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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tlakatl: What it Means to be Human: A brief Synopsis


Ochoa Elem. students
Tlakatl: What it Means to be Human
All-Day Student/Community Symposium

A brief Synopsis

Nov 19, 2013

Whatever I write here is but a glimpse of what happened on Tues Nov 19 at the “Tlakatl: What it Means to be Human” symposium at the University of Arizona. Many photographs were taken and much was videotaped… and this here too is but a brief synopsis that will give you a feel for this event, but it does not approximate conveying the historic nature of the gathering. (Videotape of much of the symposium will be released as soon as all the permissions are gathered.)

The symposium took place one month after a historic uprising in Arizona from Oct 8-14 (South Tucson, Tucson, Phoenix, Nogales and Eloy). It began with a spontaneous protest by hundreds against the cooperation between the police and the migra in South Tucson where the police (as they usually do) contacted the migra during a routine traffic stop of two people in a vehicle, driving with a faulty license plate light. A DREAMER, via different means, contacted the community. Within a half hour, hundreds of people were out on the streets, challenging both the police and migra. While two additional people were arrested and taken away and some were hurt and others were pepper sprayed, the story was not the violence, but the community’s unprecedented challenge to the poli-migra.

Three days later, a coalition of human rights organizations managed to shut down OPERATION STREAMLINE, an apartheid-style form of “justice” that takes place everyday in a half dozen cities along the border, including Tucson. The spectacular action included shutting down access to the federal building, along with locking down two migra buses along the freeway. 24 were arrested on this day. A few days later, a long-publicized promised shutdown of the migra in Phoenix succeeded before even the day came. After the Tucson uprising, the Phoenix migra shut itself down for 4 days, between Oct 11-14. Meanwhile, DREAMERS also forced the shutdown of the private CCA detention facility in Eloy on Oct 14, while human rights activists celebrated in front of the self-shutdown offices of Phoenix ICE.

Much more drama was played out during these and other actions (including another chasedown of the poli-migra on the freeway by human rights activists), that resulted in the Tucson City Hall Council, in effect, directing the chief of police not to have his officers engage in racial profiling or to automatically call the migra, etc.  While a victory, it is not an outright ban.

This was the context of the symposium, coming on top of year-long struggles involving the anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281 and the anti-immigrant SB 1070 legislation. These struggles have seen many people arrested (including myself).

For many reasons, the idea of the symposium was not about what it means to be Chicano/Chicano or Mexican or Raza or Indigenous, but rather, what it means to be human. Everyone gets to partake in this question…. Especially those who have been subjected to dehumanization.

The additional context here is the topic of dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. We wanted to examine when, where and who created the very concepts of who is human, vs. who is not human, who has souls and who does not, and the modern context of who is legal vs. who is not? This is a decades-long process by Indigenous rights organizations throughout the continent and at international gatherings, including at the United Nations.

While these hearings and gatherings have focused on the entire world or continent, this gathering examined how this dehumanization plays out in Arizona, especially against peoples from Mexico and Central America. In Tucson and Phoenix, these are communities who understand dehumanization and the Doctrine of Discovery on a daily level.

To begin this symposium, we had to begin it in an appropriate way. Many of us in Tucson run, and we run a lot. We don’t run for exercise, competition or for protest. We run to spiritually cleanse our communities and ourselves. So before the symposium, Calpolli Teoxicalli, several of my students  (from two classes: (MAS 350) The history of Red-Brown Journalism and communications and (MAS 496) The Legacies of the Doctrine of Discovery) and other community members ran from the Calpolli to the University of Arizona. The short 3-mile run was dedicated to the same theme of symposium. Beyond its physical component, running at 6:30 in the morning signaled the importance of the symposium to our community. When we run, we express ourselves. Our bodies, our feet speak for us. It is our voice. When we run, we leave footprints, and that’s how we chose to start our long day.

Once the symposium began at the KIVA room, a ceremonia and platica were held by the Calpolli on the very meaning of What it Means to be Human.

Many of those in the audience, aside from undergraduate and graduate UA students were high school students from Tucson and Pueblo high schools, many of whom had never seen or took part in such an opening or platica. It was a great way to open up the symposium.

Then, in a most dramatic fashion, UA student Cynthia Diaz from Phoenix & her mom, Maria Rodriguez, who is currently living in Sonora, welcomed the participants via Skype. Maria was deported some three years ago, leaving Cynthia as the head of her household. Students, during and after this welcoming expressed that such an exchange helped both to concretize and humanize the topic of deportations and family separations. Many of the students in attendance are in similar situations, living with deportation hearings as part of their family reality (Incidentally, one student’s spouse was deported last month).

The morning back-to-back sessions included panels by UA-MAS 350 students on immigration/human rights and voice. While the presentations were part of research papers that students are writing, many of the presentations were personal… personal stories of challenges they face in Arizona… more importantly; most of the stories are those of resilience as many of the students live the consequences of what is often in the news. Each session had a professor respondent.

The next session included poetry on what it means to be human by students from Tucson and Pueblo High Schools – with instructors Maria Federico Brummer, Jessica Mejia and Tiffany Mendibles-Escobar.

During these sessions, we also had concurrent elementary school presentations in the Ventana Room at the UA Student Union. Facilitated by Nyona Smith, with several other students, these sessions included creative expressions on the same topic. After the high schools presented, Ochoa Elem. students joined everyone at the KIVA room where they proceeded to sing 3 songs (from memory) in Nahuatl. They did this with the drum. Many felt that this was the highlight of the symposium, if not at least the morning sessions.

Steven Martin, director, of the UA-Native American Student Affairs office welcomed and introduced the noon keynote speaker, Chief Jake Edwards of the Onondaga Nation. The chief’s platica was regarding the wampum belts – a place that stores some 1,000 years of history. Wampum belts are akin to the Quipu and the Nepohuatzinzin – or even the ancient pre-Colombian codices. They are books in different forms. The presentation was so powerful, suffice to say he has granted us permission to post his words (will be posted shortly). Something special happened during his presentation. He went more than twice than his allotted time, and yet, not one complaint and everyone wanted to hear more. But as he said, just telling the story on one of the belts takes more than a week. Incredibly, the very tight schedule was not thrown off… even while others were added to the plenary presentations.

Human rights activist, Dulce Juarez, who works with the ACLU on immigration related issues – and a former DREAMER herself – made the most poignant observation: to understand what it means to be human, we must first be aware of the dehumanization that our communities live.

Dr. Vivian Lopez – followed Juarez’s presentation on the topic of the Spirit of Being. This powerful presentation included the idea that a person’s spirit includes all those around us (and not just human beings), and thus, when a person’s spirit is damaged, it damages all those around that person’s spirit (A student, Crystal Echerivel, actually expounded on the very topic in a most concise manner in one of the morning sessions). What it means to be human, within that context, rehumanization, in effect, is a process that involves healing that spirit of being, the healing of communities – as opposed to simply individuals.

Following Dr. Lopez’s presentation, Tupak Enrique Acosta and Evie Aguirre of Tonatierra in Phoenix delivered words regarding the issue of Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery. While both had been in South America right before the symposium, they connected the topic of their platica, with the theme of the symposium. Many people in Arizona, and the nation for that matter, have followed the work of Tonatierra in the realm of Indigenous Rights – while including Chicanos/Chicanas in these discussions for several decades. No justice here on their words as we hope we are given permission to post their platicas. Minimally, it should be recognized that because of Tonatierra, the topic of dismantling the doctrine of discovery, has become not simply the inspiration for UN presentations and international conferences, but so too this symposium.

While initially the maestros from UA’s SEED or SEMILLAS program were scheduled to present concurrently, they instead were brought into the plenary sessions where they shared with all the participants their beautiful knowledge from Indigenous pueblos, primarily from Southern Mexico. Maestros from Semillas for the past several years have been instrumental in bringing direct knowledge from Mexico and Central America to Arizona students, while learning about Arizona’s reality (Many run with us).

Prior to the afternoon student sessions, UNIDOS co-founder Denise Rebeil spoke of UNIDOS’s current work (their organizing manual). UNIDOS is the student group that staged a dramatic takeover on April 26, 2011 of the TUSD school board room when they chained themselves to the board members’ chairs. It was through their organizing efforts, along with a legal challenge, that the community constantly challenged the constitutionality of HB 2281, both at the local and state levels.

The afternoon MAS 496 student presentations focused on Identity and Human Rights. Concurrently, students from Grijalva, Hughes and McCorkle elementary schools also presented on the topic of what it means to be human via art, music and other creative expressions.

"Tlakatl: What it means to be human - Painting by Tanya Alvarez

During the afternoon sessions, El Coraje, a student newspaper (the original was from the 1960s-1970s), created by MAS 350 students, was presented to participants.

Evening keynote presentations were combined with a community forum. Presentations included the voices of some of the most powerful Tucson human rights activists  -- Raul Al-qaraz, Corazon de Tucson, UA Grad Student, Devora Gonzalez and Isabel Garcia, Derechos Humanos. Moderated by Mari Galup, these presentations were all-Tucson – embodied by those that were central in the Oct 8-14 uprisings.

The evening program, which included the keynotes, facilitated by UA-MEChA co-chairs Diana Diaz and Vic Junior, was very powerful. Joined by a speaker from Scholarships-AZ, the forum included a Q and A on where we go from here (There definitely will be a follow-up next year).

Before the closing session, Teatro (4 skits) by MAS 496 students was presented precisely on the topic of What it means to be human and the doctrine of discovery. Truly, one would have thought they were a pre-existing teatro as they both grasped the topics, but presented them dramatically before the audience. One skit was regarding Operation Streamline while another was regarding light-skin preference in the Americas.

Spoken Word on the topic of what it means to be human was delivered by Spoken Future. The last presentation was actually a collective poem by all those in the audience on What it means to be human.

Video and photos of the symposium will be posted shortly. And definitely, this will become an annual event, which will include curriculum on said topic. BTW... copies of El Coraje are available...

For more info:

Roberto Rodriguez PhD
Dr Cintli

"Tlakatl: What it means to be human - Painting by Tanya Alvarez

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