In Admiration: Learning about the Civil Rights Movement


Mari Cruz is one of the No Papers No Fear riders coming from Phoenix Arizona. In the last two weeks the bus has traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, visited local civil rights leaders, and learned about the legacy of social justice struggles in these communities.

I had heard about the struggle for civil rights in the 60s but it had never mattered to me. I had not realized that I could learn from the struggle, and that it could apply to the situation that I am in. As an undocumented mother from Arizona, the more that I learn and think about organizing for my community, and what strategies we can use to fight for our rights, the more admiration that I have for the civil rights struggles of the African-American community in the United States, and the more that I want to learn from them.

As we travel through the southern United States, especially through states that have such a rich history of racism against black communities, I have also realized that these are places also of resistance. In New Orleans, we had the chance to talk to organizers from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and how they organized against fear that was felt in their communities, especially when it came to persecution by the police. In Memphis, Tennessee we visited the National Civil Rights Museum  where we were able to learn about the organizing that was being done by Martin Luther King Jr, and the students. And today in Nashville, Tennessee we are talking with people about the organizing behind the lunch-counter sit-ins and the role that young people played. At each place, I have been inspired by the strength and work of the communities, and I have taken notes as to what we as an immigrant rights movement can learn.

At the National Museum of Civil Rights History I was interested in the story of the participation of the students. It struck me how they used to have to pay a $500 fee to be a part of the group. They paid fees to be able to have money for their campaigns to register voters in the south, to pay for medicine if they were hurt during actions. If we were to do that ourselves, we would be able to do much more, raise our own money for what we need to do. They paid themselves everything, for training, for protests, or to travel. They were supporting themselves.

I also was interested in what the Ku Klux Klan was doing. It was a group that used their power and violence to intimidate people, and to make them feel fear. They are a part of history as people who wanted the African-American community to not take action. It made me think of how anti-immigrants make our people feel scared too. We are all supposed to be free to walk around, supposedly a free country. But they have denied us that right in this country, and not just to immigrants, but to other communities as well. They deny us our dreams, our careers. The people in the KKK are like the people who are anti-immigrants, the people who want to make us feel fear.

While I am looking at the pictures and learning about the history, I feel like I am living those same moments right now.  Each picture, each song, each protest, is being reflected in the work that I do. It’s similar to what we are fighting now. Without knowing, I think we are forging a similar path to the one fought for 50 years ago. African-Americans stood up for their rights, they came together with their white allies, and have been able to make gains. Although I understand that there is still a lot left to fight for, I believe one day we will all be equal, including immigrants.

I also know that it wont be an easy path. Another thing I have seen from the civil rights struggle was how much violence they had to face, including beatings, police dogs, bombs.  And they remained dignified and peaceful in the face of this violence. I know that it might have to be part of our struggle one day too, and I would do it with the same dignity and pride that students and others in the civil rights struggle faced. And with love, because I know that will make me stronger, to keep going forward. I know I need to learn, just like the students in the 60s did, about thinking about my community, my dignity, and to never forget about my principles.

It is very important to learn about the history of the civil rights movement. When I go home, I want to tell my children, and the other young people I work with about what I learned, about the strategies they used, and talk about how each of our groups have participated in civil disobedience. I’m going to tell them about how much I identified with the history of discrimination, and the history of struggle, of working with the community.

I got a call from my son yesterday, and I told him about the visit to the museum, and what I had learned about the student movement and Martin Luther King Jr. He told me he was proud of me. I also feel proud of myself, because as I have traveled on this bus I have learned so much and changed. I have been able to give more than I thought I could give to my community. I feel stronger every day. 

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