CALEXICO — A small group of protestors from local social justice organizations lined the sidewalk of Calexico along the border crossing at the corner of Cesar Chavez and West 2nd streets in Calexico Friday evening, October 16.
Calexico Needs Change/Calexico Necesita Cambio was the lead group that organized the public demonstration. Group organizers and Calexico residents Johanna Espinoza and Ashley Díaz said the group was demonstrating to both protest against and raise awareness for a variety of related topics — one of which was borders in general, Espinoza said.
“We are here gathered to protest borders in general just because there's a lot of death that's caused by it, a lot of separation, a lot of loss of humanity overall because we deny basic rights for people that are not born on one side of the border or the other,” she said.
Espinoza said the handmade signs the group displayed “are all connected and relevant to each other, even if they seem like different topics.”
She said the border separates her from seeing her family in Mexico due to them not having (legal) documentation to cross the border even for visits, an issue which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We divide each other, even though there isn’t any division just because we're from different cultures, from different traditions, and we look differently,” Espinoza said.
“We are also here to emphasize that we are on indigenous land, and to begin with, that's like the root of it all; we are on stolen land,” she said. “We want to acknowledge that the communities that lived here before us are the Kumeyaay and the Cucapá. (They) are still here and still alive.”
Espinoza said speaking as if indigenous peoples no longer exist is “still killing them with our words by saying they're past civilizations.” She said they “were here before us, they are living with us at the moment, but we make them invisible (with our words).”
Díaz, who also has many family members residing in Mexico, said the separation is “painful, and the normalization of that pain is something to fight.”
“It's like breaking apart those mental borders inculcated in us since we were very young, but to break apart the physical borders that divide our families,” Díaz said.
“We live in a community, for example, where students cross on the daily (and) that's normal to them and that shouldn't be,” Díaz said.
“There shouldn't be any borders. Mental and physical: (Those) that separate indigenous land, and mental borders, like how there are still stigmas because a person is homosexual or another person considers themselves a different gender from the one in which they were born biologically,” Díaz said in English and Spanish.
When asked about the variety of messages on the groups’ signs, Espinoza pointed out one example — "Clean Water" — as “for the water sector, but it's all connected because the water flows both ways but because of the construction of this border we are getting our water supply contaminated and it's just another human right that's denied to us.”
“Everyone should have access to clean water no matter where they live, whether it’s a low-income community or whether it’s mainly immigrant people that live here,” she said. “We all deserve clean water because that's just a basic necessity.”
Díaz said the group is also encouraging the citizens of Calexico to vote in the November 3 elections because of a very low voter turnout in the last election and “because our city government is not the best.”
“People lately have come to the same conclusion: That (our Calexico city government) are not the best at governing because of their addictions or faults,” Díaz said. “We understand we're all human and we all have faults, but if we see that when someone is in a governing position within the City, well then they need to step down.”
“So, we want to remind Calexicans to register to vote, that October 17 is the last day to register, to vote, and to know their choices rather than just vote for someone of the names they know,” Díaz said. “Do your research.”
Local Black Lives Matter Imperial Valley coordinators, Hilton and Wesley Smith, were also at the protest to show their support and to “protest the current administration's immigration policies,” Hilton Smith said.
“I am referring specifically to children in cages and those seeking asylum are not getting the due process that they deserve as asylum seekers,” Smith said. “In my view, they are morally wrong, justly wrong, and constitutionally wrong.”
Smith said while Black Lives Matter is an international movement, the local chapter “does not condone violence, but I will protest.”
“As a (BLM) activist, whenever I see an injustice, I'm going to voice my opinion, I'm going to standup and speak out against any injustice,” Smith said. “Like Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) says, 'The greatness of America is the right to protest for right,' and I'm going to protest for those individuals who are treated unfairly on the southern border because of the current administration's policies.”
When asked what Smith would say to someone who didn’t understand or disagreed with the protest, Smith said “just because the law exists doesn't mean it’s a just law, and according to the Constitution we have a right to regress our government and protest.”
“Slavery has been around for years too, that doesn't mean it was right,” Smith said. “If Rosa Parks hadn't sat down during the 1955 bus boycotts, we would still be sitting in the back of the bus. People have got to understand that we need change.”
Smith, an Imperial resident, said he is very encouraged and impressed with the young people getting involved.
“The important thing is, to a person like me who was born in the '50s and has experienced segregation, I've seen it. Been there, done that,” Smith said. “So, I want to inspire them that you cannot just sit back and accept the status quo or anything that is unjust and unfair.”