I did different things and had no idea at the beginning of the day what I would be doing. One criticism I heard of North Americans is that we want to be able to plan when we are coming and what we will be doing. This is a humanitarian crisis and people on the ground are overwhelmed getting through each day, usually don’t have time to answer the backlog of messages and emails they receive.
Conditions on the ground are always changing and, if trusted, you will be doing many things…but perhaps not what you initially thought. If you want to volunteer, go with an open mind. There is an ebb and flow of volunteers so that weekends may have more folks and by mid-week few remain.
The central organizing hub in Tijuana is the amazing autonomous space, Enclave Caracol, which is serious about feminism and an alternative to binary genders, and even works to change the heavily gendered Spanish language. Enclave is a community center with a plethora of posters including Pride, decolonize, and “Todos con Marichuy” (the indigenous woman backed by Zapatistas who ran for President of Mexico*). Workshops and cultural presentation are offered of everything from dance to self care to how to deal with the effects of tear gas. I have rarely been in as gender fluid and inclusive a space where so many struggles are respected.
I was honored to sit in a few of the daily meetings and see how thoughtfully people approached the work, needs, and resources. Enclave houses Comida no bombas / Food not Bombs and feeds homeless Mexicans, deportees, and anyone else who shows up since 2011. They are a community center which has integrated many caravan members. While I was there, one of the community meetings discussed whether to increase the number of meals provided daily to be able to support the Benito Juarez camp which now had no food after Mexican authorities closed the stadium flooded by torrential rain and moved thousands of people a 30 minute car ride away to el Barretal, a fenced space which had been a night club and where some services are provided with long lines and military control/”protection”. Some people decided to stay camped on the street in front of the Benito Juarez stadium even though authorities tried to get them to leave and took away the limited services previously provided. The camp residents I talked with felt el Barretal was isolated and too far away, difficult to get work, and although there were some services offered, they preferred to camp in the street in front of Benito Juarez..
The collective decided to make more food and bring it to the site of the Benito camp. This was doubling the number of meals a day that were served at 2 separate sites. “We just have to start earlier” people decided who already were working very long days. I ended up working in the kitchen to support this change as there were not nearly enough volunteers. Enclave has put out a call for more volunteers.
Enclave also has a tenant, the legal team, Al Otro Lado, which is on the top floors. They help migrants understand the process of seeking asylum in the US. I was never able to make it through their morning orientation since I got pulled out after 5 minutes to do other things. 2 of the women I traveled with were volunteering with al Otro Lado and kept very busy. Al Otro Lado also has an ongoing call out for volunteers.
As for medical care, I was able to do some, but it seems the most helpful thing is to organize a fairly self-sufficient group to provide everything needed for a mobile clinic. Enclave has a clinic space which I cleaned out and organized. I understand that at times people pass through to staff it. Anyone with a complicated problem goes to the General Hospital where I’m told patients are seen without charge for up to 2 months, no documentation needed.
Women from the caravan called for a hunger strike on November 29 to demand the US implement a faster asylum process & to the Mexican government to expedite humanitarian visas. It is so slow now that people would be waiting many months to get a chance to present their asylum claim. I was called to the hunger strike camp to check on a baby who had been bitten by a rat in the night. I imagine this is happening to other children as well.
I was able to connect with the LGBTQ caravans and able to provide some health care in addition to translation and logistics support. Trans women who apply for asylum are sent to Cibola Detention Facility which has a dedicated wing for Trans women. The hope is that they can support each other being together. However, Cibola is the Detention Center where Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez was briefly housed, possibly where she was shackled and beaten, before she died from lack of medical care. When Cibola was a private prison, it lost its contract due to human rights violations and months later reopened as a detention center.
I can say that Diversidad sin Fronteras and Santa Fe Dreamers Project has been doing a lot to support our family. Past issues of UV have talked about their work. Your donations to these groups are being well spent. In addition to money, there is a need for folks here in the US to step up for everything from providing housing to concretely helping folks navigate the complexities of this new life after getting out of detainment.
It’s a bad time to be a migrant. The fear of the stranger is nothing new though worldwide today xenophobia seems to be ever stronger. The Dutch are talking about housing migrants on an island 2 miles off their coast which previously had been used to quarantine sick animals. In 1913 the Dominican Republic stripped citizenship, retroactively to 1929 of any Dominican born of foreign parents (mainly Haitians). The last boat that saved the lives of 10,000s of refugees in the Mediterranean is being forced to close down. And the US just allowed a 7 year old girl to die in ICE custody rather than seek prompt medical care for her overheating and dehydration.
The recent caravans from Honduras and Central America have left thousands of people camped out in Tijuana hoping for asylum and entry into the US. Military has been called up, migrants are now called terrorists, and the US refuses to follow our own laws granting asylum requests.
Central America has suffered from centuries of colonialism and exploitation with harsh punishment for any resistance. This continues today under neoliberal policies, repression of indigenous opposition to mining, deforestation, and dams. The 2009 US supported coup of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras created an even greater level of corruption and violence from gangs and drugs which have become embedded in the state police forces. Also, there has been a number of years of drought and crop failure in the “dry zone” of Central America causing food scarcity for 2 million people. The cruelty of neoliberalism in partnership with world banks and the elite is shown by the privatization of water in Choluteca, Honduras for the last 5 years, restricting water usage for 200,000 residents and farmers in a time of decreasing rainfall. Climate disruption and chaos is another face of global imperialism. The pollution and carbon dioxide of the wealthy developed countries disproportionately affects poor and vulnerable people around the world. Mass migrations which dwarf the current “immigration crisis” are in our earth’s future. This was the point of the 2018 UN Climate report which details what a huge difference to the lives of millions and millions of people around the world hangs in the balance of the earth warming 1.5 degree C instead of 2 degrees C.
On the ground in Tijuana, I heard again and again from mothers that they had to leave their homes. In addition to the violence which killed family members, they had no food for their children. Living on the streets with inadequate food, sanitation, and health services in Mexico is not a new experience for many of them. What is new is collectively taking their destiny into their own hands and trying to change it together. This was the beauty of the caravans and inspired the amazing generosity people have showed the caravans as they passed. Although much has been made of Mexicans who are anti-immigrant, most of what I saw was solidarity. There are also camps of homeless Mexicans that are indistinguishable from those of the migrants. In the rain and cold, I thought of the many homeless encampments in Oakland, without any services, that are constantly being evicted and harassed.
When I returned from Tijuana, I had the viral crud so many I saw there had. I had bilingual, dystopian dreams while sweating out my sickness. We are looking to make a new world where there is a place for the generations to come. The horrors of famine, floods, drought and air we cannot breathe that will cause most of us who survive to become refugees is unacceptable. The struggle continues on many fronts from the streets of Oakland to Palestine, Haiti, Tijuana, Honduras, Bolivia, the Philippines, Nigeria, and on and on. La lucha sigue.
*Marichuy’s campaign was not interested in taking power or in winning the privilege to rule over others but based on communal governance, a respect for the earth and others, and a commitment to healing from centuries of colonial domination. Centering the voices and values of indigenous communities – women and girls, especially – Marichuy’s campaign tour featured all women speakers who stressed the profound gender inequalities in Mexican systems of governance, the history of violence against Mexican women, and the culture of capitalism that extends impunity to those who commit femicides.