That’s what Silvia told me when I asked her about the content of her and Chris’ presentations on the East Coast. She compared that sentiment to charity, which often comes from a secure place on land, waiting out the swells of a turbulent world. She was here looking for fellow wave-riders. She’s gone back to Oaxaca now, continuing the work to create liberatory spaces within a land occupied by a regime unafraid to kill even those just looking to create space on the airwaves and blame people in the movement for the murders. After two weeks here in the United States she was quite ready to return home.
Chris and Silvia pulled up to my house at about 1:30am on Saturday night in La Vanessa (as they had named their scrapped together, faded white metal van). The last time I had seen either of them was in Oaxaca, and though I knew it certainly possible in this world of surprises and circles, it didn’t occur to me that I’d see them again until I did – getting out of creaked-open doors looking for beds after about a dozen cities and presentations already given. Harrisonburg, Virginia, tucked away in the Shenandoah Valley would be the last before home for Silvia, and before returning to the rode, and to the life and work he left before coordinating the East Coast Teaching Rebellion Book Tour, for Chris. I got the briefest of smiles mentioning our start time of noon the next day, smiles suggesting that they would’ve been fine with an even busier schedule if it meant a connection in this world of seemingly infinite separations.
The morning sunlight hid the cold as we chatted around a breakfast of acorn squash, bacon, eggs, beans, bread with apricot preserves and coffee. It would be a day of eating and a night of discussion. We headed over to the home of Macario and Elvira, who had invited us, some of our friends, and local immigrant leaders along with four or five other Mixteco families from Oaxaca living in Harrisonburg to their house for pozole and an exchange of news from both Oaxaca and displaced Latin American communities here in the U.S. Silvia talked of the repression of a teacher’s strike which became the catalyst for a watershed moment in over 500 years of resistance and creating new worlds – followed here in the U.S. by Oaxacans in 2006 using the clumsy but available tools of Telemundo and Univision. So what happened beyond the burning of buses? And we all listened to stories lived by immigrants here in Harrisonburg. For example, when and how to learn English, and when and how to teach their children Mixteco, a language which has survived Spanish colonization, Mexican industrial expansion, teacher’s rulers on primary student’s hands in rural mountain schools and NAFTA, to find itself in a small southern U.S. city on Horseshoe Lane, tucked away behind the Cassco Ice plant and carving out space beneath the din of Spanish-language music videos. We also listened to immigrant leaders from Guatemala and El Salvador discuss plans for a solidarity potluck on Sunday, November 23rd, looking to find common cause with European-Americans and African-Americans and in fact everyone living between our two mountain ranges looking to widen our narrow valley with dignity and more choices about how and where we live. I sat and listened, learning about the place I was born from families who had traveled thousands of miles and literally risked their lives and savings of sometimes entire communities to come here. I know they have more to teach me than the little Virginia history book my grandfather wrote for fourth graders, or at least, whole new chapters to write and old ones to revise.
The primary event at Clementine Café in downtown Harrisonburg started just a few minutes later than announced. In a room of about sixty people Silvia and Chris sat at the front, understandably a little nervous in the more formal set-up of a table and chairs with a microphone, complete with water in fancy glasses. Or maybe the nervous one was me. The room was filled with about twenty Spanish-dominant speakers, including a couple of high school students from Oaxaca, James Madison University students from the local SDS chapter and beyond, someone from West Virginia and a couple from Richmond, and representatives from a number of churches in town. We decided to do the event in Spanish, with English speakers using the limited number of simultaneous interpreting devices on hand, which worked but with enough interference from local commercial radio stations to switch to consecutive interpreting for the discussion time afterwards. This in itself came up as a teaching moment on multilingual movement building, hearing feedback from a participant later – “It was kinda cool to feel a little of what Spanish speakers have to experience on a daily basis, and make the event for them.”
Silvia spoke to our group throughout with an eloquence, an artistic enthusiasm, that I rarely hear – describing their work in Oaxaca in 2006 and since as less a step-by-step process than as a way of walking, breathing, being and becoming, a painting that people travel hours and hours to add their brush strokes to. While many drifted away, the discussion afterwards was well attended and covered a range of themes – from immigrant detention here in the U.S. (with one man showing the ankle bracelet I.C.E. had placed on him upon his supervised release of indeterminate length after a month detained and before an expected deportation, complete with a restrictive curfew), current challenges faced by activists in Oaxaca – efforts to release political prisoners, state impunity, the influence of an institutional Left focused on electoral politics – other details about the role of culture in the movement in 2006, and an inquiry into current goals. All told it left many of us inspired and we ended with a little less of a financial burden and a few more contacts for moving forward here in Harrisonburg.
I just got an email from Silvia, back in Oaxaca, expanding on the title’s metaphor to say, “let’s continue navigating our boat together, each of us on a different side to spread the weight and avoid sinking, not one struggle but many struggles.”
To check out some of the work Silvia’s involved in, see Investigadores Descalzos (Barefoot Scholars) – In Spanish.
For more information on the cosponsoring organization, The People United, check out our website here.