In Lak’Ech: You Are My Other Me

Week 2 in Tucson proved just as full, eye-opening, and vitally important as the bipartisan issues we explored in Missoula. Except things were more polarizing in the desert. Issues were as prickly as the cactus: full of obvious racism, elected official absentia, and compelling calls for change. We talked education, racist legislation that denies critical pedagogy, and we learned about House Bill 2281 and Senate Bill 1070 which treat American CITIZENS as less than. We attended Operation Streamline at the Arizona District Court. We met community organizers and artists, and we talked about the role arts can and need to play on all fronts.

We began by talking education at Arizona College Prep Academy (ACPA) with Anita, Charlene, and Freddy Mendoza. They talked about a holistic approach to teaching and learning that explores and builds empathy, connects the student to the value of lifelong learning, and grows curious and creative individuals prepared to advocate, discover, and succeed. ACPA is built on a foundation of family. The Mendozas are mom, son, and daughter. And their approach to education is familial; learning spreads in a land where blood is more accessible than water. Here is a clip of Anita talking about who (and why) ACPA serves.

Then we attended an information session at iconic bookstore/coffee shop/community center Revolutionary Grounds where we met Leo, Jessica, and Nico of UNIDOS (United Non-Discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies). UNIDOS is a youth coalition advocating for the restoration of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson Unified School District. June 26th-30th was the first week of Court Case Acosta v. Huppenthal, judging whether or not racial discrimination played a part in an Arizona House Bill (HB2281) that eliminated MAS. We sat in court Friday, eyes widening every few minutes, as piece after piece of written evidence was introduced establishing a paper trail of blatant racism and disregard for Mexican Americans. The evidence undercut unapologetic lies and “I do not recalls” of the witness’ testimony. Over the week, we got to know Leo, Jessica, and Nico as they explained the objectives of UNIDOS, demonstrated community organization at its most inspiring, and introduced us to Sonoran Dogs at the delicious El Güero Canelo.

We resonated with their meeting openers – physical and poetic calls to community action via the Unity Clap and the poem In Lak’Ech. (See them here!) We look forward to following and supporting the progress of UNIDOS and the restoration of MAS programming.

Longtime educator Yolanda Sotelo explained how the MAS curriculum is culturally relevant, historically accurate, and youth empowering; it mirrors the traditions and current realities of Tucson residents. It insists on critical pedagogy as a vital piece of education. She is a tireless advocate and passionate teacher. She shared with us a bit of curriculum that encourages students to become more critical of the media – to help them assess what is real and what is fake news.

We met with another longtime educator Eva Carillo Dong in an interview where she talked about her work in a Juvenile Detention Center, Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board, and the César E. Chávez Holiday Coalition in which she uses poetry, theatre, and the MAS curriculum to engage youth. Her words are moving and honest; Emily and I spent the second half of the interview in tearful admiration.

Marion Chuban told us all about Represent Me AZ – a grassroots political action committee (super PAC) meant to illuminate and educate through candidate forums, voter engagement, and voter registration. The residents of Congresswoman Martha McSally’s AZ district have repeatedly reached out for dialogue, explanation, and engagement on voter issues in which McSally is on the record as voting against the majority of her district, instead choosing to place her vote on party and donor lines. Roughly 40,000 of McSally’s constituents would lose their health care under her vote for the AHCA. Represent Me AZ is a spirited new organization that promotes respectful language, behavior, and political engagement. Can McSally do the same? We don’t know. We learned that she’s a constituent dodger.

We met the glue behind the gloo when Gabriela Yadegari and Devora Gonzalez gave us something greater to connect the dots. We got to know them at The Gloo Factory – a community-minded print shop in South Tucson where they gave us a tour of the facilities, shared the mission to support grassroots activism, and showed us how they use art for change.

You can, too. Order your own peace supplies from this incredible outfit.

Here is a clip of Devora sharing one of Gloo Factory’s (and Arizona’s) (and, really, the entire country’s) very important issues: Operation Streamline.

We attended Operation Streamline on Friday (it happens every weekday at 1.30 in Arizona District Court). We can not express in words the stomach churning Devora referenced. We saw over 60 men and women in chains sentenced for illegal border crossing in under 90 minutes. A portion of our documentary will explore the immigration issue. On the eve of America’s birthday, I can’t help but think about chains. The 4th of July was a celebration of freedom from certain European chains. Now the President wants to use those same chains to build a fence. How can we build links between each other, with our neighbors, across the aisle?

Before leaving town, we also met with Artist Activist Beth Braun whose Esperanza Dance Project is an educational dance company that addresses sexual violence through dance, music, and dialogue. It’s a close-to-the-heart cause, and she creates art that starts vitally important conversations. Beth’s program is comprehensive – providing a holistic approach to education that incorporates art, healthcare, counseling, and professional advocates.

Which brings us back to the start – family, familial, foundational approaches to education and activism.

THANK YOU, TUCSON. You shared some open wounds. We now see it as our mission to share these crucial concerns beyond your city (or South city!) limits. Your concerns are our concerns, and we will do our best to represent them in our next steps.

Here’s a link to a podcast interview we did, talking about the project! 

Happy 4th of July.

In honor of American practices of freedom of expression,

Sarah, Oliver, and Emily