By Curtis Prendergast
After a summer of heated debate, SB 1070 has finally taken effect as a state law. Kind of. A federal judge blocked several key provisions, but other parts of the law took effect on Thursday, July 29.
The resulting situation requires a detailed analysis to fully understand. This story is not about the legal implications of the injunction. Instead, this is the story of the people who came out to demonstrate, some in favor of the law, some not, on a hot afternoon in Tucson, Ariz.
On Wednesday evening, opponents of SB 1070 arrived at the northwest corner of Congress St. and Granada Ave. in downtown Tucson and camped out in front of the state building. The organizers of this demonstration, mainly the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and Southside Presbyterian Church, had said at a press conference the previous Tuesday that demonstrators would stay on the corner all night. SB 1070 was scheduled to go into effect at 12:00 a.m. on Wednesday night and they wanted to make their presence known when it did.
SB 1070 supporters would come to the intersection on Thursday, but Wednesday belonged to the anti-SB 1070 crowd.
I got to the corner at 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday evening and stayed until 3:00 p.m. the following afternoon, with a two-hour break to recharge my camera’s batteries and my own around 10:oo p.m. on Wednesday evening. During that time I saw Tucson wake up to SB 1070, with each side of the debate as determined as ever to continue the fight.
Slideshow 1: The sun goes down on the pre-SB 1070 era.
When I arrived to the corner on Wednesday, a microphone was set up on the corner occupied by anti-SB 1070 demonstrators. Speakers said their piece to the crowd in front of a banner reading “Unite to Resist!”
“We would be here if we won or if we lost,” said Isabel Garcia, co-chair of Derechos Humanos, in both Spanish and English to the crowd of 85 people gathered on the corner.
Garcia told the crowd they could claim “a major victory” in Judge Bolton’s partial injunction of SB 1070. “The court decided that Arizona simply cannot enact immigration law,” said Garcia. “You cannot create a police state for colored people.” The federal court saw that the anti-SB 1070 campaign would win down the line, said Garcia.
She pointed to U.S. economic and immigration policy over the past century as an essential contributor to large-scale immigration from Mexico. “For a hundred years we have encouraged immigration. We can no longer allow free trade agreements that make people leave their country and then ask them why they come here,” said Garcia.
Other speakers reminded the crowd of a more immediate problem. “We need to remember the deaths on the border,” said Kat Rodriguez, also of Derechos Humanos. With 59 deaths, July was one of the deadliest months on record for immigrants crossing the deserts of southern Arizona, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Another speaker reminded the crowd of the future implications of the fight to defeat SB 1070. “We have a responsibility to our future generations, to give them a world free of discrimination,” said Elena Parra.
Parra pointed out the complexities of being a Mexican-American. “We have a tri-cultural self. One part is Mexican, one part is what we have learned from Anglo culture, and one part is a combination of both. With laws like this, one part of us begins to hate the other, which does not lead to a healthy life,” said Parra. “We need a psychology of liberation.”
“Soy mexicana y estoy muy orgullosa de ser mexicana,” said Parra.
Slideshow 2: Dancing at day’s end
The crowd watched the daylight fade and settled in for a long night. As the sun went down, Chucho Vaisevoi of Calpulli Teoxicalli beat a drum next to an altar of candles. The group, based in South Tucson, identifies with the Mexica, descendants of the Aztec and Toltec cultures, and conducts their ceremonies in Nahuatl. Dancers dressed in white linen and headdresses moved around the altar like planets moving around the sun in a traditional dance of the Toltec.
“SB 1070 brought up the immigration issue and we decided we need to recognize that we are indigenous people. We aren’t just immigrants,” said Vaisevoi. “We need to reclaim our identity, reclaim our roots, reclaim our space.”
Members of Teoxicalli utilize the dance to create positive energy, said Vaisevoi. “We use it for all rites of passage, for planting and harvesting ceremonies.”
The altar in the center of the group glittered with candles in glass containers. Among the items next to the candles were conch shells, flowers, and a photo of Consuelo Aguilar, a defender of southern Arizona’s ethnic studies programs who died of cancer in February 2009.
The drumbeat sounded steadily until morning.
Slideshow 3: Spending the night on the corner of Congress and Granada
True to their word, the demonstrators stayed on the corner the entire night, holding anti-SB 1070 signs for drivers to see as they passed through the intersection. So what goes on during an all-night demonstration? People held up signs, they cheered at the drivers that honked when they went past, they listened to music on a stereo, sang their favorite songs (“original Shakira”), beat drums, napped and chatted.
(Photos by Curtis Prendergast and Kandice Peña)
There was a palpable feeling of solidarity on the corner as Chucho and his compatriots hit the drum slowly, quietly resonating through the crowd like a collective heartbeat. Later on that morning the pro-SB 1070 demonstrators would arrive to provide another perspective on the injunction, but for the time being all the energy on the corner of Congress and Granada was focused on coming together to fight a law they viewed as unjust.
Charlando toda la noche
We sat and chatted in Spanish and English. Some people already knew each other and shared stories about their lives. Others were meeting for the first time and spent the wee hours of the morning getting to know each other. Some dozed, but most stayed awake. The organizers had scheduled shifts and demonstrators rotated in throughout the night.
We talked about food as we shared vegan chocolate chip cookies. The conversation turned to preparing the fruits of the cactus that grow in the area. We debated whether the word for cactus fruit, tuna, was related to the word for olive, aceituna. We decided that it probably was not. Local events also were discussed, such as the campaign to protest the company that owns Basha’s, AJ’s and Food City for the way it treats its employees and for giving money to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There was excited talk about the recent opening of El Super, a new supermarket that caters to Latino tastes.
An immigrant’s story
Catalina Campos-Llamas told me her story as we moved from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. She came to the United States from a small town in the southwestern Mexican state of Nayarid 25 years ago and became a citizen in 1997. She was one of many people who decided to look for work far from home. “In my town there are only old people and kids,” said Campos-Llamas.
Many of the former residents of her hometown migrated to other areas of Mexico, such as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and Guadalajara. Others made the trip to the United States, with most going to Modesto, Calif. to pick fruits and vegetables or to Raleigh, North Carolina to work on the tobacco farms. Tobacco is one of the major crops produced in her hometown. “I used to smoke my own cigarettes,” Campos-Llamas said with a smile.
Ya son las 4:00
“It’s almost 4,” people joked as the minutes slowly ticked past 3:15 a.m.
Gabriela Rodriguez, an employee of the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, was among the demonstrators. In the weeks leading up to July 29 the Consulate had been informing Mexican citizens in Arizona of their rights, such as the right to remain silent and to speak with the Consulate, said Rodriguez.
Slideshow 4: The sun rises on the SB 1070 era
As the sun came up, police officers on bicycles did laps around the intersection. One officer stopped to speak with the demonstrators. “If you guys need anything, you come and get one of us,” he said. The good-natured response from the crowd was “Coffee and doughnuts!”
A sunrise ceremony by Calpolli Teoxicalli was scheduled for 5:30 a.m. The crowd on the corner had grown by then to more than 30 people. They stood in silence and faced the East as the sun rose behind the municipal buildings. “We have to remember that a lot of our relatives have to walk through the desert under the sun,” said Chucho over a slow, steady drumbeat. After the sun had risen, the crowd formed a circle and each moved from one person to the next, eventually embracing everyone.
The action of the day began when two pro-SB 1070 protesters appeared on the corner across the street. They stayed until 6:51 a.m. before leaving to go to work.
After the sunrise ceremony, text messages from anti-SB 1070 organizers started to come in, letting demonstrators know what was happening in other parts of the city.
Text Message: 8:13 a.m. Good Morning, Tucson! Its July 29th. Day of Action Against SB1070. Rally at State Building NOW!
Slideshow 5: Day laborers march from Southside Presbyterian Church to downtown
Text Message: 8:48 a.m. 100 ppl marching from Southside DayLabor Center
The crowd at Congress and Granada was only one of the demonstrations taking place on Thursday morning. An all-night prayer vigil to protest SB-1070 run by Southside Presbyterian Church had become an interfaith service. Around 8:00 a.m., marchers would gather at Southside to prepare for a march to join their fellow demonstrators downtown.
The marchers walked from Southside, located on the corner of 10th Ave. and 23rd St., to the intersection downtown. After leaving Southside they moved down 10th Ave. to 22nd St. From there they turned north onto 6th Ave. and then west down Congress St. until they arrived at the intersection. Police officers on bicycles accompanied the marchers the entire route and made sure the marchers stayed on the sidewalks and obeyed all traffic laws.
As they marched, the day laborers shouted rallying cries, including “Si se puede!” and “Ya se pudo!” (Yes, we can! We already could!).
As we moved down 6th Ave. I spoke with Jordan Buckley of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida. For the past few years Buckley has come to southern Arizona during his annual 3-week vacation to work with No More Deaths. He was here because of a similar law being considered in Florida that will be voted on next March and wanted to learn how to combat the bill from the anti-1070 mobilization. He has been working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a union of mostly tomato pickers in Florida, for the past three years. “There’s hyper-nationalism across the state of Florida. It’s exacerbated by the economy,” said Buckley. “But the people in Naples sure enjoy their exquisite landscaping.”
The marchers arrived to the intersection of Congress St. and Granada Ave. to the welcoming arms of the other anti-SB 1070 demonstrators. The addition of the day laborers swelled the number of demonstrators to much more than the SB-1070 supporters who had gathered across the street.
Slideshow 6: I Heart SB 1070
Text Message: 9:48 a.m. 300 demonstrators facing off with 100 fascists at Granada and Congress
The peacefulness of the Teoxicalli sunrise ceremony had faded completely when I returned to the intersection with the marchers from Southside. Crowds had formed on opposite sides of the intersection. Pro-SB 1070 demonstrators carried American flags and signs as their numbers grew on the southeast corner. A few partisans from each camp crossed the street to confront their opponents, but most stayed on their side of the street.
“It’s not about race, it’s about law,” said Steve Dotson, a supporter of the new law who was selling T-shirts that had “I Heart SB 1070″ (with a heart sign) written on the back. “We just want people to go through the system.”
“There’s a wrong way and a right way. Illegally is the wrong way. It’s really as simple as that,” said Jim Clark. “Legal immigration, I’m all for that. I have nothing against immigrants. I’m out here to uphold the laws of the United States of America,” said Clark.
“The law repeats everything that is in the federal law” but federal immigration law is not being adequately applied at the local level, said Bob Garcia. “Somebody’s got to do something about the problem.”
The ethnicity of some supporters of SB 1070 contradicted the sense among anti-SB 1070 demonstrators that the law was drawn along racial lines. “I’m Hispanic, I have Inca blood,” said Nina Samuels, a legal immigrant from Peru and supporter of SB 1070. “I took the oath and I’m American. Period.”
“You have to put America first,” said Samuels. “Both sides want votes. If they put America first, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Samuels came to the United States after seeing other political systems fail in Peru. “I went through communism, socialism and dictatorship,” said Samuels. “I have seen mass graves with my own eyes.” She also experienced the economic hardships of life in Peru. “I remember standing in line at 3 a.m. to get a kilo of rice and then when we got to the counter they would be out,” said Samuels.
Samuels differentiates herself from illegal immigrants by her feelings for the United States. “I had a love affair with the U.S. I’m pretty sure these people don’t love the U.S. They are here for convenience, not for love of country,” Samuels said about illegal immigrants.
She saw the impact of illegal immigration first-hand when she worked as a Spanish interpreter at a local hospital. “All I saw were illegals having babies,” said Samuels.
“The biggest insult is when I go to vote and the ballot is in Spanish,” said Samuels, who speaks fluent English.
Eleven demonstrators arrested
One of the final events of the day was the arrest of 11 demonstrators for disorderly conduct. They held up banners in the intersection and refused to leave when ordered to do so by the Tucson Police Department. Other demonstrators were kept informed by a series of text messages:
4:17 p.m. No 1070: Granada and Congress intersection occupied by 100+ protestors with 200+ supporters…5:02 p.m. Police have made an order to disperse at Congress and Granada…5:09 p.m. Riot cops on the scene. Arrests being made…5:17 p.m. At least 11 arrests made…5:38 p.m. Police ordering people to disperse again…5:43 p.m. Police declare entire intersection including sidewalks illegal. Some people are leaving some stayin…6:07 p.m. TPD: Only have room for 40 people in their jail today. Including the 11 already arrested…6:16 p.m. People gathering at 8:30 tonight for Jail Solidarity for arrestees from today, Mission and 29th…6:36 p.m. Confirmed: Arrested protestors are being taken to Pima County jail at Mission and 29th rally at 8:30…6:44 p.m. Change plans: Jail Solidarity Rally at NW Police Station on Miracle Mile NOT 29th & Mission 8:30pm…7:16 p.m. People arrested are being released NOW. head there now for solidarity rally…7:26 p.m. Thx to participants of today’s actions arizona.indymedia.org for more news or to submit news.
Read a more complete story about the arrests at TucsonSentinel.com.