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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Running in the War Years: Running for Consuelo Aguilar

by Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Special-Length Column

“For Indigenous peoples, running is prayer, it is motion and movement. It is energy channeled into the earth through our footsteps… We’ve always carried our prayers on our runs.”

Pima Student and Tucson Youth Organizer, Leilani Clark

As a community, Tucson is readying to take part in a scholarship run/walk for Consuelo Aguilar on April 3, 2011. It’s purpose: to bring about cancer awareness to our community. When she passed on to spirit world in Feb. 2009, she was the heart and soul of our community, an integral part of Raza Studies, both at the K-12 level and at the University of Arizona. She was also at the heart of defending Raza Studies and fighting for the dignity of all human beings.

To raise cancer awareness was her last wish. But the story about why we are running for her goes back several years.

Two summers ago, as a community, several hundred of us gathered at 5am in front of the Tucson Unified School District headquarters. From there, we walked across the city to Joaquin Murrieta Park, then about 50-60 of us ran from Tucson to Phoenix in 115-degree heat. We did it in an incredibly hostile environment – not the desert, but the political climate – in defense of Ethnic Studies.

That run, led by three ceremonial staffs, was powerful and transformative. One of the staffs, is dedicated to Consuelo. The day we arrived at the capital, we won, though the sponsor of the anti-Ethnic Studies bill vowed to kill Ethnic Studies the following year. While we were able to jump in and out of support vehicles, we had the knowledge that it is the same desert that over the past several years has claimed thousands of migrants attempting to cross the border.

Despite that reality, that run brought us a victory and transformed our community. Jacob Robles, a Raza Studies alumni, comments:

“One of the symbolic meanings running represents is the offering of your body and energy to the Earth. With each step you are honoring the relationship you share with the Earth, as you demonstrate a very significant bond with the land, which modern science knows as gravity. I very much had to push my body to its limits and then some. Still to this day, the experience is very difficult to sum up in words. It all changed when I realized that us running was more of a prayer and an offering than a protest.”

Pricila Rodriguez, a Tucson High and Raza Studies alumni, who is featured in the Precious Knowledge documentary that chronicles this struggle, also took part in the run. About the sensation she felt when she ran, she says: “It was as if my ancestors (Tarahumara) were running through me.”

Since that summer, we have come to understand the moral power of running. This we’ve done as a community under siege; we are often in court for students whose families are being separated by the migra. For those of us that aren’t being deported, we seem to be welcome to stay… as long as we shed our culture, history, language and identity.

Since that run, we’ve marched, rallied, have staged vigils and walked from one end of the city to the other (organized by high school students) to protest the continued frontal assaults against our communities. One of the walk’s organizers Ashley Bustamante, a Tucson High senior, comments:

“As I walked, I noticed how powerful this was, how just walking with many people fighting for the same right (education) was changing lives with each step that we took. We were making history; walking or running for an important reason helps the body and the soul, you no longer feel like a human, or skin and bones. You feel like something bigger...”

These runs/walks have made our community strong. Most of our runs are ceremonial runs. They are not races. We run with staffs and the slowest runner sets the pace. Our runners range from pre-schoolers to elders and they come from all cultures. We run not against anyone, but to strengthen ourselves and our communities. Tucson educators, Norma & Jose Gonzalez explain:

“During a ceremonial run we are intimately engaged with the Earth as we are in constant contact with her with every step that we take. Our ancestors knew the beauty of having an intimate relationship with our Earth while they ran upon her. Thankfully they left us this way of knowing: Neteotlaotiliztli. Today we run to initiate healing.”

Norma and Jose are both members of Tucson’s Calpolli Teoxicalli and form an integral part of 13 yearly barrio runs. Norma adds this about Consuelo:

“I have had the honor of running with Consuelo recently as my thoughts were particularly focused on her during a barrio run. I was running with the Cihuacoatl, our ceremonial staff that contains her energy. It was a moment of reconciliation for she and I. During that time she expressed to me to find my strength to run strong and with fuerza (strength) and voluntad (will). I could feel her embrace and her willingness to help me through a particularly tough run.”

Since that summer, we’ve had runs to create awareness regarding the devastating effects of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and domestic violence in our communities. Lorena B. Howard, Tucson, an activist who has dedicated her life to combating domestic violence comments on the importance of running:

“Historically running has been a way to bring cleansing and purification. This is needed in our state. To fight for social justice we have to be healthy, strong, centered and focused so we can find balance and harmony…”

We’ve also had a series of runs to defend Ethnic Studies. University of Arizona student, Jessica Mejia, who has taken part in several of these runs, offers her thoughts:

“I run because I can feel my positive energy leave my body and go to the person or people that I am thinking of. I can feel my heat and energy leave and I feel love replenish my offering.”

To comprehend why as a community we run, Maria Molina Vai Sevoi, Cihuacoatl of Calpolli Teoxicalli comments:

“Small and insignificant as we may seem in the vastness of the world, we are part of the journey of existence. Movement is the rule. We run to create harmony, find interconnectedness, and transcendence. We find harmony within and between our bodies, minds, and inner beings through respiration, rhythm, discipline, will, introspection, and vision. We do this individually and collectively. Interconnectedness comes from movement, repetition, physical and conscious evolution, history, memory, and vision. We link the past, present and future. Transcendence is leaping over mountains and reaching the sun, our vision. We run with purpose and obligation. The staff is the connection, the protection, the testament, and the archive.”

Sal Baldengro Jr., son of Tucson civil rights icons, Salomon Baldenegro and Ceci Cruz, also offers his thoughts:

“We run to affirm our humanity and to celebrate our rich and beautiful culture that is woven into the very fabric of this land. We run for all the people of Arizona, because hate and fear do not define who we are. We run to honor our elders and our ancestors, whose blood courses through our veins, and whose spirits protect us and guide us in everything we do. We run because our identity cannot be taken from us, and our history will always live on.”

The purpose of the runs is to uplift the physical and spiritual health of our communities. That is why as a community, we are now running for Consuelo.

Sean Arce, director of Tucson’s besieged Mexican American Studies program says that “the run is a way to collectively remember her. It is to remember her work of cultural affirmation, creation and social justice.”

Leilani Clark, who was told as a child that she would never run again, partakes in our ceremonial runs. She says: “Consuelo left a huge legacy behind in our community for the short time she was here on this earth in physical form. She left us countless waves of positive energy, inspiration and dreams.”

This also from Consuelo’s close friend, Darlane Santa Cruz:

“The act of memorializing Consuelo is a reminder in this daily walk that Consuelo lives… Consuelo encouraged me to find my voice, to fearlessly express the rhythm of love, truth, and justice everywhere I go – in everything I do. So when I run, when I create that energetic motion through physical action, mental strength, I move with the winds, and the vibration of that movement tells my comadre, my spirit friend that I love her, that as long as I have breath, her memory lives in my thoughts and my actions.”

University of Arizona professor, Andrea Romero, speaks of her former student:

“As a teacher, I remember how much Consuelo changed from a quiet freshman to an outspoken Xicanista grad student and then to an education professional who mentored students. I see that same potential in all of my students every semester, I see Consuelo's spirit and energy. I am happy to see this scholarship put in place because it truly honors her commitment to Chicano/a Studies and to the students.”

And finally, from her parents, Mario and Artemisa Aguilar:

“For us, the run symbolizes the love and support, not only for Consuelo,
but for our family, friends and our extended family. It continues to demonstrate the extent to which Consuelo touched those around her and our community. Most importantly this walk, and its goal to create a scholarship in Consuelo’s name, is the wish of proud parents trying to fill a void by immortalizing their daughter’s memory… May this scholarship bring hope and enlightenment to many future students who will have dreams, just as Consuelo once had her dream.”

Her mother notes that Consuelo would be very pleased about the run because Artemisa’s side of the family is Tarahumara, with a proud tradition of running.

Why do we run? Because we abhor injustice, but love humanity.

For info, re the run/walk and the scholarship, call Veronica Peralta at: 520-621-7551 or or go to:


Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, took part in the Tucson to Phoenix run in 2009 and runs regularly on the Teoxicalli barrio runs. He can be reached at:

An additional comment:

"I walk with the community in Tuxson because they walk together. I take little steps and big steps depending on the need. I pause if they decide it's best for me to do so. I have paused. I began walking with them because Consuelo invited me to do so. She knew I owned a machete called words, music, revolutionary spirit. Our community saw and continues to see dark times. The obstacles we face are constant. It's night time and we can barely see the heavy bushes called obstacles. There, in the path hardly paved at night when one can hardly see anything, Consuelo would ask me to swing the machete. She was rebellious in that way. She would ask questions, because that is what leaders do...they listen. She would ask if I was tired. I would say, yes, but let's keep going. She was capable of seeing the future because she was clear. She loved high points because at the not too far distance, she could see dignity not too far ahead. She saw the future. We were all tired of swinging and couldn't see much. Her resilience was the indicator that she could see the future and our reason for continuing to walk together. Today, her spirit guides our steps. Remember she can see the future much more clear now, she is relentless. She is waiting for us to get there. She is waiting because she knows we walk together. She is young, radiant, relentless, but I want her to rest now. We need to get there faster because we now that not too far ahead is dignity and we she is certain that it's there...We want her to rest, we want your machetes out, speed up the pace ... and let's run together"
Olmeca, Los Angeles

Monday, March 21, 2011

Arizona: In violation of all human rights laws

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

For the moment, Arizona has regained its sanity. Five draconian anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant bills were recently defeated by the state senate. However, this bout of sanity in this insane state may only be temporary; this action only dealt with five 2011 bills. More bills remain and the author of most of these bills, Russell Pearce, remains Senate president.

The defeat of these bills simply returns us to the unsustainable status quo, a hostile state climate, including the continued militarization of the border, plus the 2010 bills: the racial profiling SB1070 and the Anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281.

A careful reading of these two bills has convinced many of us that the state has for years been out of compliance or in violation of virtually all international human rights laws. These laws were designed to protect the rights of peoples from physical and cultural extermination and persecution and from discriminatory treatment and forced assimilation. Virtually all these laws protect people’s rights to education, history, language, identity and culture.

In comprehending Arizona, it is useful to understand the UN definition of Human Rights: they are inherent, inalienable and universal. In April of 2010, five UN special rapporteurs denounced both SB 1070, and HB 2281, as measures that would most likely lead to the mass violation of human rights.

About HB 2281, they specifically wrote: “Such law and attitude are at odds with the State’s responsibility to respect the right of everyone to have access to his or her own cultural and linguistic heritage and to participate in cultural life. Everyone has the right to seek and develop cultural knowledge and to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information.”

Seven months later, then state superintendent, Tom Horne (now state attorney general) declared Mexican American Studies-Tucson Unified School District as out-of-compliance. The only form of compliance per HB 2281 is elimination. Eleven MAS educators promptly filed a lawsuit, proclaiming that they will not comply with an unconstitutional law that has given TUSD several months to dismantle the program.

Currently, HB 2281 appears first and foremost to also be in violation of the:

1948: UN Declaration of Human Rights
1948: American Declaration of the Rights of Man
1960: Convention against Discrimination in Education
1966 & 1976: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1969 American Convention on Human Rights (Organization of American States)
1989: The UN Convention on Rights of the Child
1990: The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
1994: The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
2007: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

SB 1070 also violates virtually every one of these human rights laws that are designed to prevent larger hostile governments from forcefully, politically or culturally eliminating or swallowing up smaller nations, peoples and cultures.

The root of the conflict re HB 2281 involves the insistence by Tom Horne that the highly successful MAS program preaches un-American values and that it does not emphasize the Greco-Roman roots of Western Civilization. In that sense, he is half-correct. The philosophical foundation for MAS-TUSD is rooted in maiz. Maiz culture is part of a 7,000-year culture that is completely Indigenous to the Americas. In effect, continues to call for a modern-day version of the colonial policy of “reducciones” or forced conversions. This latter-day policy is an attempt to exterminate that which is Indigenous among Mexican Americans and “reduce” them to the status of individual “Americans” – minus their roots, history and culture. American Indians will recognize “reducciones” as a predecessor to Indian Boarding school policies.

Most MAS supporters do not view this as a Mexican American or Ethnic Studies issue per se, but an issue that attacks the very precept of education. To be sure, it is not a K-12 issue either as John Huppenthal, the current superintendent of schools, actively campaigned against “La Raza,” and also vowed to eliminate Ethnic Studies at the University level. The minute governments begin to legislate what is acceptable knowledge means a degradation of the very idea of education. That is what is at stake in Arizona. Akin to SB 1070, there are many forces that would love to export HB 2281 nationwide.

Conversely, what should be exported is MAS’s proven curriculum. Expanding and adopting such an ethnic studies model in communities nationwide – which celebrates a student’s culture – would unquestionably see a dramatic rise in graduation rates and an increase in college-going rates. It might even contribute to a little more mutual respect and sanity in this conflictive world we live in.

* Precious Knowledge, which documents the heroic struggle to defend Ethnic Studies will screen in Tucson March 24.

Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Arizona Refuses to Take Backseat to History

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Sometimes columns just seem to write themselves. The world is aflame, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, and as a result, extremist Arizona legislators seem to be getting a complex… nobody seems to be paying as much attention to them compared to just several weeks ago. Even Wisconsin has managed to upstage the rogue Arizona legislators. Utah too. As such, the Arizona rogue legislators have stepped forward to once again capture the 19th century spotlight.

Arizona put itself on the map last year for passing several bills that appear to send out the message that brown people are not welcome. The bill, SB 1070, the one that compels local police to seek out the legal status of suspects based on the nebulous concept of “reasonable suspicion,” is as close to official ethnic cleansing as one can get. Because the “migra” or immigration services have long had that power, on the streets, “reasonable suspicion” translates to brown skin and the use of the Spanish language.

The HB 2281 bill is an attempt to deny the teaching of Ethnic Studies in Arizona. Its first target is Tucson’s highly successful Mexican American Studies K-12 program. The attack on this program amounts to cultural genocide, though many people bristle at that description. Yet, how else to describe an attempt to forcefully assimilate any population?

But all that is so 2010.

2011 in Arizona began with not simply declaring Mexican American Studies illegal – with an April 18 deadline to dismantle the program – but with a flurry of bills that make both of these bills seem Mexican-friendly.

The following will give you an example of the environment we are living – this, in the midst of a huge nationwide state-by-state budget crisis in which Mexicans always become convenient scapegoats.

Several of the bills, include:

SB 1611. This so-called omnibus immigration bill is the equivalent of a free-for all. It is a collection of all the most extreme anti-immigrant ideas under one bill. Among its many features, it prohibits students from enrolling in K-12 without proof of U.S.-birth certificates or naturalization documents. This bill goes contrary to the Plyler v. Doe 1982 Supreme Court decision. It does the same for community colleges. It also permits the state housing authority to evict all residents of a public housing unit if one of the occupants is undocumented. “Driving while undocumented” would hereafter be a crime and the driver would lose the vehicle they are driving. It also forces companies to use the voluntary E-Verify system or lose their business license.

SB 1308 and SB 1309. These bills call for the nullification of birthright citizenship, reinterpreting the 14th amendment as no longer operative in Arizona. These bills would result in the creation of two types of birth certificates; one for citizens and one for those whose citizenship of the parents cannot be proven.

Truthfully, these two bills seem to be the holy grail of the 2011 bills. The rest appear to be subterfuge. The state legislators know that even when passed, they would be automatically challenged in court. But that’s the objective; if they were to succeed – via a Supreme Court decision – it would accomplish the objective of creating a larger deportable population. This is not an Arizona plan either, but the plan by many dozens of extremist legislators from throughout the United States to overturn the 14th Amendment, an amendment they claim only should have applied to the descendants of slaves.

SB 1097: This bill forces students to identify the legal status of their parents and also punishes school personnel if they don’t facilitate this identification process.

SB 1490: Requires food service workers to provide proof of citizenship.

SB 1406: Authorizes the creation of a wall using private funding and inmate labor.

SB1405: Requires hospitals to check for legal documentation before accepting patients.

SCR 1006: This would proclaim, contrary to all available data, the border as lawless and crime-ridden. It would call for further militarization of the border.

SB 1117/HB 2537: This would authorize Senate President Russell Pearce and House Speaker Kirk Adams, the unlimited power to use state funds to defend SB 1070.

Aside from creating an extremist slush fund, perhaps anticipating lawsuits or other court action, legislators have also proposed two even more mind-boggling laws:

SB 1443: This legislation creates a joint 12-member legislative commission to examine which federal laws are applicable to Arizona. The commission would determine which federal laws are unconstitutional.

SCR 1010: This would exempt Arizona from international laws, most of which concern themselves with the protection of peoples’ inherent, inalienable and universal human rights.

Again, this is just a small sampling of this year's bills thus far, in part compiled by Derechos Humanos, an Arizona-based human rights organization. Until the political equation is altered, we can expect a flurry of more bills that will continue to be challenged in court, while stimulating calls to once again boycott this state – seemingly the last bastion of Manifest Destiny.

Now for the bad news out of Utah… 3 more bills:

HB 497: Think Arizona and SB 1070. Same draconian racial profiling measures. For it to be implemented, it would have to survive a court challenge.

HB 116: Utah’s very own Bracero Program. Would require a federal waiver. Without one, states currently cannot create their guest worker program.

HB 466: Permits Utah to enter into agreement with Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to facilitate federal migrant worker program.

These three are up for the governor’s signature (or veto) next week.

The rest of the country seems to have slowed up, perhaps simply waiting for Arizona to take the lead (to exhaust its finances on defending these draconian bills in the courtroom).

The good news in all this is that Precious Knowledge, a film that documents the inspiring story of the threatened MAS-TUSD program will have its U.S. nationwide premier on March 24.

Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at:

Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Column of the Americas
PO BOX 3812
Tucson, AZ 85722