By Jesus Daniel Mendez Carbajal
One of the best things about joining the Caravan Against Fear is that you get to travel through the entire southern border and get to know the people and places that make this a special place. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with local Arizona community members and organizations in Phoenix, Tucson and Nogales. In each city we’ve had the opportunity to share time, stories and food. These locations were chosen because of their close proximity and relationship to the border. The schedule of activities for Tucson and Nogales were both largely organized by Juanita Molina, the Executive Director of Border Action Network, and a member of the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC).
As we learned and witnessed first hand in Southern Arizona, similar to the reality lived on the rest of the border region, Border Patrol agents are a normalized presence. There are several checkpoints that residents and those traveling through the region have to go through. Given the context of national anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and xenophobic rhetoric, along with direct and targeted attacks on militarized and policed border communities, organizing a border leg for the Caravan Against Fear is both necessary and timely.
During my time in Southern Arizona, I had the opportunity to interview Juanita Molina, and this is what she had to say:
Q: Can you tell us about who you are, what organization you work for and the work your organization does?
A: I’m Juanita Molina from Border Action Network. We advocate for safer border communities in the sense of dealing with issues of racial justice, social justice, environmental protection and fighting the demonization of the residents and the areas of the border region.
Q: Please tell us about your border community, what makes it unique and what makes it different?
A: It’s an incredibly diverse community. We have two Native American tribes that cross international boundaries here, so the ideas of borders, a border wall, and laws affecting immigration deeply impact these communities, both for the Tohono O’odham and the Pascua Yaqui. We also have a very diverse group of people coming through here. Of course, there is a long standing relationship between all the Mexicanos who are part of this border region. It would be incomplete to not mention all of the other communities that are also becoming part of this area. We have a lot of indigenous people from Central America, a lot of people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, who are all part of this community. A community that most people don’t talk about a lot is the Asian community. There are a lot of people from China, Vietnam, and Korea.
Q: What are the main challenges your community faces as it relates to border enforcement and border security?
A: On a very primary level, people are dealing with a level of evasion. That’s why the core concepts that we look at as an organization include freedom of movement and freedom of expression. When you are in the border region, you will find a whole other level of militarization. The every day patrolling is carried out by paramilitary federal agents who are coming into our communities with very different ties and very different implementation tactics -- and that affects our daily lives. As we move back and forth through the border, checkpoints, or even when we access wilderness areas, we notice how greatly limited or constricted we are by federal policing practices, which in many ways are very racist and xenophobic.
Q: What would you like to say to lawmakers and administration officials who visit the border but only meet with the Border Patrol and other security officials but rarely meet with community members?
A: I think that they’re doing a great disservice to their positions because it’s very important to get different perspectives in evaluating what needs to happen. Of course, community members have invaluable info about how their world is, how they’re perceived in their community, and how they are affected by enforcement practices. So, I think that for many leaders who are coming and doing this, leaving out the border communities is a big mistake.
Q: What does a better border mean to you?
A: I think that it’s very important to again, foster freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and access to better education, and jobs. Unfortunately, all of these levels of over-enforcement or disproportionate enforcement clouds and shadows that, so we’d really love to see a different relationship from the federal policing agencies and not as much of an interconnection with the local policing agencies.
Q: What are your hopes for the caravan while it's here in your region?
A: I think my hopes have already become realized, just having the opportunity to see such an energetic and informed group of people who are here to witness and testify as to what border communities are enduring. I feel very positive that they’re going to continue to carry that message and that they’ll have a deeper and profound understanding of the border region because they’ve been here, they’ve stood on this ground, and have actually had the opportunity to speak to community members and activists.
Q: What impact do you hope the caravan has at a large scope?
A: I hope that it will bring light to the issues around the border region and that they will continue to be our advocates in other settings that are beyond our reach. I think that the cumulative power of all these people standing together in such uniformity will really create change.
Jesus Daniel Mendez Carbajal is a DACA recipient and a human rights organizer with Alliance San Diego, a community empowerment organization. Alliance San Diego is a member of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. You can reach him at [email protected].