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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

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