August 23, 2012
Today we had the privilege to visit Selma, Alabama, a historic site from the Civil Rights movement. On a Sunday in March of 1965, around 600 marchers left Selma to march east to the capital. When they reached Edmund Pettus Bridge, only six blocks away, they were driven back to Selma by state troopers and local sheriffs who used tear gas and billy clubs to stop them in their tracks.
This event became known as Bloody Sunday. Alabama State Senator and civil rights activists Hank Sanders invited us to come meet with him and other long time activists from the area. This is how we, Isela Meraz, a 29 year old undocumented and queer organizer from Arizona, and Maria Huerta, a 65 year old domestic worker and organizer from California, both remember that visit:
Maria: Today was a really exceptional day for me. The bridge in Selma is a really important part of history. It was very intense walking over the bridge. They had no idea they were going to run in to problems there. The women told us that there was a lot of blood and that lots of people had died. As we walked over the bridge, I thought of all of the kids that had died. There fight was and is really the same as ours – lots of racism, hate, and segregation.
Chela: Something I mentioned at the Senator’s office after we walked over the bridge was that the government had been more violent towards the African American movement in the 60s and since then they has changed their tactics of how they keep the oppressed oppressed.
Today, they’re calling us illegals, as if that is a crime, and using that to legitamize their actions. Nosotros como immigrants, we as immigrants, are now negotiating the public services – we can’t get state licenses, financial aid, or stable jobs without social security numbers. At the same time, they are arresting undocumented people for their own benefit, putting them in private prisons, and making them work for very little money while they profit off the backs of these workers.
Maria: For me one of the most interesting things was when the women talked about how people from the north sent clothing and shoes to their families in the south.
Chela: The women told us a story about how she had gone to a shoe store to buy shoes for her daughter and tried on a pair without asking. They didn’t fit, but the store owner told her that even though they didn’t fit her she needed to buy them because no one else was going to buy them after someone of color had tried them on.
Maria: I don’t understand how people were so inhumane to a child. The child just needed shoes. For this reason it was really important that families from the north sent packages.
Chela: When she was talking about sending stuff from north, it brought back memories of when I was 6. I remember when my uncles used to travel to the US and send us these big boxes full of present from the north. We would get so excited and have a big potluck when they arrived. We’d open up the box and each of us would get a few things.
Maria: I also liked how the Senator shared his story with us. They asked us if we would support them in March 2013 when they are having a gathering to bring the black and brown community together. I always say how beautiful it would be if we had more communication between our communities. Right now, there are a lot of stereotypes on both sides. I think there would be less problems if we tried to work together. There are many ways we can support each other.
Chela: It’s important to me to be able to bring more awareness to the community and for us to see the similarities between the struggle back then and now so we can come together and no longer be segregated by the system that is keeping us separated.
Maria: The overall message we got from the people there was to connect – to form un Puente, a bridge – between our community and the African American community. Because in the end, our struggles one.